So as we head into the third week of our separation, I want to talk a little about how different a one year unaccompanied tour to Korea is than heading off to a combat zone like Iraq or Afghanistan. It's been very interesting so far. Remember, we have done Korea before but we were both in the Army and and were eventually able to bring Michael over to join us.
While I am talking about Korea specifically because this is what we are going through this is similar to other hardship tours and assignments our troops go on as individual augmentees.
I thought I was prepared emotionally for this separation. As anyone who has been reading knows, I have had nice little chats with myself about it just being Korea. Over the past couple weeks I have to say that my emotions have been a bit out of whack in regards to this being apart and I figured out some of the reasons why.
- I have no unit support from his gaining unit. In most cases there was always someone I could reach out to for information of any kind. I have nothing. For the first week and a half, Kevin had no idea where he was going. He sat on one camp day after day just waiting. It was so frustrating. I knew he was in Korea somewhere and I knew what camp he was on. That is it. I let my irrational mind get the best of me some times when I think about the "what if's". If I had an emergency and had to call Red Cross, I would have this basic information: Rank, Name, SSN and the camp he is at. That's it. And believe me when I say that when you call Red Cross they want more than that!
- There is no real official support here for the boys and I. The one program that was set up for families like us is dormant. Even when questioned about it, the response was "We're too busy to keep that going." Thanks for the support peeps! (But never fear, I have lots of ideas in my mind to fix this little problem!)
- Because he PCS'd there, he has no ties to any unit here therefore we're in this alone. There is no one to ask if they have heard from their Soldier. There's no checking to see online if someone posted from the same unit so you know all was well. When he arrived in Korea, I had to wait for him to call me. There was no official information flow to let us know that he was okay and would contact us when he could.
- Because we chose not to apply for command sponsorship, we are treated by many as if we chose this "difficult" situation and "we don't feel sorry for you." I assure you I'm not asking for any type of sympathy and neither are my boys.
- There was no ramp up for him leaving. No briefings, no get-togethers, no big sends off. As far as this installation is concerned, he was very much an individual leaving and was treated as if he was gone before he even signed out of FLW. Somewhat disheartening for sure.
- Lots of extra expenses. This one actually surprised me quite a bit! If we want to communicate the expense is ridiculous. For internet or phone it's going to cost a pretty penny. Internet in Iraq was pretty expensive too, and we paid for the luxury and will do so again. Even though he is only living in a room, we are living in two different households. I have always known that his separate rations are for him alone as a Soldier and so that isn't an issue, however, the cost of him eating in Korea, if he were to eat in the dining facility every day would be more than he is allotted in his BAS. And while he will be receiving COLA to help balance things out, that doesn't kick in for at least 30 days. He currently only has a microwave to cook with in his room. He can be creative and will be. Eventually, when his stuff arrives, he'll have a crockpot and electric skillet to utilize as well.
- He will be receiving some additional pay but it's not as much as people like to believe and if you think about the extra expenses of an additional phone plan, extra money for meals, transportation fees if he wants to go anywhere plus the cost of packages and stuff we will be sending from here, there goes your extra money. He didn't even get issued bedding to use while waiting for his household good to arrive. So many little expenses that just add up. I think of new and young (in experience) families who may be separated and wonder if the separation is stressful for them.
- It's not a deployment so people don't validate that separation sucks regardless of where your Soldier is. "Oh it's just Korea", "At least it's not Afghanistan." "You're lucky". While those statements are true, it's not really the things we want to hear.
What I have going for me is a great support system. I have amazing people from my church (really, I cannot say enough about them) and I have great people that I have met through all of my volunteer work. We are not alone in any sense of the word but I feel bad for anyone who doesn't have support like I do.
It's not a combat deployment and there are significant differences, but if you know a family dealing with a hardship tour like Korea, reach out to them. Let them know that someone cares.
And to all my Military friends who have endured a similar hardship tour, I am sorry I wasn't more supportive.