RSS Feed

Army vs. Peace Corps deployment from the SO’s viewpoint

Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 in Military Spouses

Today I was wondering why I’m already so focused on HabMoo’s deployment which is several months away. I suddenly recalled preparing for D’s Peace Corps service and how that was significantly different. But why and how?


Background: D is an old boyfriend I met shortly before he left for the Ivory Coast. While there, he had to be evacuated because of civil unrest. He lived with me for a few months and then left for Jamaica. HabMoo is my husband and we married after he was deployed, but a day or two before he left for Iraq. (He spent several months of deployment in the U.S. being trained and bored.)

Length of service

Even though the Peace Corps term is two years and the Army National Guard’s is now officially only one year, the Army deployment feels longer. When D was in the Ivory Coast and Jamaica I had the option of visiting him. I don’t have the option of flying to Kuwait and getting a tour of all the historic sites and national wonders. I never planned to go to the Ivory Coast, but I did have that option. And I did take the opportunity to visit D in Jamaica. The distance in terms of miles and time seemed less because I could influence it.

Plus I have the knowledge that the MN Army National Guard Red Bulls had the longest tour during WWII and so far in Iraq (22 months of active duty, 16 in Iraq) And those soldiers who had their deployments extended just when they thought they were coming home. I also remember how many months HabMoo was in the states seemingly just waiting to go to Iraq when the countdown would actually begin. So my trust in the announced length of deployment is very low.

Historic precedence

I haven’t seen any movies or heard any songs about the Peace Corps or their loved ones left at home. I have seen lots of war movies and have listened to my own family’s stories, so my expectations are that deployments truly suck for those left at home. If I let my imagination wander, it wanders to some pretty unpleasant stories and images.

When hostilities break out in a host country, Peace Corps volunteers are evacuated. Soldiers are sent the into the fray.

The image of the soldier and the nurse in Times Square is iconic, but reveals the relief of a war ending. I don’t expect the wars we’re in now to really end so I don’t envision HabMoo coming home when the war is over. I expect him to come home when the Army decides his unit can come home. I know that his family will be excited, but I don’t expect a parade or community celebration and relief.

When Peace Corps volunteers comes home, they bring lots of stories that everyone wants to hear. When soldiers come home everyone is curious, but cautious and not so sure they want to hear the stories.

Preparations

Preparing for D’s departure was emotional and involved gift-giving, getting his new address, buying phone cards, and making sure he left one of his t-shirts behind. The date was set even if we didn’t know exactly where he’d be working. The Ivory Coast was harder to prepare for since the country had less infrastructure, but when he left we weren’t as close and I liked the thought of learning more about him through letters. Jamaica was easier; I knew I could get phone calls and regular mail.

D was super excited about his Peace Corp preparations and didn’t hide that. I could share some of that excitement. HabMoo also displays some restrained excitement a, but even though this time he’s preparing for a fairly secure location in Kuwait, he’s still preparing for war. There’s excitement, but it’s in a different key. He’s making purchases just like D did, and planning what to pack. They both prepared for a mission, for service, and I could feel proud of each of them for that.  But preparing for poverty and cultural shock differs from preparing to carry a weapon with you to meals.

The organization

The Peace Corps does a good job of preparing loved ones and letting them know what to expect before, during, and after the volunteer stint is over. And it’s even possible for the volunteer to quit. The Army is trying to prepare families, but they still pretty much suck at it. The Peace Corps has more experience and functions in the U.S. as a single organization. The U.S. Armed Services has multiple branches and there are a multitude of poorly organized websites with information and resources. This serves to frustrate this family member more than it supports her.

If the Peace Corps says the volunteer will be at this location and this is how you can reach him in an emergency, then that’s what I’ll believe. If the Army tells me that, I’ll be thrilled that they shared concrete details and then I’ll wonder how long this information will be accurate. This is particularly true when the soldier has leave or a departure date. I trust dates when I have confirmation that my soldier is on a plane and not before. War is hell on one’s ability to schedule. I can’t help but wonder if he’ll be leaving in January or November instead of April or May.

Conclusion

Peace Corps isn’t war. It’s just a long-term separation which might change the volunteer, but will most likely be a positive experience. It’s hard and lonely and routines are trashed.

War is messy and unorganized and worrisome. It’s a much harder long-term separation which will certainly change the soldier. It might be a positive change, as I think HabMoo’s was from his time in Iraq, or it might not be. I worried about D coming home and being obnoxiously wanting to tell me how things were done in his host country and how privileged my life is. I worry about HabMoo coming home crazy.

Please note: I don’t mean crazy as in having PSTD. I worry about what being cooped up and bored day after day does to his psyche, not to mention the tone of his communications with me. I’m hoping he has a few important decisions to make while he’s there so he doesn’t have to re-learn the skill when he returns. Last time he came home with the trick of picking up a pencil with his upper lip. I hope he’s able to channel his creativity and energy as well this time around.

I hope I learn to be flexible and resilient.

Leave a Comment