Dear Coast Guard Family: Living your best Coast Guard life

Once a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “Dear Coast Guard Family,” a column for Coast Guard families by Coast Guard spouse Rachel Conley. Rachel is married to her high school sweetheart, Chief Warrant Officer James Conley, and is the mother of three children. Rachel passionately serves as a Coast Guard Ombudsman and advocate of Coast Guard families. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the United States Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year Award.

Written by Rachel Conley

I can’t tell you that the days will always be easy – life is full of ups and downs, but hopefully, those trials and tribulations will make us stronger in the end.

When I met my husband (way back in high school), he had already made the decision to enlist in the Coast Guard. I knew from the very beginning that a life with him would also mean a life as a Coast Guard spouse. To be honest, I never thought twice, and just over 18 years ago I told him goodbye as he left for basic training. Eighteen years ago I had no idea what being a Coast Guard spouse would mean – we were young and dating at the time – but, today, I do. Today, I also know what it’s like to be a mother. I know what it’s like to stand on a pier, holding our children, while watching a cutter disappear into the distance. And, I know that as the cutter moves towards the horizon or as the plane departs, I will have to pick up our children and walk away. In that moment, I know that I have the ability to make the difference. I comfort, I reassure, I stand strong.

In July of 2015, my resiliency was put to the test. My husband received short-notice, unexpected orders for a year-long unaccompanied assignment in Saudi Arabia. For me, resilience has always been a “mindset,” and I knew that I was going to need to dig deep. I decided to focus on perspective and a positive attitude – two things that I could control! Shortly after my husband departed, I wrote him a letter and I made some promises:

“Dear James: it has been two-and-a-half weeks since you departed for your year-long deployment to Saudi Arabia. Although your absence is felt in each and every moment, we know that we are immensely blessed to have such an incredible husband and father to miss. Truly, ‘how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ In honor of you, our precious children, and anyone who may look to me, I promise to LIVE this year with grace and positivity. I promise to ensure that our children know that they are loved immeasurably – regardless of distance. I promise to be silly with them, to play often, to hug them tightly, to kiss them gently, to snuggle them closely – not just for me, but for you. I promise to teach them that these days are but a moment in our lives, I promise to teach them to always look for the good (it surrounds us!), and I promise to provide stability, comfort, and reassurance in all that I do. I know that the days will not always be easy, but they will always be worth it. I promise to use this year for good, to find joy (even when it’s hard), and to be thankful for what we DO have – each other.”

And, you know what? The time passed – some days felt longer than others, but he’s home with us again!

Coast Guard life often comes with deployments/patrols, trainings, transfers, missed celebrations, separation from family and friends – but, it also comes with a whole community and a lot of resources to support you throughout this journey!

Petty Officer 2nd Class Bryan Shreaves, who is assigned to Port Security Unit 305, hugs his family after returning home Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. Port Security Unit 305 returned to Fort Eustis after being deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nine months in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. (U. S. Coast Guard photograph by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton/Released).

As I worked to research resilience, Rear Adm. Erica Schwartz, Director, Health, Safety and Work-Life and Chief Medical Officer, shared, “I once heard a great and simple analogy about resilience. Resilience is like a rubber band. Stress, risk factors and risky situations pull at the rubber band and stretches it, but due to protective factors and a healthy lifestyle, the rubber band has the ability to return to its original shape. The ability to recover from these difficulties is resilience.”

Schwartz feels that it’s important to develop resiliency for protection and adaptation; resiliency enables us to protect ourselves against stress and to adapt to changing situations. She recommends The American Psychological Association’s guide “The Road to Resilience”: This helpful tool outlines 10 ways to build resilience.

Chaplain Gregory Todd, Chaplain of the Coast Guard, advocates friends, family, and faith.

He explains that friends and family can keep us grounded, while also challenging us to be the best that we can be. This helps us grow and expand our goals. These relationships allow us to focus on others instead of ourselves – lifting us up and building resilience. Faith is grounded in someone or something outside of ourselves, really outside of our world. Faith gives us the big picture, and it helps to reassure us that someone is looking out for us. It gives us hope.

Todd concludes by saying, “Hope is critical to resilience. Hope sees beyond the moment. Hope sees what could be and strives for that possibility.” And, I couldn’t agree more! Hope is powerful!

A family member of a Coast Guard Cutter James crew member holds a sign on the pier at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina, March 31, 2017. James’ crew returned home following a 60-day patrol where they contributed to the interdiction of 12 drug-smuggling vessels, detainment and subsequent arrest of 22 suspected drug smugglers and were responsible for the seizure of more than five tons of cocaine bound for the United States. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake/Released)

What resiliency tips would you provide? I’d love to read your thoughts and connect with you in the comment section below!

Additional Tips and Resources:

Connect with your ombudsman and sign-up for their distribution list. Information and resources can be very empowering! You can contact your ombudsman through the Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry.

Reach out to your chaplain when needed. To locate your nearest Coast Guard chaplain, call 1-855-USCG-CHC (872-4242).

Find your community. Whether through social media, unit events, or a local spouses’ club/association, connecting with others can provide a great support system. For a listing of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs, you can view the directory provided by the National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs. If your area doesn’t currently offer a spouses’ club, you can learn more about starting a club here.

Download the USCG HSWL App. For those looking for information about the support programs and services available to Coast Guard military and civilian personnel, family members, and retirees – we now have an app for that! (Available for iPhones/iPads and Androids.)

CG SUPRT “The Resilience Journey” and resiliency resources. CG SUPRT offers a number of resiliency focused interactive tools and resources here.

CG SUPRT non-medical counseling. CG SUPRT provides assessment and short-term counseling for a wide range of issues such as stress, communication, family problems, relationships, parenting, anxiety, depression, work-related concerns, alcohol, substance abuse, as well as other issues that may be impacting your well-being.  Counseling sessions are available in-person as well as via telephone, video and chat. Services can be requested by calling 855-CG SUPRT (247-8778) or by visiting them online.

Sesame Street for military families. Resiliency resources/tools are available for children, too! Here’s one that the whole family may enjoy!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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