As military teens, there is something that we have always dreaded: Deployments.
Formally, military deployment is when a service member is stationed away from their usual duty station, often in order to fulfill a requirement or to offer assistance to nations in need. These service members are usually sent far away, often outside their home country. To the military brat, however, deployment can take on a different meaning. To them, it may simply boil down to the fact that their parental figure, whether it's their father, mother, aunt, uncle, etc., will have to be separated from them for a long period of time - sometimes even over a year.
My father was deployed to Afghanistan when I was in second grade. At this time, my family had just moved to Southern California, away from the plains of Kansas state. When we received the news that my dad would have to be gone for more than nine months, we were not thrilled. In fact, my mother was fearful of what the future might hold. We had never been away from our father for more than two weeks, so nine months without him was a major step that none of us wanted to take. More than fear, however, was the dreadful feeling of emptiness. After all, a very important member of my life was departing. As my dad finally left the driveway and to go to the airport, I remember seeing the rest of my family huddled together crying as we watched the car vanish behind a sharp corner. It was a very strange feeling. I felt pretty numb at first, thinking “uhh...now what?” The confusion then transformed into distress and eventually regret. Should I have waved an extra goodbye? What if he didn’t see me? Should I run back outside?
We didn’t know it then, but this initial confusion and chaos molded a path of pain and suffering into our first weeks of being alone. Our pessimistic view of deployment seemed to mask every good opportunity and highlight every bad one. For example, when my sister got injured in a swimming accident, we all overreacted and handled the situation very poorly. The same goes for when a mild earthquake hit our area shortly after my dad left. The shaking, although pretty mild, caused panic for us, because we had never experienced one. These events, combined with our bleak mentality, led us to repeat the phrase “if only Dad were here” over and over as if doing so would magically solve our problems.
What was important for us to realize during this time was that it wasn’t impossible for us to still be productive, grateful, and most importantly, happy. Although there is no doubt that life with deployment may sometimes be a little more difficult or stressful than normal, there is nothing stopping anyone from making the best out of their situation. Sure, we may not be able to see our parent in real life, but what’s stopping us from Facetiming every night? Sure, we may feel especially lonely at times or in need of parental support, but what’s stopping us from calling, sending letters, or seeking other resources? Absolutely nothing.
From my personal experiences as a military brat, I noticed that the term “deployment” was often used with a negative connotation, which I understand since I felt the same way at the beginning of my father’s deployment. However, this implies that there is nothing good to come out of the experience, which is simply inaccurate. There is so much to gain from deployments, including the ability to become more independent as well as the ability to become more resilient amidst the harsh nature of military life. Plus, the thousands of memories made, such as the silly jokes during Facetime calls, the laughs my family had every day, and finally, the moment when my father returned home out of nowhere, all helped make the bad days worth it.
And perhaps most important of all, is the purpose behind the deployments themselves. We must never forget the sacrifices that our parents make for the safety and wellbeing of our family, community, and country. I will never cease to be proud of my father and anyone else who deploys because, at the end of the day, they do it for us.
Second grade was a very long time ago. In fact, I sometimes find it very difficult to recall teachers, events, or even my closest friends at the time. However, the growth I have experienced and lessons I have learned as a result of my father’s deployment continues to be ingrained in my head, a memory that I am proud to cherish forever.