A different look at deployment: Wife deploys while husband mans the home front
February 10, 2012
By Jim Dresbach
Editor's note: This is the final installment in the "A different look at deployment series." To see past deployment series stories, go to www.dcmilitary.com.
One farewell scenario between couples has changed dramatically since World War II. Americans were accustomed to reading newspaper or magazine reports or seeing the male Soldier embarking to a military mission with an often tearful and devoted girlfriend or wife waving goodbye.
But over the past 50 years, the gender deployment tables have been turned. Now, many female servicemembers head overseas while the husbands stay home. That is the case with U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Gina Prevett. The mother of two is currently on a six-month deployment in Africa, and her husband, Tyler, is at home with son James, 5, and three-year-old daughter Josie.
"I'm part of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. I work for J9, which is Strategic Communications," Gina said in an email from her deployment site. "I'm the division chief for the Outreach/Engagement Section. Our office works with mission teams going downrange, key leaders, public affairs and other appropriate personnel and agencies to ensure the right message about what we are doing here is conveyed to the people." While Gina partakes of her mission in Africa, Tyler, a lieutenant colonel USAF pilot, is on the job at Joint Base Andrews and in command of the Prevett household and James and Josie.
"A normal day without Gina here is pure survival," Tyler said. "Of course, there's always a little bit of variation, but the routine with the kids is to get them up at 5:45 a.m., out the door by 6:30 a.m. and off to school and daycare by 7:15. We then have a nanny pick [the kids] up from daycare and after school care around 4 p.m., home by 4:45, dinner around 5 p.m. to 5:30. I usually get home by 6:30; then it's a little bit of fun before baths, read a story before bed and lights out by 7:30.
"On weekends, we get caught up on cleaning, laundry, meal prep for the week, and we try to get out and do some fun events, volunteer work or cultural events."
Gina is in complete support of her spouse who has taken on more multitasking in an already multitasking-filled world. "One of the toughest things about raising the kids alone is that you never get a break. That is some of what he's experiencing now," she said about Tyler's current day.
"Because of my experience, though, I did hire a part-time nanny for him before I left that helps out with picking the kids up from school, getting them home, getting dinner on the table, and getting the dinner mess cleaned up. That only takes some of the burden away, though. He still has to take the kids to daycare every day, and that is an additional 45 minutes of driving in D.C. traffic for him every morning.
"But now, when the kids are sick, he's the one who has to take off of work early to get them to the doctor," Gina added. "He has to make sure the kids have the clothes and the shoes they need. When they need something at daycare, he has to ensure they get it. He has to make Family plans for the weekend. There are a lot of little things that moms do that dads don't always know about or get involved with. And he has to manage everything now.
"He's doing a great job. It makes it easier to focus on the mission and to enjoy Africa when I know the kids are in such capable hands. And I've been very proud of Ty and the kids with how they are handling me being gone."
Initially, telling the kids about her current deployment was difficult because of the ages of James and Josie, but Gina turned the conversation into a lesson in time and gave her deployment a purpose the kids could understand.
"James is starting to understand the concept of time. Josie doesn't really understand 'a long time,' but regardless, with kids that young, it is hard for them to understand six months," Gina explained. "I tried to put it in a context that they would understand. I used holidays. I told them I wouldn't be home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or Josie and Ty's birthdays. But I told them I would be home just after Josie and Ty's birthdays.
"What I tried to almost brainwash into their heads before I left was that no matter how long it seemed to them, that I was coming home," she continued. "I didn't want for them to think I was leaving them and not coming back. I also tried to focus on the service aspect of the deployment, i.e. that mommy was going to help other people."
Also jammed into the Prevett Family schedule is the opportunity for mom to chat with James and Josie and Tyler. There is an eight-hour time difference between Gina's deployment site and Washington, D.C., so chunks of time to communicate are carefully picked.
"We Skype on the weekends, and sometimes Ty and I can talk on the phone during the week, but even that is a challenge with the time difference and work schedules," Gina said. "So on Saturdays after I get out of work and Sunday afternoons, I call Ty and the kids, and that is their morning. I try to call early enough so that I can catch them during breakfast before they take off for the day or before Josie goes down for her afternoon nap."
Email is also available and Gina has been touched by Family computer attachments. One was James' first kindergarten report card, and by snail mail, Gina receives weekly letters and school projects. "That's always fun," Gina said about receiving trans-Atlantic mail. "And the report card was a bit of a surprise."
Fittingly, Gina is scheduled to be home just in time for Mother's Day.