Deployment Basics By Service Branch

At some point in your loved one’s military service, you’ll probably hear the words, “I’m deploying.” What does that really mean, and how can you support your service member?

The word deployment can mean different things, depending on your service member’s job, and their unit and service branch, but it generally means a scheduled time away from the usual duty station, and usually outside of the United States. It may mean seven months on a Navy ship, 12 months at a Forward Operating Base, or three months in a town with restaurants and shops you’d recognize back home. Sometimes, your service member may serve in dangerous situations, but they have intense training and are well prepared for the challenges they may face in their specific mission.

The deployment cycle is the period of time from the notification of a deployment, through pre-deployment training, through the deployment, and immediately after deployment. Every deployment cycle is different, but here are some general things to know:

Army deployment

Soldiers can deploy in large or small groups, or even individually. Many soldiers will do pre-deployment training at large training centers such as the National Training Center, or NTC, the Joint Readiness Training Center, or at specific training centers located at bases across the country. An average deployment cycle will include months of training at their home base and at these specialized courses.

Soldiers with specific skills may go individually or in smaller units. They will have different types of training requirements based on the job, their prior preparation and the location of the deployment.

Learn more about Army deployments »

Marine Corps deployment

Many Marine Corps deployments happen on Navy ships, or they may fly to their deployment location. The majority of Marine Corps deployments include approximately one year of training followed by six to seven months of actual deployment time. However, a significant number of Marine Corps deployments may be scheduled for one year or more.

The Marine Corps prepares to support a wide variety of missions, often on short notice. Deployment types include training exercises, force readiness, supporting ongoing missions and humanitarian support. (Streaming YouTube is currently blocked from DOD networks.)

Learn more about Marine Corps deployments »

Navy deployment

Many Navy deployments are on ships or submarines. Whether your service member is permanently assigned to the ship or sub, or joining the vessel as part of a separate unit such as an aircraft squadron, they’ll spend many months before the deployment participating in a wide variety of training both on and off the ship or sub. Ship- or sub-based deployments typically last six or seven months, though occasionally, they will go longer. The time at sea may be broken up by port calls, where the ship pulls into a town and the sailors are permitted to go ashore and enjoy some time off.

Sailors who deploy without a ship or sub may go to a variety of locations to perform a wide range of jobs. Their pre-deployment training may be part of their regular job, so there may not be much disruption to their regular schedule, or they may need to learn entirely new skills for the deployment. These deployments may be with Navy units, joint units or they may be assigned to a unit of a different branch of the military. The latter is usually called an individual augmentee job. Sailors deployed without a ship or a sub may go for as little as 30 days or for more than a year.

Learn more about Navy deployments »

Air Force deployment

Airmen participate in many different types of deployments. Most Air Force deployments involve flying to another location, often an overseas Air Force base, a joint base or the base of another service. Airmen may live on those bases or stay in hotels.

Some Air Force units have a faster deployment cycle, with shorter deployments and shorter times between deployments. While they still may follow the six- to 12-month average of the other branches, they may also do a series of two- to three-month deployments in quick succession. Differences in deployment tempo are usually based upon job and unit.

Learn more about Air Force deployments »

How You Can Support Your Service Member

Deployment can bring about a wide range of emotions for both the service member and the family at home. They may be excited to do the job for which they’ve trained, sad to be apart from their family and perhaps nervous about how the deployment will unfold. It’s natural to feel all these things, sometimes all at the same time.

Realistic expectations are an important part of making it through the deployment cycle. Three key things to remember throughout the process:

  1. Your service member has been training to use their skills during a deployment. They are well prepared to do this job and may be very focused on the mission they’re doing.
  2. Things can, and will, change frequently. Trainings and deployments can be moved up, delayed or cancelled altogether. Departure and return dates will shift. Communication may be limited. The more understanding you are, the more your service member will feel supported.
  3. Your service member will not be able to answer all your questions. Your loved one may not know the answer to your question, or they may not be able to tell you the things they do know.

You can help your service member by asking what they want and how you can help. For example, they may want you to come to homecoming for one deployment but not for another, based upon a wide variety of factors including location, likelihood of date changes and post-deployment requirements. They may need help with things like paying bills or storing their car.

It's also smart to talk through a couple of what-if scenarios and to get some basic information. Be sure you know the specific name of their unit and at least one phone number to call if there is an emergency back home.

Whether you are a parent, sibling or friend, you probably have a lot of questions about your loved one’s deployment. Feel more prepared with Military OneSource’s Plan My Deployment and the pre-deployment checklist.

Check out the rest of the Friends & Extended Family content at Military OneSource to keep connected with your service member’s military life.