Deployment offers only one guarantee to family members. At some point during the absence of your airman, soldier, Coastie, sailor, or Marine, you will need information. How do you get that? You can't just Google which pier is the homecoming site for your ship. Your BFF doesn't know how a newbie finds a job at Twenty-nine Palms. Even your mom doesn't know whether it is normal not to hear from your service member for 17 straight days. That is why spouses, parents, partners, fiancées, girlfriends and boyfriends need to seek more than one point of contact during their service member's deployment. Here are X sources that might help you get the information you need.
1. Your service member.
According to the research, the most relied upon source of information for military spouses is their service member. This is good—if your service member is the kind of person who thinks to share a lot of information.
When service members are young, they often do not share the information you want. This is mostly due to the fact that they rarely have access to all the information you wish they had. They don't know the exact return date. They don't know what ports they will visit. They can't guarantee they will be at Disney on a certain day or whether they can attend a cousin's wedding. They don't know. And they often hate to ask questions.
Even for senior service members, information about the length and breadth of the deployment changes frequently. Uncertainty is part of deployment—which is frustrating for family members.
Most service members get better at sharing information over time, especially if you praise them. So when they pass info to you, praise that a lot.
2. Your official source.
Most military units have an individual assigned to be the liaison for family members. Their job is to answer your questions.
The Navy and Coast Guard have a volunteer Ombudsman to help families in each unit. The Air Forces has a Key Volunteer. In the Army, you want to connect with your unit's FRSA (Family Readiness Support Assistant). In the Marine Corps, you are looking for the Family Readiness Officer.
The FRO or the FRSA is a person who is paid to connect families with the command and community services. The Ombudsman or Key Volunteer is usually a family member connected to the command who has offered to help others.
Paid or not, these professionals want to know that you are out there and how to contact you. Your service member should let them know you are out there. You can also contact them yourself.
Find contact information for them by Googling the name of your service member's command and the term "ombudsman," "key volunteer," "FRO" or "FRSA" depending on your service.
If you can't find that information this way, contact the Navy's local Fleet and Family Support Center, Army Community Services, Marine Corps Community Services, the Air Force's Airman and Family Readiness Center, or the national Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry.
3. Your Insider Source
One of the skills of a new military spouse or significant other is to collect information. So start with Military.com's SpouseBuzz blog for tips by and for military spouses and MilSos who are living the life right now. Sign up for the Military.com Family Insider newsletter here that sends you an email every week with stories that effect military families. Or like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter or Pinterest.
Even if you don't know anyone else with a loved one in the military, you can connect with likeminded others online.
4. Your service member's family.
Deployment is a good time to develop a friendly relationship with your service member's family (unless they do not communicate with their family — in that case leave them alone.) You don't want to move in with his or her folks, but a monthly call, note, post or text is nice.
If you are unmarried, your service member's family will be the first point of official contact for the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Coast Guard or Air Force. So keep the relationship courteous and kind.
5. Your branch.
As you can probably tell already, each branch has its own language, traditions, current knowledge, preferences. Find out a little more by surfing Facebook groups for your branch or for your soldier's current duty stations. Some of these are bad sites. You know they are bad if you always feel terrible after you get offline. You are a smartie. Figure this out.
6. Your local friends and fellow spouses and parents.
Finding friends in the local area is a good idea for all military family members. Attend events specifically for your unit like holiday parties and predeployment picnics. Also attend live events like Military.com's The Spouse Experience to meet locals outside your unit.
Meeting others from the unit isn't easy to do from a long way away, but you can put out feelers—especially if your unit has a Facebook page.
7. Military OneSource
The go-to source for military spouses (not parents, girlfriends, fiancées, partners etc) is the Department of Defense's Military OneSource. This is a resource you can reach online or call 1-800-342-9647 to ask questions about everything from your benefits to how to access free mental health care. They are available 24/7/365 and can help you find the right answer.
Deployment is a time of information seeking. You may not be able to find every answer, but you will definitely find a lot of people motivated to help you help yourself. And that goes a long way to making deployment a lot better.