What Military Families Wish You Knew about Deployments and the Holidays

What Military Families Wish You Knew about Deployments and the Holidays

Posted by Hannah Fleace on Dec 23rd 2019

Tell me if this sounds familiar . . .

You’ve just spent the last week doing laundry, packing at least four suitcases, putting your mail on hold, and cleaning up around the house. You turn off and unplug your appliances, see if the neighbor will keep an eye on the house, load up your entire family (plus the ), and on the 12-hour car ride to your family’s home for the holidays. You drive all day and into the night. Little Jimmy asks you 450 times, “Are we getting close? How much further? When will we be there?” Little Becky starts to cry because Jimmy is looking out her window, and Tiny Billy is screaming his head off because he’s a baby, and that’s what they do.

Just when you think you are about to lose it and act out a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you arrive at your family's house.

The next morning you get a text from another family member or friend who lives close by, “Oh my gosh! I heard you guys were in town! Come on over anytime and see us!”

Or maybe it went like this . . .

Your family has been harping on your for months to take a “vacation” back home to see everyone for Christmas. That “vacation” requires a week and a half of leave (including a weekend which is not “free” leave), at least a thousand dollars in plane tickets, two full days of riding on planes and sitting in airports, and a just to on the floor in grandma and grandpa’s musty basement.

While it is nice to see family, traveling home for the holidays in the military can be a massive headache. And if your spouse is deployed, on a TDY, or stationed overseas, it can be a downright nightmare.

I asked a few spouses how they survive the holidays – both at home and during deployment – as military families.

* * * 

Family by Christmas TreeJamie Lawless has been married to her husband for eight years, all of which her husband has spent in the Army. So far, her husband has missed one Christmas in the course of two deployments and more TDYs than Jamie can count. She said she always makes it a point to go home for Christmas, but it’s impossible to make it back for every holiday.

I asked her what she wished family and friends knew about military travel around the holidays.

Jamie: “I wish family and friends knew how much it costs for us to come home for the holidays. Not only do we have to buy airfare or gas to drive, but I also have to take off work, and if I don’t have enough leave stored up, I don’t get paid. We also have pets that we need to board, and that costs a lot of money too. The common misconception is that the military has money. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Do we live comfortably? Sure. But that’s because I also have a really good job. But there are always bills that need to be paid. Going home and running all over kingdom come to see people takes away from both my children and my bills.”

So, what should you do when you get home, and the "come visit us!" texts start flooding in?

Jamie: "Don't do it. You have already traveled to see your family. Don't make concessions for people who won't make them for you."

She also has advice for military families that are in the middle of deployment during the holidays:

Jamie: “Stay busy! Get a hobby. Get a job. Don’t let yourself dwell on your loved one being gone. Does doing things without your spouse suck? Sure, but you HAVE to do something to keep yourself occupied. Find a support system. You have to. Find your support in other spouses. Though, you don’t have to get involved with every unit function. I find my support system at work.”

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Driving Home for the HolidaysI also caught up with Ashley Kersting. She, her husband, and their son are overseas in Italy. Her husband in his 7th year of service in the Navy. He is forward-deployed and on his fourth patrol. They are gone for five months and home for four. Ashely said he misses all kinds of things – anniversaries, birthdays, Christmases, and Thanksgivings. This will be the second Christmas he’s missed and three years since she celebrated with her family.

I asked her what the most challenging part of deployments are during the holidays.

Ashley: “The most difficult part this year is that we have a new baby and can't be together. We are in Spain, so it's hard for people to visit us. We want to start traditions with our son, and it's hard to do that with him gone. Before baby, it was seeing everyone back home come together and post about on social media while you sit at home. After the second year of being here, people kind of forget about you. We celebrate our holidays ahead of time now. Holidays are just another day to me at this point. Surrounding myself with people who bring positivity into my life or keeping myself busy and off social media.”

She also advises spouses going through a deployment to get involved in their communities.

Ashley: “Find a good circle of people. Get connected with a church or with your FRG! Don't surround yourself with the toxic people who make you feel bad about yourself. The good people you meet will always allow you to be a part of your family when yours is gone!”

And something she wishes family knew about being away for the holidays:

“All we want is to hear from you. In the middle of eating and spending time with family, send us a message or a card to let us know you still think of us! I haven't been home in three years, and a lot of friends and family don't realize I'm alone on holidays.”

Military families, what is one thing you wish family and friends knew about deployment and traveling home for the holidays? Sound off in the comments below! 

Photo Credit: Lauren Kay & S&B Vonlathen

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