Having a plan: Infidelity and deployments

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gloria Wilson
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
*This is the final story in a three-part series on deployments.

No one likes being cheated on and many times cheating is only part of the betrayal that occurs.

There's the lying, the breaking of vows, the effect on the home and in the case of a deployed military member--the effect on a possible wartime mission. There is a far-reaching effect and its tentacles can take hold of various parts of people's lives. All can be lost because of one night of bad judgment or in some cases the bad judgment of an ongoing affair.

Sometimes it's a military member, sometimes it's a spouse or significant other, but not everyone does it and there are many who are faithful. There are those who understand that there are pitfalls and they make plans, whether informal or formal, to avoid them.

Lt. Col. David Terrinoni, 354th Fighter Wing chaplain, has been on seven deployments in his more than 20-year military career. During those various deployments he has dealt with military members and fidelity issues. All the cases of infidelity had a negative impact.

"There is always a ripple effect that people don't think about when temptation is tossed at them," said Chaplain Terrinoni.

Some of the consequences he said he saw were a married military member who became pregnant by someone she was deployed with, a military member who contracted genital herpes and had to find a way to tell his fiancé, and a number of cases where military members found out their spouses back home were cheating.

"Meltdown" is a good description of the military members' reaction to the Dear John letters and phone calls they received while deployed, said Chaplain Terrinoni. But even while your heart went out to the men and women going through this emotional anguish, he said, all you could do was be there for them and help them focus on the mission at hand--ultimately there was still a job to do.

"A lesson learned here is you've got to ask yourself the question--is this really worth it?," said Chaplain Terrinoni. "The ripple is huge and those who love you and those you love are affected."

Chaplain Terrinoni said that while people tend to talk about the negative aspects of fidelity and deployments that on all his deployments the most common conversation around a recreational area, even a bar, is people talking about their families.

"The majority of people are not cheating and those who do come to realize the profound effect it has," he said. "For the spouses out there who think their spouses are deployed and just having fun, I've seen firsthand that people truly miss the people at home."

Things can be done to prepare and things can be done during the time away from each other. Chaplain Terrinoni said that in his professional opinion 90 percent of the issues are because there is not clear communication and expectations.

Master Sgts. Jill and John Victor recently dealt with a deployment first-hand since Sergeant John Victor was deployed for six months. Prior to that deployment they knew each other's expectations.

"We can work through anything except infidelity," said Sergeant John Victor. "It won't be accepted or tolerated."

Both of them have dealt with cheating partners in the past and from the onset of their relationship understood that neither of them wanted to go through that pain again. They agreed that fidelity is not difficult; you just have to be aware of the things you can do as well as the things you shouldn't do.

"You have to have a good foundation of communication," said Sergeant Jill Victor. "You also have to be careful of the situations you put yourself in--behave in a manner that if your husband or wife was standing right there you would still act or behave the same way. If you question whether or not you would, then you shouldn't be doing it."

During her husband's deployment this Air Force couple maintained contact as much as they could. Phone calls, e-mails and use of a webcam helped bridge the distance between Alaska and Iraq.

Chaplain Terrinoni, who is not only a counselor and advisor on deployments but also a husband and father, also used various ways to communicate with his wife, Vicki. On one of his deployments he was allowed three 15 minute morale calls a week and he had a plan. On two of calls he spoke to one of his children for five minutes, his other child for five minutes and then his wife for five minutes, but Friday morale calls were special.

"Fridays were our date night and the entire 15 minutes were for me and Vicki," said Chaplain Terrinoni. "The phone operators would even jokingly tease me about my special night because even they knew about it."

It's about the actions you take and it's about the actions you don't take, he said.

Sergeant John Victor, an 11-time deployment veteran, said that on all of his deployments he was conscious of his actions. He kept his distance from people who seemed like they were cheating and even though some people may think that's enough he feels it doesn't end there.

"It is a leader's and supervisor's job to lead by example," he said. "I separate myself from people whose moral standards are in question and I hold my team to the same standard."

Moral standards, choices, situations people allow themselves to be in, communication and expectations--all contribute to a ripple that can reach far and wide and at times it can become a tsunami drowning those closest. Infidelity does not just happen to military families who are deployed, but sometimes the distance can lend to problems that already exist.

Chaplain Terrinoni feels it's the exception rather than the rule and couples such as the Terrinonis and the Victors find ways to make it work.