Commentary by Maj. Algerd Geralt
23rd Space Operations Squadron, Det. 1 commander
NEW BOSTON AIR FORCE STATION, N.H. — Separation from family can be one of the most difficult things to manage in military life. Separation can be long or short and the distances involved can be continental or just the next city down the road. Either way, separation is no fun. As a veteran of two remote assignments and currently on my third, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with separation from loved ones. In fact, I spent roughly half of my marriage away from home. Separation can be tough, but there are ways to mitigate some of the anxiety and stress. Here are a couple things that we had to learn for ourselves.
Dealing with separation from family may seem easier when you throw yourself into the job, working endless hours, sometimes seven days a week. No children to ask for help with homework or fixing toys or doing yard work. In fact, you may feel more productive away than when you are at home. Unfortunately, this is precisely the wrong mind set. It isn’t good for you or your family. Families at home need to know you still care about them. Just leaving all the family/home responsibilities to your spouse is a sure way to have a fight brewing when you get home. Stay engaged and talk often to maintain a healthy relationship. I still help with math homework via the phone and talking through particularly tough issues at home. Take that mid-tour leave or get home as often as is allowed. This is needed for both you and your family. It will also break up the tour into manageable chunks of time. It takes time, but it keeps my home together.
Properly preparing for separation is vital to making a tough period as stress-free as possible. In this age of the Internet, it is possible to do many things abroad like banking and taxes. However, your spouse needs to know the passwords and security controls in order to take care of the inevitable emergency that will arise. Reviewing basic home maintenance is also a must. Resetting circuit breakers and replacing fuses can be daunting to folks who have never had to do it before. Lastly, for extended time away, ensure a power of attorney is drawn up and your spouse has a copy at all times. Banks, utilities and other services may refuse to talk to your spouse without that very vital document. Besides, there is nothing worse than having to use morale-call time to resolve a billing issue.
So what about spouses? They are now essentially single parents while you are away. Things I usually took care of when at home, like mowing the lawn or shoveling snow, she now does. Inevitably, something doesn’t happen the way it needs to or use to happen before I left, causing tension and worry. I must regularly reaffirm the fact that I couldn’t do my job without her and never miss an opportunity to express my appreciation. I’ve been around too many folks separated from their families that had a “suck-it-up-and-get-over-it” attitude. Those same folks let home issues fester until they were too deep to solve from afar. Keeping a proper perspective goes a long way to realizing harmony at home and on the job.
Separation is tough, but it is manageable. You don’t have to like it and you never get used to it. However, my wife and family will make it through both remote number three and future separations; we just need to follow our own advice.