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Surviving Our First Military Deployment

Military deployment embrace san diego

So long, Sailor

I knew it was coming, every morning when he’d say goodbye I would cling tighter and tighter. I remember the day my sailor left for deployment. The dreaded day I knew he would leave for work and not come home for almost five months. It’s been nine months and when I think about it I still cry.

The traffic was horrible, I remember just wishing we could turn around and come home. When we finally reached his ship, The USS Carl Vinson, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. As I said goodbye to my sailor, MMN2 Christian Hensley, I was getting in my last hug and kiss. I somehow held a smile but had tears running down my face at the same time. I wanted to be strong for the both of us.  

Preparing for Life Apart

With this being our first deployment neither of us knew what to expect. We didn’t know how to prepare, or what to prepare ahead of deployment. Christian and I went to the commissary and stocked up on all my favorite nonperishable groceries. We made sure direct deposits were in place so the bills would be paid without a doubt. We made lists of key things Christian would want in care packages. Lastly, we purchased a notebook to write in when we were alone, feeling down, sad, emotional, etc.

After countless hours of research on how to survive a military deployment, I finally gave up. We decided to act like normal 20 something’s and go out to our favorite San Diego restaurants to celebrate Christian’s 23rd birthday; which was the day before they left.  After all of that, we felt prepared for the long five months ahead. 

Difficulties of Deployment

The beginning of deployment was hard. I never knew when I’d get an email; my phone was attached to my hip every second of every day. Being 21 years old, in a new city, with no family and only a few friends made the first month horrible. Emails came at all hours of the day and night, but those emails made my entire day. All the wives of the other sailors would receive phone calls, but I never had the patience to wait for the phones to connect and spend ten minutes saying “hello? Can you hear me?” So we stuck to our emails.

I cried every day for almost two weeks. Not the sobbing crying, but a few tears once a day. I remember our golden retriever, Tyson, walked up to me with Christian’s sock one day and I looked at him with full eyes of tears. For the next week, I woke up to a new sock on Christian’s side of the bed. I still to this day don’t know where our dogs kept the secret stash of Christian’s socks.  

Surviving our First Military Deployment

After the second month, I finally had a routine. Each day started at the same time, I walked the dogs, got ready for work and wrote my good morning email. I wrote emails to Christian at any time something exciting happened back home, as I figured eventually he would see it.

The number one thing I missed with Christian being gone was the conversations. You never truly appreciate a phone call or text until the day you’re talking to your dogs about what you’re eating for dinner.

What Christian missed the most was definitely the food. Being a Nuclear Engineer means you have long hours of work and most days the cafeteria closes before you can get there to eat anything. But even then the food is nothing like your girlfriend’s gourmet home-cooked meals. I once spent day’s researching how I could get his favorite cookies in the mail and to the ship without them going bad. But I came to the decision we wouldn’t chance it and I’d have them waiting for him when he got home.  

Longer than Expected

We finally hit the 30 days left mark and Christians deployment was extended. I was absolutely crushed. My spirits were so high; we had almost made it through the deployment without any arguments or major changes. Christian wasn’t too shocked, but he asked for one thing to help him finish this out. He asked for photos of the dogs and me. So I hired a photographer, drove to the most beautiful barn and had photos taken. I figured special photos he had never seen would give him a boost of energy knowing we were still here waiting for him.  

We were finally in the home stretch. Christian made a rule for him and his friends; they agreed to never countdown. So I tried to participate but I couldn’t help it. As the days went by I got more and more excited. I prepared for his homecoming in the only way I knew how: clean the house. At one point, I cleaned the floors on all fours with a sponge, a bucket, and Pine Sol.

I called my family in Ohio and had them mail me some Skyline Chili, which if you’re from Cincinnati it’s the best thing you could come home to, and I made sure all his favorite snacks were in the house, along with buying all the ingredients to make his favorite dinner and his favorite cookies! Being the crafty girl I am, I spent three hours making a sign so he could find me easily in the crowd. Of course, that meant the dogs needed some welcome home bandanas too!  

Roadblock on Base

The day before homecoming was a disaster. My photographer, Ashleigh and I weren’t on the list at the gate to get on base. Neither of us is a married military spouse. I went into full panic mode, but I finally found a wife, who I never met, and was willing to get us on base.

Homecoming Day Arrives

That morning was surreal. I picked up both girls and headed to base. When I got there, I was surrounded by hundreds of people with a massive ship sitting in front of me. I instantly cried. We finally made it through deployment.

It took three hours for the sailors to come off the ship and of course the Nuclear Engineers were last. I watched families and friends reunite with their loved ones and I was shaking from how nervous I was. When my eyes locked onto Christian I sprinted, full speed ahead, and jumped on him. I refused to let go. We were standing in the middle of the road well over 5 minutes, which seemed like forever to others but seemed like nothing to someone who hadn’t received a hug in six months.  

Home Sweet Home

We finally got home and the first thing we did was take the dogs for a walk and go out to dinner like a normal couple would. And just like that, it was like he never left my side. The best part about him being home is having my best friend back. I was alone for six months, I had a strict routine to make sure everything was done on time. There was no going off schedule because it was just me.  I’m never alone now and my support system is back. Deployment number two has been scheduled, just six months after they returned home. But we’re ready for another battle. 

You might also enjoy  “5 Ideas For Pre-Deployment Family Trips.”

This post was written by Shay Garner and photographed by Ashleigh Mitchell.

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