by Rebecca Alwine
Every time I watch an old war movie, I think about how different life is for military families now. While deployments seem long at a year, imagine what it would have been like to send your spouse off to war — the whole war — without knowing when it would end. To be living in your hometown, surrounded by family, but not the tight-knit community we find on an installation. To wait weeks, even months for a letter, instead of a few hours for a text or phone call.
With technology comes changes to the way we communicate while separated from our service members. Sometimes it is a good change, and sometimes it’s bad change. For every teary story about how a dad was able to see his child be born via Skype, there is a story about how too much communication took the joy out of seeing a loved one.
Today there are more modes of communication, thanks to technology, than ever before. Recent studies have shown how children are using technology for different reasons than their parents. How the various social media platforms wax and wane in popularity. The most important thing to realize is that expectations for communication during a deployment vary for each family. While technology helps us to communicate better, the demands of the job, the time difference, and the availability of that technology vary from deployment to deployment.
One veteran army spouse told me her family’s procedure for deployment communication, and it has stuck with me for more than 10 years. They agreed that he would call home that first time when it was possible and relay two pieces of information. One was the preferred method of communication for that particular deployment and the other was the frequency with which he thought he would be able to communicate. Knowing each other’s expectations helped this couple communicate effectively for more than 20 years.
After the initial troops made their way into Iraq and Afghanistan and established (somewhat) reliable internet connectivity, Skype became the standard with which to communicate. For most of those years, you could either see your service member, or hear them. But very rarely was the connection solid enough to hold down a conversation while looking at each other.
Facetime & Facebook Messenger
When smartphones really took off, iPhone users were able to use Facetime to continue their video chats during deployments. Only requiring a Wi-Fi connection, Facetime was very popular with service members who stayed near well-developed areas and were able to get solid wireless internet.
The same is true for Facebook Messenger. The quality of calls are similar to Skype and Facetime, though the real appeal is not standing in line for a phone call at the USO. Overseas calling plans and data are incredibly expensive, so these options may not be the best for all families.
Social Media, In General
With time zones and busy schedules, sometimes there isn’t a convenient time for a video or phone call. Service members away from home can keep up with their spouses and especially older children using social media. Teens and pre-teens use Instagram and SnapChat more than they use Facebook to keep in touch with people. Parents can easily hop on those platforms to connect with (and monitor!) their children, even from afar.
Email & Letters
Most military spouses will tell you there is no substitute for a hand-written letter, but we also acknowledge the time it takes to write a letter. Sometimes emails can fill in that void, but don’t dismiss the power of receiving a letter in the mail. Letters are a great way to get children involved with communicating, while showing off their art work and handwriting skills to their parents.
According to The Deployment Life Study (2016) by the Rand Corporation, more frequent communication between military spouses and the service member during a deployment predicts greater marital satisfaction postdeployment.
You may be a Skype every day family or you may be a phone call once every few weeks one, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else how you communicate. But it all comes down to the same thing. Constant communication cannot take the place of quality communication. And for that, we must not rely on technology to keep us connected, but on our relationships.