When you get orders for your first deployment you’ll have a lot of questions and concerns. What is it like being deployed? What is the deployment process like? How long will I be gone? Well, to get an idea of what to expect, here you’ll find plenty of important things to know, deployment tips, and deployment must haves.

Things To Know On Your First Deployment

So, you got orders for a 6 month deployment, it’s your first time being deployed. You’re either nervous or excited, but regardless you’re going in blind and don’t know what to expect.

One thing to know on your first deployment is the total number of days stated on your deployment orders do not account for travel time. Orders could say you’ll be gone for 182 days or 6 months, but that doesn’t start till your boots on the ground at a deployed location. Between getting there and returning home, travel time can easily account for an entire extra month on top of your deployment length.

Expect to be at the mercy of plane rotations when traveling. Travel delays and having to wait in transient tents at an overseas Air Force base is common. You can be waiting for an entire week or longer in some cases.

So dealing with travel time can push your deployment longer then what orders say. Especially when it can take numerous plane rides to reach your final destination.

Continuing with dates and times, they are very important in the deployment process. You’ll have an entire pre-deployment checklist to follow filled with appointments, equipment issue, and potential weapon qualifications. Between the pre-deployment checklist and everything else, you will have to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.

Also, be aware that your actual departure date can change.

“Be on top of all your out-processing stuff, constantly check your email for appointments. Know that almost all dates are subject to change.”

Staff Sergeant Wampner

Active Duty Air Force

Having your departure date shift up or back a few days is common. Be prepared in advance for a quick notice saying “you’re leaving a day early, get ready”.

Another thing to know, before you leave start telling family and friends they can begin sending care packages. When you are at your first deployment location know that mail deliveries will take longer to reach you. There can be an additional 3 weeks or longer put onto the estimated delivery time of your packages.

Inbound mail goes to a centralized deployed location and shipped out further on a plane to reach and arrive at your location. Plus, depending on the location, it could only have a weekly or bi-weekly delivery schedule. If you plan on having packages delivered to you on an Air Force deployment, the sooner you ship them the better.

You’ll receive the deployed location mailing address before you go via email.

Related article: What Are Deployments Like For The Air Force?

Deployment Tips

There are many deployment tips you’ll pick up while getting deployed in the Air Force. Either by picking them up along the way or passed as advice given by an experienced airman. Everyone has a different bag of tips and tricks. To get you started, here are a handful of deployment tips so you don’t have to learn the hard way.

Baby Wipes Baby wipes will become your best friend. The last thing you want to do is use lousy restaurant quality toilet paper for months on end. By far, baby wipes are one of the well known deployment tips used by most airmen. You can usually find some at the base exchange, also known as the BX on an Air Force Deployment.

Luggage TapeWhen you are issued deployment bags everyone’s bag is going to look identical, apart from having your name on it. With an entire plane full of military members it can get confusing having a sea of deployment bags on airport baggage claim belts. Trying to find your bag becomes impossible.

To make searching easier the best thing to do is wrap individualized duct tape around the bag handle. Doing so will save you the headache of trying to find a camo bag surrounded by other camo bags.

Deployment GearWhen preparing for deployment you’re given a packing checklist and issued deployment essentials. On your first go around you’ll be excited to have new gear and clothing. What you don’t realize is a lot of what you are issued will never be used, its dead weight.

Later a unit deployment manager looks over your packed gear and ensures everything is there. Checking it off on a deployment checklist. Many airmen go back into their deployment bag after the official check and toss items they don’t intend to use.

“My first two deployments I always packed entirely too much. By the time my sixth rolled around I was down to two duffel bags both being pretty light.”

Brandon Wilson

Air Force Veteran

To keep things light while still having everything you want, many airmen get a gorilla box and ship it full of items before they leave. A military gorilla box essentially is a hard plastic container.

Using a storage box is a great deployment tip, it can double as a nightstand and extra storage while overseas. Some airmen even use the larger military gorilla box to put a TV and game console in and ship it to themselves. You can find the storage boxes at the BX or on Amazon – https://amzn.to/2XkrtiG

A military gorilla box is also good for shipping personal items to tech school if you have a long tech school length. Or, you can ship items from tech school to your assigned base when flying directly to your first duty station.

