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Solo Duty

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This practical guide to holding down the fort highlights what the spouse at home needs to be in control of when the other spouse deploys.

Let’s say that deployment is fast approaching, and you’re bracing yourself for the separation. The spouse at home will serve as both mom and dad as well as “officer in charge” of all domestic affairs. In her book When Duty Calls, Carol Vandesteeg suggests holding a “Change of Command” ceremony in which you reassign household tasks and clearly state your expectations for the children’s behavior.

Regardless of which spouse holds down the fort, he or she should be well-versed in the following areas before the deployment begins:


Husband and wife should be equally able to pay the bills and handle family finances, since a short-notice separation may not allow time for additional training.


  • Be sure that the checking account is in both spouses’ names and that both spouses know the account’s Personal Identification Number (PIN).
  • Make copies of all credit cards so you can cancel them quickly in case of loss or theft.
  • Expect the deployment to strain your finances. Tighten your budget before you feel the pinch.
  • Set up automatic bill pay through your checking account for as many monthly bills as possible. Keep track of the payment schedule to avoid being surprised by a sudden drop in funds.


  • How to order new checks.
  • When and where to pay the rent or make a mortgage payment. If taxes and insurance are paid separately, know when they are due.
  • The location of rental or lease agreements, deed to your home, real estate records or mortgage information
  • What to do if offered housing while a spouse is deployed – if you are on a waiting list for military housing
  • Which bills to expect on a monthly basis
  • Which bills to expect on a quarterly, semi-annual or yearly basis, and how to budget for them
  • How to file federal, state and city income tax forms
  • How to follow a monthly budget, if you have one

Important Records

Save yourself time and energy by organizing legal and personal documents.


  • Secure separate “special” Power of Attorney privileges to allow the spouse at home to cash checks, sell a vehicle, file taxes, replace ID cards, secure a loan, ship household goods, sign damage claims, accept quarters, take the kids out of the country for vacation, etc. Your unit should be able to set this up for you.
  • Be sure both spouses have a will.
  • Keep a record of each family member’s military ID card numbers and dates of expiration. Note when they need to be renewed and the process for doing so if the family member is deployed.
  • Confirm that all dependents are enrolled in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System).

Keep the following documents in a special binder, file cabinet or fireproof safe:

  • Marriage license, divorce decrees or court orders relating to children
  • Death certificates
  • Birth certificates, adoption papers
  • Citizenship or naturalization papers
  • Social security cards and numbers for each family member
  • Passports
  • Copies of current military PCS and deployment orders
  • School records and report cards for each child
  • Income tax records
  • Automobile titles and registrations
  • Recent bills for easy access to account numbers
  • Extra keys for car, house and safe deposit boxes

Household Management

Know the routine for basic household maintenance.


  • Set up an automobile maintenance schedule. (Your car dealership may be able to offer a plan.)
  • Compile a list of repair services to call when appliances break down.
  • Update your list of key telephone numbers, including: doctors, poison control, Security Forces/Military Police, base operator, chaplain/pastor, Family Support Center, neighbors, friends, babysitters and relatives.
  • Give your neighbors’ numbers to your family in case they need to check on you and you’re not responding to phone calls or e-mail.
  • Write out child care and pet care plans in case something should happen to you. Authorize someone else to pick up your kids from school and take them to the doctor in case of emergency.


  • How to change furnace filters
  • The location of your fuse box or electric control panel and how to operate breaker switches
  • How to change screen and storm windows and where they are stored
  • How to use the fireplace and ventilate smoke correctly
  • Where your tools, extra light bulbs and batteries are kept
  • What needs to be done and when to keep the house clean
  • Which chores are age-appropriate for each child, and which ones they do regularly
  • The children’s hygiene routines: how often they bathe, whether to supervise teeth brushing and how to fix their hair
  • The children’s clothing and shoe sizes, where to shop for them and how much they need at one time

*For comprehensive pre-deployment checklists, check with the service member’s unit as well as USAA for its Deployment Assistance Advice & Assistance Checklist.

Maintain the Leadership of a Deployed Father

Even when deployment takes the husband out of the home and mom is clearly in control, a father can still maintain his leadership position in the family.

  • Create recorded messages from Dad. Record Dad reading stories to the kids, sharing how much he loves them, telling them to obey their mom while he is gone, etc.
  • Choose words wisely. A mother’s attitude can convey either resentment or understanding and love. Explain that Daddy misses the family and keep him “present” by saying things like, “Daddy would like that,” or “Daddy will love hearing about this!”
  • Consult and consort. Communicate before making big decisions whenever possible. The wife can also share observations about the children with her husband, and together they can develop a plan for their best interests. (Do this between deployments as well, so, if communication isn’t possible, you’ll have set a precedent.)
  • Communicate. Utilize mail, Internet and phone whenever possible. Send Dad pictures of the kids, their artwork and audio or video clips of them doing everyday things. Likewise, the family needs to hear from the deployed father, even if all he has the energy to say is simply that he’s tired and will share more later.
  • Collect photos of Dad. Post them around the home to maintain his presence and position in the family.

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