It's a truth universally known, whether you're a military family or not. Deployments suck.
There's no other words to describe it. It just plain sucks.
Another universally known truth among military families is that anything and everything that could go wrong, does. Pipes break, roofs leak, kids get sick, the car breaks down, kids spray paint the side of the house, dog gets out of the fence, the lawnmower NEVER works (and forget the weed-eater, I assure you it's useless until it's all over with, it will magically start working again upon homecoming- I promise), it's mandatory that the washing machine leak or altogether break, bug infestations that come outta nowhere, sink holes that randomly develop under your deck and almost swallow your house?... yeah, you name it, it's happened.
"I learned the term "deployment spouse" during our recent deployment. I had a very unexpected surgery come up. The woman at the triage desk checking me in kept asking when my husband would be there. Through tears, I must have explained a thousand times in a thousand different ways that he would in fact not be able to be there. The she moved on to my family in California. They also would not be there in time. Flash forward to surgery day and a fellow spouse drove me, sat with me, was there when I woke up, helped me put underwear on, helped me use the bathroom, drove me home, spent the night with me, spent the next week checking on me and forever cemented herself in my heart. She is now one of my best friends. My heart will forever warm when I hear the term "deployment spouse". I know that is the person that is there for you through EVERYTHING when your spouse can't be. " - Courtney
" 2011- our first deployment, I got stuck on the roof of our house. During a bad storm, several roofing shingles were flipped up and I was determined to handle it on my own and not call my Dad. I was worried we would end up with a leak in our house, so I climbed up there during the storm... and was too scared to climb back down. I sat up there for a while until the neighbors came home and were moral support. " - Khristen
"My son broke his arm 2 times while he was deployed. I had a baby on the first deployment and on the last, my dad died the day he left." - Ginger
"One deployment, shortly after he had left, I started finding puddles of water in the kitchen of the townhome we were renting at the time. The maintenance person came out multiple times to try and figure out the issue. After about a couple of weeks of my floor basically flooding, and destroying the wood, they figured it was somehow coming from the next door unit. They had to tear out the entire first floor's flooring and replace everything- and this was all going on a I had family in town. From the time I first found the water to the time the floors were done, it took about 6 weeks. " - Kara
"My best story isn't with my current husband, but with my ex-husband. He was on his way to Iraq...not even out of the country yet...when Hurricane Katrina hit. He was on a high tempo deployment schedule so we decided that me and the baby would move back home (I'm from New Orleans) to be close to family. We moved into the house and week later he leaves for deployment. A week after that, I find myself and my 10 month old son evacuating. Because we had just moved in and everything was in his name, I had absolutely no proof that I even lived in Louisiana. Then our bank account was robbed in the middle of this. So I found myself stranded in Houston with no money, no way to prove I was eligible for help, and a 10 month old who chose that moment to decide he was done breastfeeding. My son took his first real steps in the hotel while we were evacuated. Thank God family had evacuated to the same place I had, so I had help with the money situation. We managed to sneak back in to do some mitigation...tarp roofs, etc to prevent further damage. Our house had a tree in it down to the foundation and two trees hanging over it threatening to come down. Was finally able to go home and live in the damaged house ... and wound up riding out Hurricane Rita. One of the longest nights of my life listening to those hanging trees creak and groan. Managed to find a crew that could get the tree out of my house but they couldn't haul the debris off, so it was sitting in my front yard until local authorities could get to it. On my son's birthday, I discovered he was sick with strep...which turned out to be a blessing. His room was on the other side of the house so I slept on the couch and gave my younger siblings my bed for the night in anticipation that the baby would be waking up a lot. Around 2am, I wake up and something looked weird. I sit up and realize there's a funny light outside. Looked out the front door and my entire front lawn is 3 foot high flames ad they are about a foot from the house. Grab the phone to call 911... got bounced around because not everything was back up and running yet...grabbed the baby (it was already smokey in his room), and roused everyone else. Grabbed the only flashlight I could find and led everyone out the back door and through the yard. We had to climb over trees and debris and break through the remnants of my neighbors fence to safely get out. The funny part about it is that the only flashlight I could find quickly was a toy...it was a pig. And it oinked when you turned it on. It automatically turned off every few minutes. So, here I am at 2am, my house is on fire and I'm leading a line of people through the dark climbing over s*** with this d***** oinking flashlight. Luckily the fire department got there quickly and saved the house. Then I got to spend the rest of the deployment fixing my house. I learned to do sheet rock, roofing, and a bunch of other skills because there weren't enough contractors to go around. My husband (at the time) was gone for 10 months (they deemed the largest natural disaster in US History not enough reason to send him home). I had everything fixed by the time he got home.
