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Let’s face it… deployments are difficult. Even with utmost optimism, there will be pain points while your military partner is away. My fiance, Lucas, has been in Afghanistan for almost 10 months now. He was actually supposed to return home in two weeks, but given the global pandemic going on in the world right now, we were told this week that his homecoming will be delayed for an undetermined amount of weeks. Fear can creep up on you quickly when faced with uncertainty, but we’ve agreed to channel our nervous energy into positivity instead. I decided to start by creating this blog post (and YouTube video).
I wanted to share 5 fun ideas that helped encourage Lucas and I during his first military deployment. Although deployments aren’t fun, we found that these ideas helped brighten up our experience. Hopefully sharing these ideas can spark some joy into the deployments of others too!
1. Send Pictures
Okay, maybe I’m being a little biased with this first idea since we’re both photographers - but hear me out! Sending photos to each other makes the experience just a little bit sweeter. Lucas has told me that he loves seeing photos of our families (and our fur child, as Sherbert grows up), so I tried my best to send as many pictures as I could. Lucas has also sent me funny pictures and videos of him and the other soldiers.
If your soldier isn’t able to access the Internet to send digital photos, sending photos via postal mail can have the same effect too! Even though Lucas has service (on most days), I ended up sending him a photo album, as well as photos tucked into letters (like the "Hurry Home" photo below that I sent in his Valentine’s Day card).
2. Make a Holiday Card Together
Since we’re on the topic of photography, I wanted to share this idea next. If your soldier is going to be away from home for the holidays, it can add an extra layer of homesickness. Ever since I can remember, my family and I have always created Holiday cards to send out to friends and family. In December 2018, Lucas and I shared our first home together, and we adopted Sherbert, so we thought it would be fun to create our first Holiday card as a little family. With Lucas overseas for December 2019, we almost didn’t create a Holiday card. That was until we got the idea of ordering signs for each of us to hold up in a photo, and combining our photos to create one card. With Lucas still in sunny weather in Afghanistan, and with me in the snow in Washington, we found that the contrast between photos was not only slightly comical, but significant. We surprised our family and friends with our holiday card, and everyone loved the idea! Creating holiday cards with your military partner can be a great way to brighten up the holiday season, even when they’re away from home.
3. Send a Video from Loved Ones
In all honesty, this next idea was probably my favorite! I understand that making a video will require some basic video editing skills, but you really don’t need a fancy DSLR or complex editing software to make this idea happen. I took most of the video clips off of my phone, and threw them together via IMovie. Your soldier isn’t going to care about how clean the transitions are anyways! Rather, they’re going to care about the content of the video clips.
I decided to create a video for Lucas as part of his Christmas present. Since it was his first time away for the holidays, I wanted to send over messages from all of our loved ones. So starting on December 1st, I began collecting video clips (some were taken by me, and some were sent to me from family members who are out of state). By December 24th, I was able to incorporate messages from Lucas’ mom, his dad, his brother, his sister, his nieces, my parents, my brother, and some of our closest friends! It was so nice seeing everyone willing to volunteer, and it made for an emotional holiday gift for Lucas. His reaction was priceless! I was happy to have given him a piece of home while overseas, and I was able to remind him how loved he is, even when miles apart. He now has the option to re-watch the video whenever he feels homesick for the duration of his deployment.
4. Write "Open When" Letters
If video editing isn’t your preference, you can also mail “Open When” letters to your soldier to read during the duration of their deployment vs. watching a video! These can be completely personal to what you’d like to write but some ideas for topics can be:
5. Send Care Packages
In addition to letters, you can, of course, send care packages as well! It's one of the most popular deployment ideas because soldiers really do love them! Letters are always thoughtful, but it’s a different kind of special to receive gifts or even pieces of home. There’s tons of resources online on what to include in a military soldier’s care package -- everything from snacks to deodorant! -- but what I learned from our deployment experience, is that Lucas only has a limited amount of storage space in Afghanistan. Because of that, he’d rather keep his belongings minimal, especially since he’ll have to ship/bring it all back home once the deployment ends. With that in mind, I typically send food and practical gifts in his care packages. Here are some of the things that I have sent:
Thanks so much for reading! (And THANK YOU to the service men and women who may be reading, for your service!) Deployments are challenging but us partners back home should be so proud of our military loved ones! I thought it’d be a fun idea to write about the things that I enjoyed doing for Lucas during his first deployment. One, to document our own memories, but two, to share with readers who may be preparing for, or going through a deployment as well. I personally think it’s so important to embrace and implement joy into the deployment experience, especially during a stressful time of uncertainty. Making the most out of a tricky situation will allow you to thrive during a deployment rather than just survive, and before you know it - your soldier will be home!
I’m hopeful that Lucas will be home soon, even if 'soon' doesn't have a set date yet. To make it through the home stretch, I’ve decided to focus on our blessings rather than our problems -- and it has actually helped me process the situation in a healthy way. While we may not know for certain when he’ll return home at this time, at least we still have each other for support. While he will have to stay in hostile territory longer than planned, at least he’s surrounded by an admirable group of soldiers looking out for him. While we may need to reschedule a few of our wedding planning appointments/meetings, at least we’re going to get married no matter when/how/where. While we aren’t able to battle the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic together in-person, at least we have our jobs, food to sustain, a roof over our heads, family, friends, and an exciting future to look forward to.
All we can do now is continue to count our blessings and foster resilience. The next few weeks apart -- and really, the last year of this deployment -- are only small fractions of a happy forever that we’ll get to spend together. This time is temporary. We got the rest of our lives to look forward to!
What are some fun things that you decided to do for your deployed military partner? Are you also waiting for a return date home for your soldier?
Cheers to our military heroes!