It’s a hard life living when you’re lonely
It’s a long night sleeping alone
It’s a hard time waiting for tomorrow
It’s a long, long way home.
— “Prisoners” by John Denver
Colorado Springs is a military town. Three branches of the US Armed Forces can be found there: Army, Navy and Air Force. As a result, many residents of the city know what it is like to have a member of their family deployed for long stretches of time. While the lyrics of the John Denver song may relate to prisoners, they can be equally applied to those serving our country overseas.
Members of the Jewish community in Colorado Springs shared their experiences with deployment with the Intermountain Jewish News.
James Land is a psychiatrist serving as a doctor in the Army. He has been sent overseas on three occasions: the first was to Germany and Iraq for 17 months; the second to Iraq for four months; and the third to Qatar and Iraq for nine months.
His wife, Jordana, and children, Austin and Raina, were left to handle things on their own during his deployments. Jordana said that during James’ absences she faced various challenges that differed according to the different times of their children’s lives.
During James’ first deployment, the kids were three and five years old. Jordana said it was easier to handle things on her own back then, as the children did not yet have extracurricular activities. As James’ second absence was of only four months duration, it was also not difficult.
James’ most recent deployment was the hardest for the family, she said. Austin and Raina were in high school and were participating in several activities outside of school, such as wrestling and band. Jordana often had to choose which activities to attend, as she “couldn’t be in two places at once.” She became emotional when mentioning the offers she had from friends for carpooling or rides home for the kids. Jordana said that she found out who her friends were during that time.
Jordana’s biggest challenge during James’ absences was that her children are “not great on the phone.” As this was the family’s main method of communication with James, she said that James missed out on some contact with his children. He was often able to call only late in the morning, Colorado time, when the kids were at school, or very late at night either overseas or in Colorado.
Since the family was in Germany at the start of his first deployment, their initial communication was on a military line at no cost to them.
The shortest absence, of four months, went by quickly while Jordana and the kids were getting settled in Colorado. During his most recent deployment, Jordana said that she spoke with James every day using WhatsApp.
The challenges of staying in touch
Predrag (Pedja) and Sandy Pavlovic are parents to Emi and Alexander. Pedja is a family physician for the Naval Reserve and is currently serving in Germany. He has been there for almost a year.
When asked what kind of adjustments the family had to go through regarding Pedja’s deployment, Sandy replied that she is in the same situation as a single parent.
The family has been through a difficult year, she said: Pedja’s mother died last year, both of their cars were totaled by the hailstorm in August, 2018, their house suffered a great deal of damage in the same storm, their family dog died and their cat went missing.
Pedja was able to return to visit his mother just before she died. Emi was a senior in high school this past year, and Sandy took her to visit colleges in Oregon and Colorado. As Pedja was unable to be with them, Sandy handled everything alone.
Sandy said that she speaks with Pedja every day using WhatsApp. A problem they encounter is the time difference. If Pedja calls at the end of his day, Sandy is often with a client.
The exception to her life as a single parent? Her time to be alone will come to an end, Sandy said.
More mental health follow-up needed
Travis Broussard is a Staff Sergeant in the Army. He has been deployed three times, all in Afghanistan: first for 18 months and twice more for nine months each. His wife, Emma, is a full-time registered nurse and is also attending graduate school for nursing. She mentioned that one of her biggest problems is mowing the lawn as often as her homeowners’ association would like her to do.
Emma is isolated in Colorado Springs; she has no family here. When she speaks to Travis on the phone, Emma can hear air raid sirens in the background and fears for his safety. When Travis came home from his first two deployments, he seemed different. Emma said that his experiences affected him deeply, but since he did not show signs of overt PTSD, there was not a lot of help for Travis through military channels. He does not like to talk to Emma about his situation overseas.
Emma feels that soldiers such as Travis need more follow-up for mental health, including professional counseling.
Emma and Travis did not have many opportunities to talk during the initial part of his first deployment. When Travis was injured and sent to Germany, they were able to use IM (instant messaging).
During his second deployment, they were able to use Skype every day with charges of $100 per month assessed by the Afghani government. For Travis’ third deployment, the internet connection was available only once in the nine months he was there.
‘Say yes to offers’
When asked to give advice to families who may find themselves in their situation, Jordana Land said that it is important to prioritize a regular time to talk with your spouse. The family can begin to feel disconnected after only two days with no contact.
She also suggested that families accept help from friends: she said, “say yes to offers.”
Sandy Pavlovic said that it is essential to have a good support system. She recommended that those at home stay strong and try not to be depressed or disappointed.
Emma Broussard advised to view deployment as a time to better yourself, so that “your soldier comes home to a better version of you.” According to Emma, “all deployments are not created equal.”