And I'm not talking about your military training, or the endless checklists and appointments that your unit will surely have for you. I'm thinking more along the lines of how to make sure that your personal stuff ... and your family's, is squared away, so that you don't have to worry about it while you're over there. (depending on your job, you'll probably have enough other stuff to worry about)
Ok, let's start with the important stuff ...
A Visit to the Legal Office
Ok, first area, and I already lied when I said I wouldn't write about things that are on your unit checklist ... I'm sure this is. That said, I do have a few insights to add when it comes to things you need to do at your base/post legal office.
- Update your Will - If you don't already have a will, you need one. And if you do have one, it almost certainly needs to be updated ... depending on how long it's been since your last deployment. For instance, it's been two years since I deployed last time, and I've had another daughter since then. Obviously, the lawyer will be able to give you advice on what to put ... but if in doubt, you want to be as specific as possible. If the worst happens to you, the last thing in the world your love ones will need to deal with is having to go to court to sort out your affairs, because your will was ambiguous in some important area.
- Review/Update/Get your Living Will - If you're on life support, what measures do you want the doctors to take to try to keep you alive? Do you have someone specific that you want to make decisions about your care, if you're unable to? ... does this person know you want them to do this? Spelling your wishes out in a legal document will, again, make things much easier on your loved ones should they be put in the terrible situation of having to make these type of decisions.
- Powers of Attorney - With all the things you can take care of on the Internet these days, it's a little easier to take care of your own affairs, even while deployed. That being said, it's still a good idea to empower at least one person back home, with the ability (and legal right) to handle those situations that you can't. What you want, is a Special Power of Attorney for each specific task that may need to be accomplished. Some people may only need 1 or 2, but it's also quite possible to have to get as many as a dozen (if you have a very complicated life). If you're married, and/or you have someone that you trust implicitly, you can also consider a General Power of Attorney . Two reasons why this might not be the best idea though ...
- A general power of attorney gives someone absolute control of your affairs ... they are authorized to act as if they were you. Just something to think about.
- On the flip side, because general power of attorneys have at times been abused, some institutions such as banks may (at their discretion) refuse to accept a general power of attorney ... this is a situation where you'll probably need a special power of attorney.
Bottom line, as backwards as it may sound, Specials are what you want, with a General as a potential backup. In either case, make sure that the power of attorney is in effect throughout the duration of your deployment ... you want it to end about a month after you get back (in case you get delayed). Note: please don't take any of the above paragraphs as "legal advice" ... as I am not a lawyer ... see the legal office for that.
Pay Attention to your Finances
Depending on your home situation, and where you're going, deploying can potentially add a few dollars to your bank account while you're gone. But if you're not careful, there are also some "opportunities" to get yourself in trouble.
- Set up Automatic Payments - This is especially important for single people, but even if you're married, if you're the one who pays the bills, it might be a good idea to ensure that they are paid automatically ... in case you can't get to a computer, and so that your spouse doesn't have to worry about it. Just contact your bank, utility or credit card company, explain your situation, and get the procedures for signing up.
- Service Members Civil Relief Act - There are a lot of provisions to this act, and if you have any legal issues, you definitely want to contact your base/post legal office to see how this act may affect your situation. There are at least two areas of of this bill that allow almost all of us to benefit though ...
- Reduce Interest Rates - Once you have your orders, you can simply write a letter to your creditors, and request that under the provisions of the Service member's civil relief act, your interest rate be lowered to no more than 6% for the duration of your deployment. In my experience, most companies are fairly cooperative ... and some, such as USAA will even extend that lower rate for up to a year after you return from deployment.
- Suspend your Cell Phone - Unless you have a quad-band phone, and you're prepared to pay some relatively outrageous per minute rates, you're probably not going to use your cell phone while you're deployed ... and there's no reason you should have to pay for something you're not going to use. You have the right to suspend your account while you're gone. And in some cases, it may even be possible to get out of your contract altogether.
- Tax Free Pay - During the time that you're deployed to a combat zone, your basic pay will Not be taxed. Depending on how much you make, and how many dependents you have, this could save you several hundred dollars a month. In addition, and even better, if you're in a career field that's eligible for a reenlistment bonus, if you can manage to do the deed while you're deployed, the entire bonus amount is also tax free.
