Military family prepares for husband's deployment

KIss goodbye
Freddy Munoz kisses his wife Jennifer Munoz goodbye at their north metro home Friday, April 8, 2011. Freddy Munoz is preparing to deploy with the National Guard for the second time, and he hopes he and his wife are better prepared this time to deal with the challenges of being seperated.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

How do you prepare for a year at war?

The Munoz family is struggling with that question. Staff officer Freddy Munoz will soon deploy to Kuwait as part of the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, along with about 2,400 other Minnesota National Guard soldiers.

The deployment comes at a tricky time: Freddy and his wife Jennifer, who live in a northern suburb of the Twin Cities, are in the process of trying to adopt two children. The situation is adding more uncertainty to an already stressful deployment.

With Freddy's deployment just weeks away, Jenny Munoz, 29, is already resigned to what is coming. Soon, life will take on a familiar rhythm -- long days of work and responsibilities at home; late night phone calls and emails; and constant worry.

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She approaches this deployment with the stoicism of an experienced military wife.

"I don't think it's really set in with me yet," said Jenny Munoz. "It's nice to have him home but it's making it more difficult to adjust to it, if that makes sense."

Unlike many of the National Guard soldiers deploying in May, Freddy Munoz, 31, is already partially deployed. That's because it's his job to ship everything for his battalion, the Brainerd-based 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor.

Photo on mirror
A photo of Freddy and Jennifer Munoz hangs on the mirror in their home. Friday, March 11, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

So Munoz, who is also a police officer, is already living apart from his wife during the week and coming home on weekends.

After training in the U.S. in May, he'll join the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, in Kuwait. The Red Bulls will be stationed in Kuwait, providing security and running convoys into and out of Iraq.

This will be Munoz's second time in Iraq. He served there during the surge on an extended deployment.

"From Dec. 1, 2005 through July 17, 2007," he said, "and I saw my wife a total of one month."

Being apart for that long wasn't easy for the couple, and Jenny says things got even worse when Freddy finally got home.

"It was a long time for us to figure out how to live together again, and get used to each other and compromise," she said.

Adjustment problems are common among service members returning from combat deployment. For most soldiers, the problems are short term. But they're still tough on relationships.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about parenting issues when he comes back."

The Minnesota National Guard does not keep statistics on divorce rates, but according to the Pentagon, the divorce rate among military members overall has risen since 2001.

The divorce rate in the armed forces was about 3.6 percent in 2009, up from 2.6 percent in 2001. In the 2009 fiscal year, there were an estimated 27,312 divorces among the nearly 765,000 married members of the active-duty Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

The military has ramped up programs designed to address the disruptions and stress that multiple deployments can cause for families and children.

The Munozes are taking advantage of similar programs before Freddy's deployment. On a recent Friday evening, they packed up their suitcases for a weekend marriage retreat for military families in outstate Minnesota.

"I don't mind packing for a weekend," said Jenny. "I get tired of packing to move."

Since marrying in 2003, the Munozes have moved at least eight times, not including deployments.

With their suitcases packed and ready to be loaded in the car, Freddy says the marriage retreat was his idea. He wants to prevent the kinds of issues they had when he got home from his last deployment -- when he had trouble compromising with his wife.

"My perspective was more or less, this is how it's going to get done, that's it. We are going to do this at this time and that's it," said Freddy Munoz. "It was really hurting our relationship."

The one thing they can't control is the timing of their pending adoption. They were hoping it would be finalized before Freddy's unit deployed, but now it looks as though it won't go through until Freddy is already in the Middle East.

If that happens, Jenny will have to shepherd their new children into the family all alone.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about parenting issues when he comes back," Jenny said. "It's going to be a long time by ourselves, and so I'm worried."

As daunting as that prospect is, Jenny is matter-of-fact. It's just one more challenge she'll be forced to face while her husband is away at war.