Most Navy squadrons deploy as units, with everyone from the skipper on down heading out and returning together. Sampson’s squadron operates a little differently. When a carrier deploys, along goes a COD detachment of two aircraft, six pilots, and a few dozen aircrew and maintenance personnel to support the logistical needs of the Boat throughout its time at sea. There is almost always at least one more detachment, or “det,” out supporting a different carrier, and the rest of the CODs and personnel are at home both getting ready to deploy and providing logistics hits to any carrier that happens to be operating within reach of the coast.
The consequence of this det-based structure is that there is never a time when the whole squadron is together or at the same point in the operational/deployment cycle. Some folks are getting ready to go out, some are in the middle of a deployment, some just got home, and some are in the thick of home guard ops while they wait to be assigned to a det and start preparations for the next deployment. As complicated as the who’s-home-and-who’s-gone calculus must be for Sampson and his squadronmates, it’s no less confusing on the spouses’ side.
In most squadrons, the wives left at home during a deployment can turn to any other wife and know that she is on the same timeline. They more than likely said goodbye to their husbands on the same day, and they have the same number of months/weeks/days left in the homecoming countdown. They reach milestones like the halfway point together, and might celebrate with a joyous night on the town with nearly all the other spouses. Deployment is an experience shared amongst all the spouses.
In COD land, only a small fraction of the squadron is on the same timeline that we are. When our det celebrates its halfway point, we’ll certainly invite all the spouses, and some number from outside our det will attend, but it will only be a milestone for a few of us. The wives whose husbands are home naturally want to spend time with their mates, so they might be less interested in wives-only socializing.
When Sampson is home, I know I tend to drift away from spouses’ club events in favor of those we can attend as a couple: the Hail and Bails, the Dining Outs, the occasional JOPA dinner and DRINKEX. These are the times I get to know Sampson’s colleagues: the buddies about whom I’ve heard crazy deployment stories, the superiors who attempt to keep JO exuberance in line, and the “Fu… er, Fine New Guys” coming to the squadron fresh from flight school. I love getting to know the people with whom Sampson works. Being able to put faces to the names that come up when he’s talking about work helps me build a picture that makes me feel more connected to Sampson, the squadron, and the Navy.
When Sampson left for last year’s deployment, it was like someone flipped a switch. Our husbands were gone, so we were forgotten as far as the squadron’s social life was concerned. Sure, there were FRG meetings and spouses’ club events, but information about Hail and Bails and JOPA get-togethers somehow never made it to us. Our husbands weren’t there in the ready room to receive the information and pass it along to us, so we never got it. In six months, I saw neither hide nor hair of Sampson’s fellow active duty pilots. Sometimes I’d hear from the wives whose husbands were home about this or that social event to which we would have been welcome, but no one remembered to get the memo to us wives whose husbands were away.
I am pleased to note that this oversight seems to have been resolved between last year’s deployment and this one. The command is doing a great job of keeping all spouses — not just the ones whose other halves are home — in the loop for upcoming events by passing along information through email instead of just assuming that the guys will get the info at work and pass it along when they get home. We found out about the most recent Hail and Bail in plenty of time to make plans to attend (to include finding a babysitter for those with kids) if we so desired.
Thanks to the encouragement and planning of one of my fellow det wives, three of us with deployed husbands did wind up going to partake of the open bar as we greeted the FNGs and said farewell to those moving on to the next set of orders. We were made to feel welcome in spite of the absence of our husbands — the skipper even thanked us specifically for coming out in his remarks at the start of the hailing and bailing. Instead of sitting at home feeling invisible and forgotten, we got to catch up with friends and meet new people. Oh, and laugh. A lot. I like to think that I even helped Sampson feel more connected to the stateside squadron scene when I related some hilarious moments to him via Skype the next day.
If you are ever in a position to wonder if you ought to attend a military social function without your spouse, I suggest that you at least consider gathering a few other wives who are in the same boat and going together. Unit dynamics vary as to what might seem weird, of course, but it was a pleasant and natural-feeling experience for us. I believe that the fact that we’re being kept in the loop for more than FRG events bodes well for keeping feelings of isolation from the squadron “family” at bay throughout this deployment.