- Savings Deposit Program - In addition to any special rates or programs that your own bank may offer while you're deployed (ask them), the military also has a program that will allow you to deposit up to $10,000 and earn 10% on that money while you're deployed. This is a particularly good idea if you'll be getting one of those bonuses mentioned in the paragraph above. But even if you're not getting a bonus, you may qualify for a couple of hundred dollars a month in special allowances (ie, imminent danger pay, family separation allowance, etc.,) Unless your family at home needs the extra money while you're gone, it just make sense to earn some interest on this money, and come home to a nice little nest egg.
Take Care of your Family
Heading off to a combat zone is obviously not an easy thing for any service member. But a pretty convincing argument can be made that it might actually be even harder for those you leave behind. Probably the most important step in your pre-deployment preparations is making sure that your family is prepared, and taken care of.
- Contact with your Unit - Make sure that your spouse, girl/boy friend, parents, etc., have good contact information for someone in your unit, in case they need help while you're gone. In addition, you should seek out the civilian support structure within your unit ... usually the commanders spouse will head up some sort of club/group ... make sure they also know that you'll be gone, and have good contact information for your loved ones. Encourage your loved ones to participate.
- Plan to Communicate - Most overseas locations now have at least some form of Internet access. This makes communication easier than it may have been in the past, but you still need a plan. Will you talk on Skype, Yahoo Chat, Google Talk, etc,. ? If so, you need to make sure both you and your loved ones have accounts, and your computers are properly configured. If you plan to talk by phone, have you budgeted for phone cards? Have you made a chart of the time differences, so you don't accidentally call your spouse in the middle of the night? Have you told your loved ones that there may be occasions when you can't call (even for days at a time), but this probably shouldn't make them worry. These are just a few things to consider.
- On-post Services - Different locations have their own unique programs, but pretty much all military installations have special services for the dependents of deployed members. For instance, here at Fort Hood, a couple of things we're definitely going to take advantage of are having the housing office mow our grass for free, and the fees are waived for MWR/Youth Center programs that the kids sign up for while I'm gone. That's just a few examples though, check with your base's Family Support Center (or equivalent) for all the details of what's offered at your location.
- Off-post Services - Many businesses in your local community will have special discounts and promotions specifically for military families. These are often advertised in the local newspaper, but even if they're not, make sure your loved ones take the attitude that "it never hurts to ask". In addition, a great resource for your family member is the website www.MilitaryOneSource.com. They offer a variety of services, but one in particular that my family has experience with is the Free Counseling . While I was in Iraq last time, my parents, my kids, and my new wife/step kids (Ana and I had just gotten married) were all in the same house. As you might expect, there were some occasional issues. My mom call military one source, and was able to arrange Free weekly sessions with a family counselor ... which proved to be very helpful, and definitely lowered my stress level as well (there's no more helpless feeling, than knowing there's a problem at home, but not being able to do anything to help make it better because you're thousands of miles away, trying to do your job).
- Talk about the "bad" stuff - This is an area that most of us don't even want to think about. However, it is important that you have a conversation with your family about what to do if you're captured (or even worse, killed) while you're overseas. If you need help figuring out how to initiate this discussion, you might even want to refer to one of those resources in the paragraphs above (ie; a counselor, chaplain, etc.,).
Enjoy Time with your Loved Ones
Last but certainly not least, make sure before you go that you take advantage of any opportunity you may get to spend some quality time with your loved ones. Most military organizations have a pretty liberal leave policy, ones you've completed all of your required checklists. Definitely take some time off if you can !!!
Note: You may have noticed that I haven't done a whole lot of linking out in this post. That's because I'm never sure how much you can trust what you read on the Internet (even on my site). I strongly suggest that if you want additional details on anything mentioned in this article that you contact the appropriate office (ie: legal, finance, support etc,.) at your local installation to get the answers "straight from the horse's mouth". That being said, I hope that reading this may inspire you do some research, or ask some questions, that you hadn't previously been aware of or considered.
Til next time ...
p.s. I leave in a little less than 2 weeks myself. I used writing this article as something of a personal checklist. Hopefully I haven't left anything important out, but just in case, I do plan to continue blogging while I'm in Iraq, so keep on the lookout for follow-up posts.
p.p.s. if you have any relevant experiences or tips, please free to share in the comments section below ...