An Interview with Surviving Military Separation: A 365-Day Activity Guide for Families of Deployed Personnel Author Mark Mark Maxwell

Mark Maxwell, author of Surviving Military Separation, developed the concept for his activity guide for family members of deployed personnel after working with countless families struggling through deployment. He recently spoke to Sarah Keeney of Savas Beatie LLC about his book and how he hopes it will help the military community.

: How did you come up with the idea for Surviving Military Separation?

MM: I have been counseling service members and their families for the past six years as a Department of Defense Guidance Counselor and have seen the hardships involved with separation. Through my day-to-day counseling, I realized that members of my military community were unprepared for separation and needed a helping hand. Several individuals required a plan or a guide to help them get through their family members’ deployment. They needed something fun, easy to understand, and enjoyable.

: Do you have any personal experience for surviving a deployment?

MM: Yes, I am prior service and have been on many deployments myself as part of 2nd Ranger Battalion of out Fort Lewis, Washington. Leaving my wife during those TDYs and deployments was hard. Looking back, I know the time apart would have been easier if she had had this activity book to keep her busy and focused on getting through the deployment.

: I understand there are a number of different reference books for military members. What makes your book different from other self-help deployment books?

MM: Surviving Military Separation is unique because it is an activity guidebook created especially for family members of deployed personnel. My idea for writing this book developed when I was looking for a book to recommend to people I counsel. Much to my surprise, I discovered that there were books on the market dealing with issues of deployment, but nothing that gave readers everyday steps and activities to help guide family member through their trying times.

: Can you describe the format for our readers?

MM: Of course. The book contains 365 days of activities for the family member to attempt. The activities are laid out seven at a time, making 52 separate week sections. Once a week, the family member turns to that week’s section and views the week’s activities.

: Why 365 days of activities?

MM: In today’s global political climate, family members have learned that military separation has become common and deployments are the norm. A typical deployment is now 365 days, and I wanted to be sure that our family members have a solid year of activities from which to choose. Each week spread lists seven activities. One reader might attempt to complete the book cover-to-cover, one activity each day. Another reader might look at the activities listed for that week and choose a handful she wants to do. This format allows for a lot of flexibility based on how much free time each reader has and his or her personal preference.

: This book also has some wonderful additional features and information. Can you elaborate on them?

MM: Sure. There is a journal page at the end of each week for readers to communicate their thoughts and feelings. The activity book also has a calendar section that will help family members remember important dates, as well as stationery to write to their deployed personnel, and a world map that will help the family member locate their deployed loved one.

: How did the idea for Serviceman Sam, your book’s mascot, come about?

MM: My initial idea was to have a stick-figure type character drawn throughout the guidebook to help motivate the family member each day. This stick-figure would add a creative element to the book—“someone” there to counsel and reassure readers as they go through the deployment period.

: But he’s a lot more than a stick figure, isn’t he?

MM: Yes, he is! After communicating my desire for creating such a character, artist Val Laolagi developed a wonderfully colorful character named Serviceman Sam. I couldn’t have asked for a better mascot for Surviving Military Separation. Serviceman Sam reflects the patriotism in all of us. Sam is brilliantly drawn and shows so much charisma and charm. Everyone who seems him, loves him! Val and I both hope readers, together with Sam, will survive the separation with flying colors. (Laughing) Red, White, and Blue colors, to be exact.

: I really enjoyed turning the pages of your book with Serviceman Sam and seeing him doing the activities.

MM: I agree. Val did an amazing job.

: What kinds of activities will readers find inside the book?

MM: The neat thing about Surviving Military Separation is that each of the activities listed are day-to-day actions that each of us do or have done. The main thing to remember is that we are helping family member through this separation by giving them a guide to follow. These are activities that will take the family member away from the news and keep him or her focused on staying healthy and happy. Many family members feel alone when separated from their spouse. These activities give the power back to the family member and get him or her moving.

: Are there already organizations on posts and bases to help military family members get through deployment?

MM: Yes, there are. The military community is family-friendly and has wonderful, helpful professional organizations setting up activities for just this reason. However, I noticed that the activities weren’t broken down in a structured and manageable time period. Some spouses need a day-by-day calendar of scheduled events they can choose from to get through the deployment. The book’s setup allows the reader the ability to break down the deployment into weeks instead of months, which gives the family member a chance to take the deployment one step at a time.

: Is Surviving Military Separation just for deployments or are there other opportunities when a reader may wish to use the book?

MM: I truly believe that this book will help family members cope with any separation. Whether it is a deployment to support our Global War on Terrorism, a TDY, a trip to a Professional Development school, a new servicemember leaving for basic training, a few months out to sea for our Navy or Coast Guard, or a local training exercise that will take the servicemember away from home, Surviving Military Separation will help the time fly until the family can be reunited.

: How do you hope readers will benefit from the book?

MM: I think Surviving Military Separation benefits everyone involved, the reader and even the deployed servicemember, who will know that their spouse or family member is taking care of themselves by staying active. The less worry the servicemember has while on deployment, the easier it will be for them to focus on their mission. Surviving Military Separation isn’t a crutch; it is about assisting the family member to thrive during the separation period.

: Thanks, Marc. Best of luck with the book.

MM: You’re welcome.

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