"You are supposed to be ready for anything, and ask for nothing in return."
Readiness. The military loves this term.
The Family Readiness Group (FRG) attached to each military unit is supposed to keep military families and service members ready for the stresses of deployment.
For example, the FRG web page of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower lists spouses as its typical members, and describes its purpose as “to plan and conduct social, informational, care-taking, and morale building activities that will increase family readiness and enable the total Navy family to meet the challenges of the mission and military lifestyle.”
Note the not-so-subtle shift in reference from individual families to the “total Navy family.” This conveniently redirects our attention from the services the FRG might provide to actual human beings, to what they might do to support military strategies.
A Marine pre-deployment guide declares, “Family Readiness: Essential to Mission Readiness” and proceeds with a list of instructions for families to obtain healthcare and maintain sanity throughout one spouse’s indefinite absence. It offers nothing in the way of added services such as childcare, while admonishing spouses to cook for their families and get plenty of rest.
Indeed, FRGs and military “readiness” programs do not organize any kind of regular, free childcare to compensate for spouses’ unpredictable absences. That, to me, would be an obvious service that would make families more “ready” to withstand the pressures of military life.
In the case of the FRG attached to Sam’s boat, much of the actual material benefits it extends—such as snacks and toiletries for deployment, for example—go to the sailors, at the expense of spouses and children.
Now, what exactly it is that we are supposed to be ready for is beyond my comprehension. Readiness, like Operations Security, is a way of being that the military cultivates in its communities without naming what we are preparing for. You are supposed to be ready.
To me, the word "readiness" conjures images of those wacky survivalists who hole up in bunkers in their backyards with years’ worth of canned goods and machine guns, anticipating the apocalypse.
And I suppose that is the connotation that military authorities intend to give “readiness.” Being ready means being hyper-vigilant, maintaining the sense that anything bad can happen at any time and it is bound to require your utmost flexibility and resilience. If your partner had to leave tomorrow when you thought his departure date was really two months from now, it’s up to you to make appropriate childcare arrangements and adjust your work schedule; figure out how to squeeze in some quality time with him in between mad trips to Target to stock up on snacks and extra socks to take to sea; and most of all, adjust your expectation that you will have more time together, and quickly insert something else to look forward to, like adopting a cat or taking some kind of trip to see friends who have already grown tired of your unpredictable schedule.
Yes, that’s what it is most of all for me. Learning to manage my expectations and the emotional ups and downs of never, ever being able to plan around my partner.
Sam and I live in different cities. It is a four-hour trip, door to door, for me to be able to see him. Readiness, for me, means getting on a train to visit Sam after a long day at work, and arriving nonetheless to an empty house because Sam has had to stay late. It means being woken on a beautiful fall Sunday by a call from Sam’s boat ordering him back to the boat for the last 24 hours I am visiting, and finding ways to pass the time in an economically depressed military town where I no longer know anyone. When Sam is deployed, readiness, for me, means travelling overseas at the drop of a hat, shoving aside work deadlines and plans with friends, to be able to see Sam, and then spending most of my time waiting for him to show up after yet another issue with the boat pops up. That is readiness. Sam is worth it, but this is a completely fucked up system.
Frankly, more than half the time when Sam’s schedule changes, it’s for avoidable or non-essential issues, such as a piece of paper requiring his signature. Unfortunately, I cannot say more here. Or it is because Sam is stuck on the boat without phone access and unable to call until I have already set out to meet him.
No wonder there is no particular “thing” families are supposed to be ready for. You are supposed to be ready for anything, and ask for nothing in return. Though sometimes I do wonder what would happen if I refused to build my schedule around Sam’s; if at least half the time I made my own plans and asked him to show up. Would I see him if I weren’t always ready? To return to my rocking the boat metaphor, would the boat stop moving altogether, or would it inch on ahead with him being expected to do half the rowing, half the logistical gymnastics of making our lives intersect?