Every traumatic event we encounter in life triggers a cycle of emotional responses; military families experience this emotional roller coaster continuously due to the frequency of deployments.

The Army’s website, US Army Hooah4Health, outlines the following 7-stage cycle that military families go through with each deployment:

Stage 1 – Anticipation of Departure: Begins when the service member receives an order for deployment and ends when he or she actually leaves.

Stage 2 – Detachment and Withdrawal:  Final weeks prior to deployment

Stage 3 – Emotional Disorganization:  First six weeks of the deployment

Stage 4 – Recovery and Stabilization:  Two months into the deployment to a few weeks before the end of deployment

Stage 5 – Anticipation of Return:  Final weeks of deployment

Stage 6 – Return Adjustment and Renegotiation: First six weeks post deployment

Stage 7 – Reintegration and Stabilization: Up to six months post deployment[1]

To read the full blog entry, click HERE.

Deployment’s Emotional Stages: Stage 1 for an Army Mom

By Tracie Ciambotti

The first stage of the emotional cycle of deployment, according to Hooah4Health, is “Anticipation of Departure” which begins when the service member receives an order for deployment.  The increased frequency of deployments has unfortunately imprisoned military families in a constant roller coaster of emotions because the cycle never ends—stage one often begins before stage seven is completed.

When my son, Josh, returned from Iraq the end of 2009 he already knew his brigade was scheduled for Afghanistan the summer of 2011; while we transitioned into non-deployment life, the anticipation of him leaving again was always lurking.

Josh with his wife, Alison, and mother, Tracie, coloring Easter eggs, April 2011.

As the mother of a soldier currently serving his third deployment in six years, I have learned to make the most of the months between deployments.  It’s not just taking the time it is making the time to spend every possible minute with him while he is stateside, knowing that opportunity shrinks with each passing day.  Holidays and special events shared with him are precious because they are few.  I was able to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with Josh in 2010 and we colored Easter eggs together this past April—all of which were rare events only possible because my husband and I relocated to Colorado last year.  I am very fortunate to live close to Josh’s home post now at Fort Carson; many families are not able to spend holidays with their service member even when they are not deployed because of where their loved one is serving.

To read the full blog entry, click HERE.

Deployment Emotional Cycles: Stage 1 for an Army Wife

Josh and Alison on their hog-hunting trip prior to his third deployment.

Anticipation of Departure for the service member and spouse is different from what I experience as a military mom.  The first stage of the emotional cycle of deployment is a very busy time for the soldier and his or her family and brings mixed emotions.

The service member is away from home frequently due to extensive training and preparation which touts the reality of the looming separation for the whole family.  The bond between unit members grows immensely as they are completely focused on the impending mission.  In addition to preparing for the work side of deployments, there are many personal items that need tended to: wills and power of attorneys, house and auto repairs, decisions and arrangements about where spouse will spend the deployment, final visits with family, medical and dental visits–these are just a few.  This stage can be stressful for the soldier as he juggles the final preparations for work and home while trying to spend quality time with family.

My daughter-in-law, Alison, shared her thoughts and experiences with this stage:

“The anxiety prior to deployment is overwhelming because I feel such pressure to make the most of every moment I have left with Josh while I’m constantly fighting emotions for the loss I am about to experience when I have to say good-bye.  Josh and I created a wish list (similar to a bucket list) of things to do before he deployed and we accomplished everything.  We truly lived like we were dying and savored every outing and relaxing moment together.  I treasure the dinners, movies, walks, fishing trips, hugs, and we had intimate conversations that we struggle with during deployments.  We learned a lot about each other and our relationship as husband and wife during the month prior to his leaving. 
To read the full blog entry, click HERE.
Emotional Cycle: Stage 2 Detachment and Withdrawal for an Army Mom
I do not experience detachment and withdrawal prior to deployment as spouses do; as the mother of a soldier my physical daily life doesn’t change when my son deploys.  I can, however, appreciate how stressful this stage is for couples as I’ve watched Josh and Alison struggle to get everything in order while trying to make the most of every minute as his departure date drew closer.

The final days prior to Josh’s deployment for me were about preparing my heart and mind for the next year.  My thoughts often drifted to the losses our family experienced over the past year: Josh and Alison lost their first baby boy, Tristan Joshua Nearhoof, at seventeen weeks into the pregnancy on June 4, 2010, my mother, Dorothy Mae Zeller, died on September 6, 2010, and Josh and Alison lost their second baby boy, Easton Tower Nearhoof, at seventeen weeks on March 23, 2011.

To read the full blog entry, click HERE.

Emotional Cycle: Stage 2 Detachment and Withdrawal for an Army Wife

Josh and Ali embrace during the pre-deployment photography session.

