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Deployment Basics for Friends and Family

Service members walk towards their next location.

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?

Looking for a deployment “how-to” guide?

The Plan My Deployment website offers comprehensive information and resources for every phase of the deployment cycle.

The word deployment can mean different things, depending on your service member’s job, unit and service branch. Generally, deployment means a scheduled time away from the normal duty station, 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 starts when a service member is notified of a deployment and extends through any predeployment training, the actual deployment, and reunion and reintegration. 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 predeployment training at large training centers such as the National Training Center, 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 service members 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.

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 is 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 predeployment 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 or joint units, or service members 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 Air Force deployments still may follow the average durations of other branch deployments, typically six to 12 months, 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 »

Supporting your service member during deployment

Knowing what to expect during the deployment cycle can help everyone manage challenges more successfully. The Plan My Deployment website offers comprehensive information and resources for service members and families. Think of it as your deployment “how-to” guide. Military OneSource also offers information specifically for friends and extended family to help you understand military life and culture and support your service member.

Deployment can bring about a wide range of emotions for service members, families and friends. Everyone may be excited for your service member to do the job for which they’ve trained yet also feel sad about being apart and perhaps nervous about how the deployment will unfold. It’s natural to feel all these things, sometimes all at the same time.

One of the best ways to help manage deployment challenges like these and support your service member is to have realistic expectations. Three key things for family and friends to remember throughout the deployment cycle are:

  1. Your service member has been training to use his or her skills during a deployment. Your service member is well prepared to do this job and may be very focused on the mission ahead.
  2. Things can and will change frequently. Trainings and deployments can be moved up, delayed or canceled 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 may not be able to tell you the things he or she does know.

A good way to face deployment is to be informed and try not to worry about things you can’t control. Instead, focus on the things you can control – like staying in touch with your service member. Learn more about how you can support your service member before deployment and visit the Military Deployment Support web page for an overview of resources. You can also subscribe to the Friends & Family Connection eNewsletter to stay connected.

If you have questions about deployment or other aspects of military life, Military OneSource consultants are available 24/7/365 to help you find answers and connect you with the resources you need. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS calling options or schedule a live chat.

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