How do military people deal with wedding anniversary celebrations during deployments, temporary duty, or unaccompanied overseas tours? These are unique challenges for a military family, but there are many innovations you can use to shorten the distance.
There are many volunteer organizations, charities, and veteran service organizations that offer programs and special-day type planning, but these often revolve around federal holidays, Christmas, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, etc.
What can service members and their loved ones do for a personal holiday like a wedding anniversary when geographically separated?
Celebrating A Wedding Anniversary While Deployed/TDY
The three basics you should know are this: plan ahead, be transparent about how tricky it might be to arrange a “day-of” anniversary celebration, and avoid surprises. Why?
Those on TDY or who have been deployed have it easiest in some ways–depending on the length of the duty it may be a matter of days or weeks, though some can last much longer. TDYs can be for a day, or longer-term trips up to 180 days. Some TDYs go exactly as planned, others require an extension of the original orders or in some cases the trip may be cut short.
It all depends on a variety of variables.
The basic advantage of planning an anniversary of any kind while on such temporary duty is that you may have the option of simply delaying an in-person celebration until it’s time to come home.
But sometimes the nature of TDY travel gets in the way–TDYs can be for anything from house hunting (permissive TDY) all the way to professional development and education (such as attending a Senior NCO Academy).
There are also classified TDYs, those that are in preparation for or participating in military exercises such as Cobral Gold, Talisman Saber, or the Royal International Air Tattoo. These may interfere with how and when military families can get together on social media, by cell phone, etc.
What can military couples do when trying to plan around a TDY?
Planning An Anniversary Celebration Around TDY Dates, Drill Weekends, Etc.
Sometimes it means getting creative–having flowers or gifts sent to the duty location or vice versa is a great idea.
But those who are involved in military exercise, war games, weekend drill, or other duty might not be able to send or receive such packages while they’re on TDY orders–in such cases it’s best to order ahead of time and time the delivery for the biggest surprise or impact–after the TDY is over is best, or just before departure.
Celebrating the day of your anniversary may or may not be possible–some have to settle for a brief phone call, others may be able to do video conferencing over social media, etc. One trick some couples do? Wrapping a small, but special gift to be opened while the service member is on duty. It’s a simple thing, but it can be quite effective.
Some couples agree to watch the same movie, read the same book, or eat the same food “together” on their special day and compare notes when they finally have a chance to catch up by phone or online video conferencing.
Plan Ahead, Be Transparent
No matter how you are able to make that special day happen, in cases like these it’s best to plan ahead, discuss the situation, and don’t assume that either spouse “just knows” how things are supposed to work when there’s a TDY. You should discuss the absence and the best way to make an anniversary special in spite of the required travel.
Surprise parties and unexpected gifts sometimes just aren’t possible during a deployment or even a TDY. If everyone is on board with an “alternative anniversary”, you’ll have a much better experience even when separated.
And that means taking the time to talk about things–and being honest about being disappointed with the timing is a major part of that. It’s natural to feel put-upon when duty interferes with a major personal event like an anniversary. Couples should be free to discuss their feelings about the issue and do their best to minimize the pain during the time they’ll be spending apart.
Those who are deployed for an extended period of time might want to plan a time where each spouse does something special with friends or family on the day of, and shares videos or photos of that event with the other spouse. Doing something special even if not together–and later sharing it–can help.
Wedding Anniversaries For Those Who Are Geographically Separated
Many military people still use the hoary old term “geographic bachelors” to describe military members who are serving overseas but without authorization to bring their families along for the tour.
These are commonly referred to as “unaccompanied tours” and may last from a year to 24 months depending on a variety of factors. Such assignments are not deployments or TDYs, they are permanent change of station moves with the understanding that the service member’s dependents remain behind in a stateside location.
In some cases the family is only separated until family housing can be made available. In past decades this situation was common for assignments to Japan depending on the base, branch of service, etc.
In other cases there may be no option to bring the family. This is common for junior enlisted assignments to South Korea and elsewhere.
Flying To Or From The Duty Location
Some of these assignments may permit family members to come for a visit; others may not. Navigating the specific regulations and the rules of engagement for your overseas assignment will be key. You’ll make your specific plans based on what the local or theater command permits.
The most ideal way to celebrate a wedding anniversary in cases where one family member is serving overseas? Bring the spouse waiting back home for a long visit. Where this is permitted, you have many options including the spouse flying Space Available to the overseas duty location, where available.
Flying commercial is also an option depending on the destination. Some couples choose to fly one-way commercial and back home using Space-A air travel.
The other option is to time annual leave (duty requirements permitting) so that the service member can fly back home and be there for the anniversary.
Tips For Flying
In general, don’t fly Space-A to your destination if you have a deadline to beat. That includes holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If time is of the essence, try flying Space-A on the return trip rather than the initial departure, as delays are common.
Book your trip at least two weeks in advance when flying stateside, but give yourself much more time for international flights–you may be surprised at how fast they fill up!
If you have a deadline to beat and it is a crowded travel season, it’s best to shell out for trip insurance or other means to avoid taking a financial hit if you need to cancel or reschedule the flight. Don’t buy non-refundable tickets for your big day unless you can’t avoid doing so–there are elevated risks for travel cancellation depending on military mission needs, etc.
If you are traveling to or from an overseas location, do NOT underestimate jet lag and how tired you might feel for the first few days of your trip. Planning an anniversary celebration the first two days after an international flight is likely an idea to avoid if at all possible.
When preparing to travel overseas, don’t forget that local food or water may cause you stomach distress until you get used to it. Take that into consideration when planning your reunion and don’t underestimate the local advice on such things–there is a lot you can learn from the local residents!
When booking travel, be prepared for limited availability of seats on flights to certain destinations during peak travel season. You can always ask a travel agent for the ideal time to book travel during the busiest travel times.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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