Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.
Written by Shelley Kimball.
One of my greatest pet peeves, after being asked, “Is the Coast Guard military?” is being asked, “Do people in the Coast Guard deploy?” I try really hard to maintain my patient composure as I explain, yes, Coasties deploy.
During those conversations, I wish I could introduce them to people like Rachel Hoffman, whose husband’s deployment to Bahrain will be 12 to 14 months long. Or Brittney Lucci, whose husband is two months in, two months out on a 270-foot cutter, while she is also on active duty. Or Angela Maupin, whose husband has been away six months at a time on a 378- foot cutter, and who is now on a three-months-in, three-months-out schedule. Or Lisa Foust, whose husband’s deployments on 378s are also two to three months long, with two months home between deployments.
Yes, Coasties deploy.
So, today is not just my PSA to those who would like to know more about Coast Guard deployments, but a chance to learn from those spouses who have held down the fort while they counted down the days.
The number one piece of advice these spouses have for weathering deployments is to stay busy. Foust said her kids keep her very busy, but having a hobby also helps. She said she focuses on scrapbooking to get through. Beyond that, she tries to get out of the house to pass the time.
“Enjoy the area you are at, meet people, try new things,” said Foust. “Experience new things so you have something to show your Coastie when they return.”
Hoffman said she immerses herself in work to get through the time alone. She also started a new project to make the days go by faster.
“I’ve made a ‘deployment bucket list,’ things that I want to accomplish while he’s away, like running a race, small projects around the house and organizing our wedding photos,” she said.
Lucci said she also keeps a list of goals at the ready when her husband is deployed, in addition to her own duty schedule, attending school, and taking care of their kids.
“I always set a new goal for myself when my sailor is gone,” she said. “Last deployment, it was a book list, one before that was catch up on TV shows. This time, I’m making fitness my new goal. The goals do not need to be big, but something that occupies my time while the kids are sleeping.”
Maupin worked on her college degree during one deployment, and also volunteered as the ship’s ombudsman, which was one of the best remedies for coping with her husband’s absence.
“I would say the ombudsman duties helped the most as they not only kept me busy with planning and conducting informational meetings for the spouses, as well as creating newsletters for the crew from the families, but also allowed me to feel more connected with my husband as a Coastie because I became very involved in Coast Guard functions and in the Coast Guard community,” she said.
Their second piece of advice? Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Maupin suggested continuing or completing educational goals during deployments, and taking advantage of tuition assistance. Hoffman said she counts down the deployment by marking her calendar with one thing for herself to look forward to each week.
“Whether it’s a pedicure, a trip, or a lunch date with a friend, it is something,” Hoffman said. “Something to brighten my week, something to count down to, something to make the days go quicker.”
Lucci also recommended taking personal time. “Even if it means sitting on a park bench and enjoy the peace and quiet,” Lucci said. “Everyone needs a break and some down time.”
Foust said that no matter what one chooses, a deployment can become a positive experience for spouses. “You have opportunities to grow as an individual that will strengthen your relationship when they are home,” Foust said. “Allow yourself a day or two to pout or cry, then improve something in your life.”
What they wish people knew
All four said there are things they wish people knew about Coast Guard deployments. Hoffman said she wishes people knew the role the Coast Guard plays in keeping our country safe.
“They go where they are sent and serve proudly while being there,” Hoffman said. “I wish people knew that ‘Oh, well at least he’s not in Afghanistan,’ doesn’t bring any comfort to the spouse of a deployed member. Our military is deployed all over the world, doing different jobs, facing different challenges and dangers. All deserve the same amount of respect and gratitude as the others.”
Maupin said she wishes more people were aware that even though Coast Guard spouses know that deployments can be a reality, it is impossible to foresee what that truly means.
“I wish people understood that the phrase we often hear, ‘You knew what you were signing up for when you got married,’ couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, we know that marrying a Coastie means he or she may join a ship crew one day, but there are so many different ships with different deployment times that it’s impossible to be prepared for all scenarios,” Maupin said. “In addition, nothing can prepare you for the emptiness and loneliness you feel when they’re away. You just have to take it one day at a time and make plans to keep busy.”
Foust said that long deployments are difficult, but she wants other spouses to know that they can make it through.
“The 378s are hard boats,” Foust said. “It’s hard to have your other half gone, but it’s definitely doable.”
Lucci, too, said that navigating a deployment takes planning, but it can be done.
“A deployment is not the end of the world. In the big picture of life, it’s a short period of time,” Lucci said. “Deployments do not have to be a dirty, evil word. It can actually be enjoyable. At the end of the day, it’s all what you make of it.”
Here are some of my favorite resources for getting through deployments as successfully as possible. I picked sites that are inclusive to Coast Guard spouses and also contain information relevant to the repeated deployments particular to our experiences.
Everyone Serves book: I was part of the Blue Star Families team that wrote and edited this free e-book. It includes information about every step of the deployment process and beyond. Coasties are included within it, sharing their advice and experiences.
American Red Cross: The Red Cross has a variety of pre- and post-deployment resources available, as well as a skills-building course on handling the challenges of cycle of deployment.
Military.com: This site has a special section devoted to spouses, and then within that, a section on handling all phases of deployment. You’ll find an article in here on redeployment.
CG Suprt: The CG Support website has some deployment information, but you have to search for it. Just put “deployment” in the search site box, and it will bring up some articles.
Now it’s your turn to share! What are your tried and true methods for getting through the deployment cycle?
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.