03 September 2010

5 Ways to Record Your Deployment History

Earlier this week, I asked for ideas to help capture our collective "Red Bull" deployment history. Everyone has a potential piece of this: The soldiers going overseas; the soldiers and veterans staying at home; the parents and co-workers and spouses and children working to keep everyday life as normal as possible.

I'm pleased to say that I've heard from a few people, but I'd like to hear from more. (You can comment to this post, message me on Facebook, or send me e-mail at sherpa [AT] redbullrising.com.) In the meantime, I thought I'd throw out some ideas.

Here are five ways you could help record your "Red Bull" soldier's (or family's) deployment history:

1. Write Letters. Not enough people do this anymore--just ask the U.S. Postal Service. E-mail and texting and Facebook and Twitter are all OK, but they're here-and-gone. They are less-than-ephemeral. Ink and paper are also ephemeral--having watched a few episodes of Antiques Roadshow, I believe they are the very definition of "ephemera"--but at least one can touch and feel and hold them.

On the distant end, soldiers value mail as a break from the monotony. The first sergeant says "mail call" and we all come running like puppies. Letters are also more likely to be kept as keepsakes, mementos, and family history.

If you're up for a challenge, write a letter telling your soldier how proud you are of what they're doing. Soldiers, if you're up for a challenge, write a letter telling your family not only about the daily grinds and grunts of life in uniform, but the big reasons that you're doing what you're doing. Your kids may not understand now--heck, you may not understand now--but it may help them understand someday, what you were going through.

If you don't want to write a lot of words, send postcards. Send those silly postcards with the tractor-crushing ears of corn, or the serious postcards of local landmarks. Or make your own. Just let soldiers know that you "wish they were here."

2. Make video or audio recordings. Before the deployment, one soldier-friend of mine made video recordings of himself reading his kids' favorite bedtimes stories. That's pretty darn clever. Downrange, he might also be able to use a small recorder or digital camera to record short video messages to his family. Families can reply in the same ways. They don't have to be long: Just say what's going on, show some scenery, tell them how you feel.

Although they're one-sided conversations, exchanging such recordings avoids some downrange-bandwidth challenges, and is more private than videoconferencing into crowded rooms. (A couple of years ago, a buddy deployed to Iraq had to remind his wife that some Army Internet cafes are about as private as prison visitation booths, and to avoid--and here I will be as diplomatic as possible--"showing off a little too much cleavage.")

Recordings are great to look and listen back on, particularly when the kids get older. When my dad was deployed overseas to Asia back in the early 1970s, my parents had identical 3-inch reel-to-reel tape recorders. In a day when International telephone service was expensive and unreliable, they'd send the little plastic wheels of audiotape back and forth in the mail. Mom would get me to talk and sing songs, so that Dad would hear how fast I was growing up.

3. Take and send pictures. One Red Bull spouse has challenged herself to take one picture a day, depicting and recording her family's deployment experience. It might be a picture of the cookies she made, or the guilty-looking dog, or the new colors she's just painted the living room, but it will help both her and her soldier maintain a connection, and a currency in each other's lives. She could make a collage, or make them into postcards (see what I did just there?). She could send them via e-mail, or post them to a blog.

4. Keep a journal. Memory is fleeting. Don't say that you'll remember everything that happened, because life and memory don't work that way. Write it down, even if it's just a quick note about what happened that day. That way, you and your soldier can compare notes. One Red Bull couple is logging the high- and low-points of their respective days. They've promised to share the highs, and not talk about the lows.

Another Red Bull soldier is posting thoughts and happenings on a private blog, which he's made available to immediate friends and family. At the end of his deployment, he'll have a record of everything he's done and thought.

5. Make something. A grandmother or aunt might make a "deployment quilt" while a loved one is deployed. I've known soldiers who knit articles of clothing for nieces and nephews while they were away. I once met an active-duty Army wife, who was proudly showing off her house to some of us visiting National Guard soldiers.

As something of a Renaissance woman--I was smitten for days--the red-haired international business major had made her family's government-issued quarters feel comfortable and homey. In a bright, conversational voice, she suddenly asked us, "Do you want to see the gun cabinet I made while Jack was deployed?" She'd never worked with wood before, she said, but she'd had plenty of time to learn new skills.

It was like meeting Martha Stewart at an NRA convention.

What are your ideas for recording, commemorating, or celebrating your soldier's or family's deployment experience?


  1. Even though I don't scrapbook, my son and I are making a scrapbook. On each full layout - one side is what Daddy did that month (or where he was that month or whatever he could take pictures of and send electronically!) and the other side will be some highlights of what we did that month. I thought it would be a nice way to look back and see what life was like for both parts of the family :)

  2. I am bad about keeping in contact with my family. I am a single Soldier with no one in-particular waiting for me back home. I call home about once a week to talk to my brother. I hope he passes word to the folks, but I'm guessing that is only shared upon request. I do have to say I am doing better than last deployment. I only called home once every 4 months.

    I like these ideas. I may have to work a bit harder this time around. Although, it may be easier now that I will be toting a camera everywhere with my new MOS.


    A DINFOS trained killer

  3. Scrapbooking--great idea, even for those of us who don't regularly engage in the hobby! I'll have to look out for how-to articles and other resources.

    And, alolkus, you bring up a good point about single soldiers--sometimes, I'm so focused on my own roles as spouse and parent, I forget other potential perspectives! I'm glad to hear that you're keeping in better touch than last time 'round, however. Make sure to caption those photos--I'm always amazed at how quickly my memory fades ...

  4. Writing letters is amazing...We still have all of our amazing letters from the 04-05 OEF deployment. Thanks for the reminder...I need to get out the pen and paper. I found that last time a card was a great way to get me started.

    We are using "Flat Daddy" and taking pictures of various places Flat Daddy has been through out the deployment. I really should setup a blog to tell about Flat Daddy's adventures. This weekend he went with his parents and our children to visit Great Grandpa!

    I just arrived home today from our pass and we hardly took any pictures. I am sad we forgot but I am happy because of why we forgot. We were just us, hanging out on a trip to New Orleans, husband and wife....we were both some how able to not even think about returning to Camp Shelby until the day he had to return.



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