By Jaimi Erickson
It was a scenario out of a movie, or one that felt like it anyway. We had just moved to a new base when our first baby was six weeks old. It was our first home on a military installation and I was excited to lean into the military spouse life. I was nothing but optimistic and hopeful.
One week after my husband checked in with his new unit, we got the absolute worst left-field news that I could have ever dreamed up: My husband was being temporarily reassigned to a base an hour away and he would join a new unit that was preparing to deploy. But, this deployment was unlike the normal deployments we were prepared to handle. He was now an individual augment. An individual augment (IA) deployment is one where your spouse gets reassigned to a different unit. Usually this is done for purposes of a deployment or a temporary additional duty at a location not local to where they are stationed. On top of that, this deployment was going to last for one full year.
As a newbie Milspouse, I was devastated. Processing the news, I became vitally aware of two facts: I, a new military spouse, would now not only learn how to parent a child on my own, but also to live through my baby’s entire first year alone.
As with every military spouse experience, there are lessons learned in the process. The military spouse experience is made up of one lesson learned after another in each new base location and each new military community experience.
I was not looking forward to navigating this situation alone and I most definitely did not sign up for this. But, as MilSpouses do, we weather the storm and learn as we go. It was going to be tough (Think of Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day type of awful.)
The Weird Deployments Teach the Best Lessons
One blessing for our IA unit was that it was only an hour away. For the work-up period (where the unit trains intensely together for the deployment situation), my husband was effectively not at home. He drove to the other base early each morning. Many nights they worked so late, he had to sleep there, too.
Late nights, early mornings, and it was all preparation for my servicemember to be gone for an entire calendar year. Unreal.
Being the spouse of an IA servicemember means you are no longer connected to your home unit for support. My first goal as a spouse was to volunteer with the unit. It was the path I thought would be the way for me to meet other spouses and build community where we were stationed. I called our unit’s family representative and asked how I could volunteer. I was told I could not volunteer due to my husband’s IA status.
Having gotten a “no” answer, I knew I had to try something else, or else I would be very lonely. This was my falling-through-the-cracks experience. It happens when the system breaks and you have to just do your best to live through it. But, again, in true military spouse fashion, I am wiser for the wear and tear.
Challenge Is Growth in Disguise
The best lesson I learned from that heart-breaking, challenging, lonely year was always to look for another spouse who does not have a community. Always be the one to invite someone into your group.
As a spouse, when you thrive in community, but you are told you cannot access it, there is nothing worse. After living that experience, I always encourage military spouses to build your community, even if it is not connected to your home unit.
Having a personal source of strength is the key to getting through a long, challenging season like an IA deployment. No one ever said being a military spouse is easy or predictable. It is, however, filled with tremendous lessons for your personal growth. Some days I despise that fact; other days, I lean into it and soak in all the growth it provides.