Any troop in today's military will eventually, inevitably be deployed. Even before the announcement of the new, "deploy or get out" policy, you'd be hard-pressed to find an E-6 or above who doesn't have a bit of time in the desert under their belt.
Everyone else is simply waiting for their time to come — and those in wait always have a few questions about their upcoming deployment. Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to describe. You could be a commo guy in a signal unit, constantly dealing with threats up at your retrans site. Conversely, you could be an infantryman who spent years at the rifle range only to stay at a major base and train local forces on how to use their weapons. The fact is, you never know what it'll actually be like until you're there — and this is true regardless of rank, position, branch, or unit.
That being said, there are a few universal truths that stretch the spectrum of military service, for POGs, grunts, and special operators alike — and those truths are in direct conflict with what boots have on their mind.
On the bright side, that usually means PT is on your own schedule — but that doesn't mean you can slack off. You're probably still going to have to take regular PT tests.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ed Galo)
"I'll have plenty of downtime"
Deployments seem like the perfect time to try and knock out some online college courses so you can get a leg up on your peers and have an easier time finding a job after your service — oh man, you are mistaken.
Your work schedule will shift from the standard of PT in the morning, work call during the day, and time off at night to something that looks more like work 24/7 with maybe a single day off. Sure, you'll have a few hours here and there between missions, but those will usually get eaten up by catching up on sleep or relaxing with the squad.
Just imagine all the dumb crap that would fill these tents if people had access to wasting their money while deployed.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marie Cassetty)
"I'll have so much money when I get back"
On paper, a deployment seems like the perfect way to get out of debt. You're gone for somewhere between nine to eighteen months, you'll have nothing to blow your money on, and you'll get better pay — tax free. This could be just what you need to crawl out of debt. The operative words here are "could be."
If you've got a family back home, that money is being spent on responsibilities. If you've got preexisting debt, that money you're accumulating is going toward paying people back. You'll be making more than you're used to back stateside and you're less likely to waste it on stupid crap, — that is if you can avoid blowing it all in one reckless weekend like so many have before you.
Also, with deployments shrinking down to nine months, units aren't going to be required to give their troops RR, so... there's that...
(U.S. Air Force)
"I'll get R&R when I want to"
All the calculating in the world can't help you outrun the reach of the Big Green Weenie. There's no scheduled block leave when it comes to RR. If your deployment is around twelve months, you're lucky if you're able to take it somewhere near the mid-point.
Your unit must remain operational, however, and it can't do that if everyone is gone — so they're not sending everyone home at the half-way point. Your leave is more than likely going to fall somewhere between three and nine months in. Troops who are expecting the birth of kids get top priority, but it's a free-for-all after that.
Do not get this twisted. Troops are still in harm's way every day. The likelihood of an outright firefight, however, has dropped.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean A. Foley)
"I'll get that Combat Action Badge (or equivalent) soon"
If there's one prized medal within the military, it's the one that comes after a troop has experienced combat first-hand. There's an undeniable badassery that comes with the badge, ribbon, medal, etc., but they aren't just handed out like candy anymore.
These days, fewer and fewer troops are seeing direct combat as America's responsibilities in the War on Terror shift to more advisory roles with local militaries. Armed conflicts still occur in the Middle East, definitely, but the numbers are shrinking with each passing year. Even if your unit is one of the few that goes outside the FOB, you'll likely not see combat right away.
Which leads us directly into the next myth about deployments...
The "hearts and minds" part of counter-insurgency truly is a better strategy for the overall well-being of the region. The sooner you adapt, the better time you'll have outside the wire.
(DoD photo by 1st Lt. Becky Bort)
"My sole mission is to fight the bad guy"
From the moment you enter basic training, you're fed one purpose. You're being groomed to become the biggest, baddest motherf*cker Uncle Sam has ever seen. You will shoot, move, and communicate better than anyone else ever has. For the most part, however, that's just not going to be the case.
If you do manage to get into a unit that will send you outside the wire, 98 percent of what you do are called "atmosphericals." Basically, this means your unit rides through an area of operations, watching to see if anything goes down, being a show of force to both the civilians who need American aid and any potential threats watching from afar.
Case in point: There is a very specific reason I personally stopped mocking the French forces...
(ISAF photo by MC1 Michael E. Wagoner)
"My foreign counterparts are held to the same standards as me"
American troops are given very strict instruction on how to be professional and courteous while turning an area of operations "less hostile." Our foreign counterparts do not have the same level of regimented training. Other NATO nations could be treating war like it's a nine-to-five while the local military's training curriculum probably doesn't even cover "minor" things, like properly using a weapon.
But this misconception swings both ways. You might also be surprised to learn that certain allies don't mess around — and train their "standard" infantry more like special operations.