When service members tell you that they’ve received “orders to mobilize,” that means they’ll soon be deployed. This is the moment they have trained for since they entered basic training: preparing to serve a greater mission wherever and whenever they are needed.
Sure, your heart may be beating fast right now, but don’t let that overshadow the pride you have in your service member. Here’s what those deployment orders mean for both your service member and you as a family member, along with suggestions on how you can best support service members before they ship off to their temporary duty station.
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A predeployment checklist for you and your service member
The U.S. military sends tens of thousands of service members — plus their equipment and transportation — around the world every year on deployment. This long-standing, well-oiled military machine revolves around planning and preparation.
Exactly how service members prepare for their upcoming deployment depends on their specific orders to mobilize. Some deployments include an 18-month “cruise” on military ships performing routine patrols. Other service members may land at a forward operating base, or FOB, in combat zones. There are also deployments at duty stations with restaurants and shops you’d recognize back home.
No matter what the deployment is, all service members undergo specialized training, briefings, medical evaluations and counseling during what’s known as their predeployment phase. Service members also work together with their immediate and extended families to address financial, legal and household matters to make sure everything back home is secure while they are away.
Below, we’ve listed some of the tasks all service members should complete during the predeployment phase, and how you might be able to offer help if they ask.
During deployment, communication can be limited, and commitment to their primary mission can prevent service members from being able to handle problems back home. Therefore, it is recommended that service members grant a limited power of attorney to a trusted family member or friend. This ensures that someone on the homefront will have the legal authority to address any necessary legal or economic issues that may come up while the service member is away. Also — like many people do before major life events — service members are encouraged to draft or update a will.
Service members can get free legal help for drafting powers of attorney, wills and other necessary legal documents. Their installation legal assistance/JAG office, or a civilian attorney can also draw up these documents.
It’s important that your service member ensures their DD Form 93 or Record of Emergency Data and insurance coverage are current. The DD Form 93 not only lists who should be notified in the event of an emergency but is also the place your service member designates certain beneficiaries in the event of their death. To learn more, you may want to invite your service member to view the e-tutorial “Completing the DD93” and access the SGLI Online Enrollment System or SOES.
Service members will still be responsible for all regular bills while they’re deployed. If they vent to you about paying for services they won’t be around to use, you may want to point them to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Among other things, the SCRA allows service members to terminate auto leases, phone contracts or residential leases without fees or penalty under certain circumstances — often including deployment. Also note that other service providers or companies can suspend or greatly reduce charges while your service member is away, even if it’s not required by law.
For any other bills, they may want to consider enabling automatic payments, either with credit cards that will not expire during their deployment or drawn directly from an active bank account. You may also want to encourage your service member to freeze credit altogether while away in order to prevent identity theft.
Service members who are single parents may ask others to care for their children while they’re deployed. If you have been asked to be the designated caregiver, you should ask for the service member’s official family care plan. A family care plan includes information on the family’s daily routine, available military services and other important details you’ll find useful during your guardianship. You can point the service member toward the installation’s free legal services if the service member still needs to draw up a family care plan.
The children should also have up-to-date Department of Defense identification cards before your service member deploys. These ID cards will verify their status as military dependents for services, as well as let you shop on their behalf as their guardian at installation commissaries.
Finally, all dependents — including children and spouses — must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility and Enrollment Reporting System, or DEERS, before they can receive many military benefits, including TRICARE health insurance. Your service member is the only one who can add or remove family members, so be sure the service member double-checks the family’s enrollment status before deploying.
Deployment often involves special and incentive pay, as well as possible tax exclusions and other benefits for service members sent to specific areas or possessing certain jobs. Learn more about deployment benefits and making a deployment plan for staying fiscally fit.
Deployment also qualifies service members for the Savings Deposit Program, which earns 10% interest compounded quarterly on up to $10,000 every deployment. If their budget allows, they can also contribute up to $50,000 of their tax-exempt pay to their Thrift Savings Plan every year they’re deployed.
Military OneSource offers service members free financial counseling to help plan for this potential windfall or for any possible financial hurdles they may face during deployment.
Before your service member deploys, make a plan for how you can get in touch with each other, especially for the first time. Just like when service members are at basic training, they will be very busy and may not have time to respond immediately. It may take several weeks before they are able to contact you. Once they do, they will be able to give you an idea of how frequently they can communicate and by what means.
Also, find out if they can receive care packages at their future duty station and what they’d most like to receive while away. These requests may change based on their deployment experience, so stay flexible.
And remember — letters and notes from loved ones are priceless.
Find out more about what happens during the predeployment phase for both service members and their families. You can learn about the tasks, briefings and other preparations your service member undergoes before deploying at Plan My Deployment, a free online tool available to help military families organize and understand all phases of deployment. For an overview of other deployment resources, visit the Military Deployment Support webpage.
And did you know that active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members also have access to free support services ranging from financial planning to professional counseling? Learn more about available assistance when your Guard or reserve service member is called to active duty.
Still have questions or need help finding information? Military OneSource consultants are available 24/7/365 to connect you and your service member with the resources you need to master your deployment. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS calling options or schedule a live chat.