Skype and Time zonesThere is a huge difference in time zones in the Middle East depending on where you’re originally stationed. Trying to Skype family and friends back home can be challenging because of this difference.

The average Middle East timezone is 12 hours ahead of the West Coast. So to avoid unanswered or missed Skype calls due to this difference try and work night shifts. Calling at night in the desert will be daytime in the U.S. and you avoid the desert heat also.

Morale Drive  It’s your first deployment and your wondering, “what is a morale drive?” Some deployment locations offer what’s called a morale drive. It is a designated space on that particular bases government computers where massive amounts of movies are uploaded for everyone to watch and pass time.

So if you’re looking for things to do while deployed the morale drive is a good choice. However, not all bases have them. So many airmen found other ways to consume movies which are explained further in the next section.

Save Your Housing Allowance Getting deployed in the Air Force is a huge advantage to some airmen. If your living in Air Force dorm housing and get deployment orders as a Senior Airman who has 3 years time in service, go talk to your First Sergeant immediately.

They will enable you to move out of the dorms and start receiving a housing allowance called BAH. You will receive additional money on top of your normal pay to offset your new housing cost. However, with going on a US military deployment, simply don’t find housing until you return. Which allows you to pocket and save the housing allowance in the meantime. Adding up to thousands of dollars saved while you are away.

More financial deployment tips are found in the related article below.

Related article: How Much Money Can You Make On A Deployment?

PT Tests You can still be required to pt test on an Air Force deployment, so don’t avoid fitness. Get adjusted to exercising in the local conditions. Depending on the location you can be running outside even when it’s substantially hotter, more humid, or any other form of extreme condition. Running in the desert is drastically different compared to running at home.

Massage After Haircuts Haircuts in the Middle East are different, they end with a massage, and no not that kind of massage. After a haircut, the local barber on base begins to massage and twist your head. Again, no not that kind of massage. After they twist and smack your scalp around a bit they massage your shoulders and even sometimes your eyelids. This can be very unexpected.

If you don’t want the local on-base barber to do this you’ll have to speak up and tell them. Otherwise, they will assume you want the massage.

Defac Food Over the duration of your deployment you’ll find that you’re simply tired of eating the dining facility food. It’s the same menu on a weekly rotation. Taco Tuesday and spaghetti Friday every week for your entire rotation. The food might seem fine at first but after a while its just repetitive.

Adding to the deployment tips airmen use, many keep their favorite sauce or condiment on hand to tolerate the weekly rounds of defac food. Ask for your favorite sauce in your care packages.

Deployment Must Haves

Everyone is going to have their personal deployment must haves, including you. However, these must haves for deployment is universal across the board. Everyone uses them overseas.

A good external hard drive is a must. For Air Force bases that do not have a morale drive, most airmen pass around movies on external hard drives. Sharing entire movie collections to view on downtime can really help pass the time. Things to do while deployed can be limited without a hard drive unless you’re a gym rat.

A good external hard drive is a deployment essential. If you need one check out this Western Digital on Amazon – https://amzn.to/2H0CrnQ

Another deployment must have everyone needs is going to be a good pair of sunglasses. You will be issued a pair, but they are far from the best. The desert sun can be blinding if your particular Air Force job is mostly performed outside. Also, know there are regulations on the type of sunglasses that can be worn. Not any pair will do.

Dress and appearance AFI 36-2903 regulations state:

Most airmen like to lean towards sunglasses like these Oakley ones on Amazon to stay in regulations https://amzn.to/2U7DZA6

To Wrap It Up

So, you got orders for a 6 month deployment, it’s your first deployment.

Are you more nervous or more excited after having learned some of the general knowledge, deployment tips, and the must haves for deployment?

You are already more prepared than others.

Corey Porter

Corey Porter

Air Force Veteran

Corey is an Air Force veteran and the lead writer at Basic to Blues. He refueled fighter jets as a young airman and deployed twice to the Middle East. Now Corey can be found hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

Who the hell… POL!

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