To explain all the aspects of pre-deployment to those who have never experienced them, I would have to write a manual. Instead, I've chosen four key things to explain that are good to know when supporting Troops during this phase of military life.
1. The Emotional Roller Coaster. Don't be or act surprised when Troops behave differently in the time period before they leave--specifically if it's a dangerous, lengthy, or unclear assignment. The person may be more introverted than usual or more irritable than usual. Even with my knowledge of psychology & wonderful support system, I noticed a change in my behavior. Although I often suppressed it, I felt tense & was easily irritated. I didn't enjoy having to constantly "dummy things down" to answer people's questions which were "silly" to me. I wished they'd stop & just listen & be supportive-not make me explain things they didn't understand. Not fair, I know. Then I felt guilty if I lost my patience. Most of all, I feel sad to leave my loved ones--knowing I am voluntarily causing them to worry about my safety overseas.
2. Preparation for Deployment is a Hassle! If things go smoothly (better chances in a group deploying together) it helps tremendously. However, as was my case, there were difficulties with paperwork, unreturned calls, unclear requests, and changing or missing information. The best thing during all this was the help & support of friends & family. My last night, Mom helped me pack until 1a.m., then woke up to drive me to the airport at 4:30a.m. This helped & meant the world to me.
Packing can be a stressor too. I've learned from experience to pack a carry-on loaded with items that would suffice should all other luggage be lost (one of every necessary item of clothing, medications, valuables, records). Today one poor Soldier had to wear boots with shorts because luggage was lost.
3. Paperwork & Training. My advice--Troops should take every important piece of paperwork with them! Orders, medical and immunization records, divorce decrees, leases, etc. I have seen Troops needlessly frustrated by jumping through all kinds of hoops to retrieve missing paperwork. For training (or "CRC," "in-processing," "mob site") the best attitude is, "Expect things to be disorganized, expect to wait in very long lines, expect ridiculous-sounding requests. Expect all this but keep a pleasant outlook and try to have a good time." This has helped me tremendously.
4. Mental Preparation. I have found it helpful to plan for the worst, but hope for the best. Also, discuss "the worst" with loved ones. For example, I feel completely at peace with dying & have given thought to certain "worst-case scenarios" such as being captured by the enemy or being blown up by an IED. Is this likely to happen? No. Is it possible? Yes. Discussing these things helps me to feel prepared & more comfortable. Problem is--most loved ones react so dramatically/emotionally I feel I can't discuss things with them. What is most helpful are those who listen and don't appear shocked or uncomfortable with such discussions. It has been least helpful when someone says to me, "let's not discuss the possibility of you dying" or "oh, you'll be perfectly safe" or "are we seriously discussing you in a wheelchair? That's depressing."
Just a few things to keep in mind when working with Troops. Especially when they seem anxious or angry, it is most helpful to be patient, supportive, and understanding--even when it seems difficult or undeserved in the moment.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist working at the Pentagon. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.