Your service member has just told 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, but don’t let that overshadow the pride you have in your service member right now. Practically speaking, here’s what those deployment orders mean for both your service member and you as their family member, along with suggestions on how you can best support them 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, all running as part of a longstanding, well-oiled machine revolving around planning and preparation.
Exactly how service members will 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. Then, there are 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 several financial and legal matters, to make sure everything back home is secure during deployment.
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 service members can be too distracted by their primary mission to handle problems back home. Therefore, it’s recommended they grant a limited power of attorney to a trusted family member or friend, since spouses or parents don’t always have automatic legal authority to address certain issues. And – like many people do before major life events – they may want to consider drafting or updating a will.
Service members can get free legal help drafting powers of attorney, wills and other necessary legal documents. You can direct them to their closest military legal support office, or a civilian attorney can also draw up these documents.
Your service member 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 their credit altogether while they’re gone to prevent identity theft.
If your service member is a single parent, they may have asked you to care for their children while they’re deployed. As the designated caregiver, you should ask for their official family care plan before they leave, which 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 them toward their installation’s free legal services if they still need to draw up a family care plan.
The children should also have up-to-date DOD 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 an installation’s commissaries.
Finally, all dependents – including children and spouses – must be enrolled in the DEERS system before they may receive many military benefits, including TRICARE. Your service member is the only one who can add or remove family members, so they should double-check the family’s enrollment status before deploying.
Deployment often involves Special & Incentive pay for service members sent to specific areas or possessing certain jobs.
Your service member may be interested to hear that their deployment qualifies them 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 plan for this potential windfall or for any possible financial hurdles your service member may face during deployment.
Before your service member deploys, make a plan on how they will get in touch with you the first time. Just like when they were at basic training, they will be very busy and may not have time to respond immediately. It may take several weeks before they have a moment to make a phone call, so it may take a while for them 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.
There’s more that happens during the predeployment phase, for both service members and their families. You can learn more 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.
And did you know that active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members have access to services from financial planning to peer or professional counseling? It’s free and available 24/7 through Military OneSource.