Before you begin reading, let me say without hesitation, that these less-than-helpful comments always come from acquaintances and people who I’m just meeting for the first or second time. I’m not sure what it is about meeting someone that makes people say these things– I don’t think it is malice or any ill-intent. I think people are just unsure of what to say. Let me also note that these kinds of comments are probably only 5% (if that) of all of the conversations I’ve had surrounding John, his deployment, and the military, and that I am so grateful for all of the kindness that has been shown to John and me over the past year.
I’m also not offering these to ridicule anyone and I’m not writing this with an ounce of anger, frustration, or hurt. I’m simply offering the examples from my life in case you’re not sure what’s okay or not to say to someone dealing with deployment. This is my take.
(If you want to know what to say to someone who is dealing with deployment, check out my very happy, very optimistic post, “The Five Best Things People Said During Deployment.”)
Category 1, Political Commentary and Assumptions: “We shouldn’t be pulling out of Afghanistan.” When people find out I’m an inner city school teacher, they often opine about what is right/wrong, good/bad, efficient/sloppy about public education, so I’m used to unsolicited political commentary and assumptions based on what I do. However, when I began dating John, and then when he deployed, a whole new set of political questions and assumptions began cropping up.
I know that sounds ridiculous since most of this blog is about his deployment, but honestly, his role in the military is just a small part of who he is and who we are together. It always throws me off that, when people hear that John’s deployed, they often feel the need to discuss politics with me. What’s worse, many people feel the need to either educate me (“The military’s budget takes up blah, blah, blah.”) or assume that my opinion– especially when it is conservative– is their opinion. That has made for some fairly uncomfortable moments. I don’t want to hear people railing either about how pro-war, pro-military they are or about how wrong the war in Afghanistan is. Talking politics, especially about Afghanistan, doesn’t really get me anywhere– it doesn’t bring John home any faster and it doesn’t make him any safer. .
Category 3, Romantic Advice: “I don’t know how I’d let my fiance go over there with all of those people away from their spouses. You’d better watch out.” Yes, someone actually said that to me… in a professional meeting… in front of my colleagues. While that was the most blatant, pointed statement anyone has directed at me during this deployment, other people have asked me what I would do if John left me or cheated on me, or if I had ever thought about cheating on him. Let me make it very clear: I have complete faith and trust in John, his judgment, and his morals. I have never worried that he would cheat on me, so the comments from acquaintances don’t shake our relationship– more than anything, they just make me seethe. And even if I was worried about our relationship, that’s between the two of us. It’s certainly not up for discussion with anyone else.
Category 4, Questions I Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Answer: “Does he have a good chance of coming back?” People have a morbid fascination with war, and I’ve been asked various iterations of this question. I do not know what I would do if John died, and I’m definitely not going to discuss it with anyone. I also don’t know how many times his base has been hit with mortar fire or how “safe” it actually is. Most of the things that people ask in this category, I just don’t want to think about and have spent most of the year trying hard not to dwell on. Please don’t make me think about those things– Lord knows I’ve thought about them without anyone else’s nudging more than enough this year.
Category 5, Military Stuff: “So how does homecoming [or other military procedure] work?” This category isn’t annoying or upsetting at all, it’s just one that I have so very limited knowledge about, I have little to say. (And usually, if I know something, it either is subject to change or can’t be divulged due to OPSEC.) It is really nice when people want to know what’s going to happen next during the deployment, but seeing as this is my first one, I’m just about as clueless as they come. I also am not 100%-sure how PCS-ing will work, I can’t remember the names of the awards and medals John’s received over there, and I’m really unsure about anything having to do with the chains of command . Also, please don’t ask me what John’s pay grade is or how it works. Usually this is a precursor to a discussion about how much (or how little) people in the military are paid (see Category 1, Political Commentary and Assumptions.). I have no problem trying to answer the questions you have about the military, but if you want information that isn’t vague and actually might be correct, you should probably ask someone else about that stuff.