The third in a series on life in a military family.
To say Megan Flint has experience seeing her spouse leave for months on deployment is an understatement. SFC Chris Flint has been deployed 15 times in his 16-year career with the US Army. It adds up to being away a quarter of the time they have been married. No matter how many times Chris left, Megan says it never got easier, the crying never lessened.
“It was just as scary every time – whether it’s one time or 15 times. It’s not something I could ever adjust to.”
When a military spouse is deployed, it has a great effect on the husband or wife left at home. Marriages are tested by many by-products of deployment – the stress and fear of the unknown, lack of trust, and financial problems – and some fail.
As a helicopter gunner with the US Army Special Operations Aviation Unit, there were times Chris didn’t even know where he was heading. He was just told in the middle of the night it was time to go. For Megan and their three young children, the unknown continued after Chris arrived at his destination. As part of a special ops unit, he couldn’t video chat as many deployed troops do to help stay connected to loved ones at home. He called home every chance he could, but sometimes it was days between calls or emails.
“Even when we did talk, I could only ask him basic things on the phone, so we came up with code words for things.”
Chris says the monitored conversations were mostly one-way discussions. Megan would tell him everything going on at home and with the kids – good and bad – but he couldn’t tell her anything about his day.
“She’s telling me all of the stresses for her, not knowing I just cleaned blood out of my helicopter. I can’t tell her any of this…not until I come back.”
Chris and Megan decided together that she would stay away from news channels while he was away…seeing reports on the fighting would just make it harder for her. In today’s 24-hour news cycle and social media world, hastily reported news often turned out to be rumor or incomplete information.
Megan says her saving grace during these deployments were the families of the other soldiers in Chris’ unit.
“I’d worry and text another spouse. If a group of us hadn’t heard from them, we would know that something had happened.”
The spouses had their own phone tree to report new information. For many, military friends become their families – their support systems – even more so than their own families. They all go through the same challenges and emotions. Megan says those spouses are what kept her together.
“Those would be the people I would call crying. When I couldn’t even get words out, they would talk to me, cry with me, pray with me.”
The Flints say this kind of support system is crucial to keeping a marriage healthy during deployment. To get through holidays, families at home make new traditions with other military families. In the Flints’ case that included meeting one another at Cracker Barrel for holiday dinners, flying kits, or blowing bubbles.
Also important, Chris and Megan say, is trusting each other. Without trust and confidence in your relationship, deployment can be very tough on a marriage. Jealousy is a real issue for both those home and away – worrying about fidelity, and even comparing with others how often they hear from their loved ones.
Chris says the confidence he has in Megan and their relationship enables him to be a better soldier. Knowing she is taking care of their three children and everything else at home, and trusting in who she is, helps him focus on his job, and not worry about what’s going on at home.
That trust extends to the family’s finances, another stressor on relationships during deployment. Chris says he’s seen a lot of fellow soldiers struggle with the spending that goes on at home. Lacking trust and a plan, some even resort to having separate bank accounts so the spouse back at home can’t drain the couple’s savings.
“Learning how to budget is necessary,” he says. “Megan has always done the budget. You have to have one.”
Chris and Megan say going to retreats has taught them about different aspects of marriage, and how to keep their relationship strong. Many in the military marry young, Chris says, and don’t know much about married life. They don’t focus on the relationship, and that’s where problems can start. The Flints’ biggest advice – communicate openly, and don’t hold anything back.
“When they’re coming and going so much, you just have to say it…text it…communicate,” Megan says. “It’s so important.”