The military has a term they use called “dwell time.” The term is used to describe the time between deployments for soldiers and it equals three years. After the three year period ends, the soldier is deployable again for whatever mission comes their way. Hooah!
As a military spouse I don’t like the term “dwell.” It conjures up images of fear, anxiety, anticipation, and prevents people from moving forward. After ten years of war, you’d think we’d find a better way forward than anticipating the next deployment. It’s not a healthy way to view life and it makes planning for the future twice as difficult. The end of “dwell” paralyzes us and brings back those images we lived for a year the last time they left. It reminds each of us that today may be the best day and tomorrow we can’t plan for. No one likes to live this way, not even me who doesn’t live by lists or avoids schedules at all costs.
I think the military should rename the dwell period between deployments to “Live Your Best Life.” Cheesy I know, but it’s a far better outlook than dwelling. The military dogma that perpetuates such terms as “dwell” or “deploy” or “reintegrate” is counter to the motto they use to hook these fine soldiers “be the best you can be.” It’s a term that means looking back, not forward. I personally think they should counter dwell time or the coming home to “Live Your Best Life” after “be the best you can be.”
A lot can happen in three years. I’m not diminishing the difficult period each soldier and family has reintegrating after a mission, and that is the positive prognosis for the lucky ones. The families that bring their soldier home with disabilities, severe PTSD or TBI have a long road ahead of them, but it’s ahead of them, and not behind them.
My soldier has been home for three years and it didn’t dawn on me until the other day when he mentioned that his dwell time is up in 2011. As I caught my breath to “dwell” on the impending roller coaster ride ahead of us I decided to take a step back, and focus on the future. I am not, nor should I be defined by the military. I don’t wake each morning wondering about his next mission or the impact. I wake each morning with a view towards accomplishment, finding my passion and reflecting on our family’s goals. How can I prepare tomorrow for success and fulfillment? How do we as a family live our best lives?
In order to live my best life and help my family live their best lives I had to discover our value and define our mission. Defining our purpose seems like a no-brainer but deployment changes you, changes your family and changes your purpose. It doesn’t have to be a negative, it should be a positive. Some of the goals/dreams we had as a family were not the same after deployment. For instance, our youngest is graduating high school in 2011 and setting out for college. Before deployment we envisioned living our life in our family home, having our grandchildren here for holidays and continuing our backyard traditions every summer. Today we’re planning to scale down, move to the city and start our life as a couple again.
Defining my purpose when we returned in 2008 was in helping our family get through reintegration. The more I delved into the way forward for me, I realized my purpose was to make sure all military families, particularly National Guard families; were just as armed with knowledge and the tools forward as I had become. There are so many well meaning organizations out there defining the military landscape and a wealth of information; but knowing where to start can be overwhelming. I truly believe as I’ve witnessed with our family that volunteering and extending oneself beyond their own journey, mentoring others in need, is our value and our mission forward. It is the real life version of “pay it forward” and because no one military family is the same, there is no mold that fits all. The more I became involved, the more my family became involved. At some point you realize it’s no longer about “me, us” it’s about them. That was our turning point back into civilian life. My children were now armed with the tools, the empathy and the capacity to reach out and help another person and it gave them/us purpose. The first few years I tried to reach as many military families as possible but that too became unrealistic. I realized that just having the chance to help one family at a time has a much bigger purpose and value to “their life” to my life and our families mission than trying to change the world. More importantly it gave each of us an opportunity to live our best life by being part of something bigger than ourselves. In our quest to give back we also realized we now had the strength in our own selves to fulfill our career goals, our family’s goals and our future goals. We’ve each been able to accomplish our own “bucket list” of accomplishments by giving back to others.
It’s not a perfect world, it’s not always easy and it takes work to live one’s passion. Society and particularly the military don’t always walk the talk or value passion as much as they value success. Three years into this civilian life our value and our purpose as a family is not defined by the military but it is displayed by our convictions to “be the best we can be” to be graced with the ability to live our passion and to share it with others. We’ve learned through deployment to not fixate on attachments such as wealth, material possessions or fame because they’re impermanent, and eventually they will disappear. Instead we’ve learned to define ourselves by the immaterial things that help us be the “best we can be” and live our best lives. The military teaches how to survive; it’s up to us to teach each other how to “live” instead.