Taken most literally, the term "deployment cycle" refers to the stages surrounding and including a unit’s deployment. It consists of the following phases: preparation, mobilization, deployment, employment, redeployment, post deployment and reconstruction.
Military families faced with an extended deployment (six months or longer) are thrown into a "deployment cycle" of their own – driven not by tactics but by emotions. A quick Internet search for the phrase will reveal several different models based on both personal opinion and professional observation.
Unparalleled in the civilian world, this circuit of upheaval is painful to think about. But those who know what to expect in each stage of the deployment process are more likely to maintain their mental health.
The following model of the family’s deployment cycle is most widely accepted. Included are explanations of the timeframes and hallmarks of each stage.
Timeframe: From warning of deployment through departure
Hallmarks: During this time, spouses often find themselves in denial and grieving the impending loss of time together; many struggle with fear of never seeing their service member again. Most service members withdraw emotionally and/or physically as they prepare for battle, though bonding with comrades increases. Some wives also detach, but many more become emotionally needy.
Couples aim to make the most of their time together. If a holiday or special occasion occurs during this cycle, couples tend to go "all-out," making the event memorable and recording it with photos and video. Due to high stress levels, couples tend to be more argumentative, and one serious argument is common during this phase. Newlyweds may see this argument as dangerously abnormal and "catastrophic," and may subsequently worry about the stability of their relationship.
Timeframe: Departure through entire first month of deployment
Hallmarks: Spouses left at home feel helplessly trapped on an emotional rollercoaster. Feelings vary widely, ranging from relief that the tense, painful moment of goodbye is over; fear for personal safety and the safety of their service member; excitement at the thought of conquering personal goals during deployment; anger at their spouse for leaving; and hopelessness when looking at the daunting, lonely days ahead.
Timeframe: Second month through second-to-the-last month of deployment
Hallmarks: Spouses left at home find stability and confidence as they tackle difficult tasks alone and discover new hobbies and support groups. Spouses become more comfortable in their "temporary independence" and accustomed to the nuances of living alone.
Timeframe: Final month of deployment through homecoming
Hallmarks: Spouses left at home once again find themselves on an emotional rollercoaster, especially as return dates fluctuate. Though the spectrum of emotions tends to be more positive, anxieties such as "Will we still get along?" or "How will we make up for lost time?" are to be anticipated. Spouses rush to complete projects they began during deployment, plan details of the homecoming and clean house.
Timeframe: Homecoming through a period that may last as long as one day for each day deployed
Hallmarks: At long last, the homecoming reunion occurs. This experience usually creates a fantastically romantic, lifelong memory followed by a honeymoon phase in the marriage. But even during this honeymoon phase, it's common for spouses to deal with awkwardness in their conversation, sex life and general relationship. Spouses will need to renegotiate logistical matters such as budgeting, routines and chores. They'll also need to reacquaint with one another.
In 2007, the Department of Defense reexamined this cycle in light of the unprecedented rate of deployment resulting from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They developed a new model which includes seven stages: anticipation of departure; detachment and withdraw; emotional disorganization; anticipation of return; return adjustment and renegotiation; and reintegration and stabilization. The new model features titles which more accurately describe the challenges of each stage. It also provides service members and their families with a concrete, hopeful seventh stage: stabilization.