The detachment and withdrawal stage occurs in the final days and week prior to deployment. The description provided by the Army’s website, hooah4health is specific to the soldier and his or her spouse.  Alison shares her experience with this stage:

 I find this stage to be one of the most difficult emotionally and mentally.  In the front of my mind I am preparing to be a single-married person; once the deployment starts I don’t have my husband to confide in or run to for support—I become the sole decision maker.  In the back of my mind I often feel guilty planning my next twelve months without my husband because I know there will be some good times with my family and friends.

I don’t always express my feelings of sadness and anger about him leaving—but they are always present.  Josh and I try to spend as much time together as possible but I find that I start distancing myself a couple of weeks prior to deployment while Josh seems to draw closer to me during this time.  This happens on an hourly basis and the constant attaching and detaching is an emotional roller-coaster.  I’ve come to accept this as something I have to just let happen.

Our emotions are high and our tempers are short so at times petty issues turn into major problems.  I start to feel numb to emotional pain; it’s my body’s way of protecting me from the ups and downs of the coming year.

I think this stage is the most strenuous on the marriage, particularly for couples experiencing their first deployment.  This is Josh’s third tour and it seems easier now to recognize the stages we are going through and we expect things to be rocky and emotional.

To read the full blog entry, click HERE.

Deployment Cycles: Stage 3 Emotional Disorganization for an Army Mom

The book cover of Tracie Ciambotti's book, Battles of the Heart.

Emotional disorganization, or stage 3 of the emotional cycle of deployment, occurs during the first six weeks of deployment.  My experience with this cycle, as the mother of a soldier, is different from that of a spouse; my husband is still here, my daily routine doesn’t change, and I don’t take on new responsibilities as a single parent and head of the household.

Although I try to prepare my emotions for my son’s departure, I can’t fully concoct, or practice controlling, the emotions that begin to flow once we have said our good-byes and I watch him walk away.

The thoughts and questions that I try to fight off always seem to slip into my mind in the first days and weeks of a deployment: Will I ever see my son again?  I already miss him and the sound of his voice. 

Josh’s last deployment was his third and I’ve learned new lessons with each.    He received the best training in the world for his role as a combat soldier; I was not offered any training or preparation for my role as his mother.

I learned the hard way that when he goes to war—I face my own war at home.  His war is physical, mine is emotional.  Unlike my son, trained and confident, I was unaware and unprepared for the emotional battle that takes place in your heart and mind when your child goes to a war zone.

You can read the full entry HERE.

6 Responses

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  2. This is my husband second deployment. He is in the MNANG. I believe that these stages of deployment are different for Moms vs. Spouses, New Spouses vs. Seasoned Spouses, and then there are spouses with children, young and old. Deployment affects many in many different ways. My husband and I believe that these deployments will either make or brake your marriage. We have been fortunate as we feel we are sooo much stronger today, together than we were at the begining of the first one. I give you credit for trying to put into words what its like., but really there is no discribing the absence of your spouse in your life for a year out of a time, not having your dad there for all the special things in your life. I have delt with natural disasters alone, college life and expenses alone, broken down cars, sickly, near death family members, illnesses, broken bones in our children, car accidents, broken down appliances, boy friend issues, holidays, some deaths, snow removal….and many other things to numerous to mention….But my husband is a proud soldier, a good soldier, a good husband and father. He loves his country and what he does. He is respected by his superiors as well as his charges. No matter how hard it has been for me, I will always be here for him and support him, because I know this is just as hard, if not harder, on him.

  3. My little brother is a little less than half way through his first deployment to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. He and I have always been really close. He’s 8 years younger than me (he’s 31), and he was always my side-kick. For me personally right now, I would say the strongest feelings I have are 1) constant worry, 2) frustration that I can’t do anything to protect him, and 3) guilt. The guilt thing is strange. It’s like I don’t want to enjoy things, since it seems so unfair and selfish for me to be relaxing or laughing it up, when at the same moment he could be fighting for his life. Being optimistic is a challenge, especially given the sentiment there from recent events combined with what my brother’s role is. It’s no walk in the park. I can’t imagine how he feels. Putting on a positive public face is a daily challenge.

    • My thoughts and prayers are with you and your brother. Feelings of guilt are a very natural and common response. Being happy or trying to enjoy life when a loved one is in harms way or suffering can and does produce feelings of guilt. You must constantly remind yourself that it is not selfish for you to relax and carry on, as your guilt and sadness will not change your brother’s situation. He needs to know that you his loved ones back home are okay too, that helps him carry on. Check out my book on emotional trauma of deployment, Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms:

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