On the upside, having survived all that, deployments don't scare me even a little any longer. It would take a lot to top that experience. " - Leigh
As a member of the military community and a photographer, I honestly feel all of this deep down in my heart and soul. These are my people. We are all so different, yet we are all held together by this common thread. We love someone in the military. We know what it feels like to watch them go away, but we also know what it feels like when they come back. And oh-my-heart it's amazing. So here I am, I get to see it come full circle. I know that struggle, but gosh, do I know that joy. When I'm out there on that pier shooting these families and their homecomings, it's personal for me. I've been there in their shoes, I know what this day means to them. As a mother, I know what this means to the kids. It's everything.
I know how all this sounds, it sounds crazy and hectic and chaotic. Make no mistake, it is. But I think if you ask most of us, we wouldn't change it for the world. It keeps us honeymoonin'. And it makes us strong. It makes us resilient. We know where our priorities lie, we know what's important. I know during each deployment, I learn more about myself. I have more self confidence, I have more self esteem- where before I didn't. It feels so good to know that there are people counting on you- we are a team. My other half is across the world cheering and praying for me, with total confidence that I can handle whatever comes our way. And again...there is nothing like coming home. I have never in my life experienced so much joy, anticipation, excitement, and exhaustion. It's like a cathartic moment where it all has been building up to this one point. And when he steps off the ship and we finally physically touch again, my heart is whole. I can literally feel it come all back together.
"Is it worth it? YES! Because of The Man! Because even though it SUCKS going through it, most of these [stories] are funny now...because it's nice to know you're not alone...and because there is NOTHING like the coming home!!!" - Leah
"Deployment taught me that I'm strong enough to stand on my own two feet and keep up- not only myself, but my children- alive and well. Yes things go wrong in "Sally Jones'" house down the road too... instead of playing victim to the circumstance, I was able to rise and accomplish or achieve independence. Don't get me wrong- super ready for the help when he gets home too! But our last deployment was a growing tool for me. It build my self esteem and self worth. I have confidence now and I know that I CAN." - Tamara
And for total transparency and authenticity, here's an image of me ugly crying from our homecoming in 2016. This is that cathartic moment of everything over the last 7 months- this is what all of those emotions look like on me.
USS Laboon | Norfolk, Virginia
A few days ago, I had the honor of attending the homecoming celebrations of the USS Laboon here in Hampton Roads. It's one of the greatest feelings in the world to be able to attend a homecoming. You feel so proud to be an American. There's an electric current running through the air of excitement and anticipation as you wait for the ship to emerge into view. Truly, it's an incredible feeling. And the excitement builds. And builds. And builds. And finally, after waiting what seems like forever and a day, he's home.
He was gone 180 days. That's 6 whole months. He missed his wife and the beautiful, yet chaotic, life they have built together with their 3 boys and 1 baby girl. He left her a baby and came back to a toddler- a walking toddler at that! He was able to see her walk for the first time on that pier. He missed her sitting, crawling, laughing. He missed putting her to bed each night. Sometimes, we can take these little things for granted; life's seemingly ordinary moments. Sometimes, we see them as mundane even. But I can tell you the men and women in our armed forces know exactly just how precious these little moments are. They live for them. They cling to them. Because when you are half a world away or look out to see nothing but endless ocean, the memory of these little moments is all you've got.
Please continue to keep our men and women in your thoughts and prayers. Pray for days like this until they all come home.
If you are interested in booking me for your own homecoming, please send me a message via the Contact tab above or shoot me a message on Facebook. Spaces are extremely limited and usually book well in advance. Happy Homecoming!
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.