Ways to Count Down Military Timelines

January 2011

When your loved one joins the military, you will have the feeling of always being on some sort of countdown while he serves. You are either counting down until he leaves, counting down until he comes home or counting down until the next PCS move.

If you must count down this often, you will invent some creative ways to make the countdowns more fun, especially if you have kids. Follow these tips to make your countdowns during military life more interesting and maybe find a few you haven’t thought of in the past.

  1. Rings of construction paper. This is a great craft for kids. Cut strips of construction paper to form individual rings. Hook the rings together and string the garland around your home. Each ring represents a day he will be gone and each day you will remove a ring from the garland. Excitement will be build as the garland becomes shorter. As an added bonus, when you remove each ring, you can write the date and a note about something that happened that day. Then when he returns, he’ll have a diary of sorts about your family activities while he was gone.

  2. Jars of candy. This is another great countdown for kids. With this method, you fill a jar with their favorite candy with each piece representing a day he will be gone. At the end of the day, enjoy a piece of candy and watch the jar become less and less full. A great type of candy to fill the jar is Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses chocolate – that way they can have a kiss or hug from dad every night before going to bed.
  3. Trash days. Okay, so there’s nothing too exciting about this one but since it generally only happens once a week, it makes the countdown seem much shorter. It’s much easier to count down 52 than it is to count down 365! This can actually be extended to any weekly task. Or if you’re really daring, countdown by paying your monthly bills or by receiving his LES. Both countdowns will be shorter but you must have the patience to wait between marking off time periods.
  4. Milk expiration dates. As crazy as this seems, I always enjoyed counting down by the expiration dates on the milk. It always made time seem like it was going by so much faster. It was especially exciting when the expiration date was after he was due to arrive home. I would be like a shrieking little child in the grocery store when that date showed up on the milk jug. Another twist on this is to countdown by the dates that movies will be coming out. Once again, it is always really exciting when a movie commercial begins to play for a movie that is debuting after he is due to return home.
  5. Calendar method. Before he leaves, put together a custom calendar with family pictures for every month. As each day passes, mark the day with a big X to signify the passing of another day. As with the paper link method, small notes can be made on the calendar about things that happened that day to fill dad in on the family activities.
  6. Traditional countdown. There are multiple countdowns and tickers available online that you can use to countdown the day until he arrives. These are meant to be placed on your profile pages or in your signature on message boards or other forums. However, due to OPSEC and protecting the movements of our soldier, this is not wise to countdown to an exact date and possibly be alerting many to the day he is returning.
  7. Count down by days of the week. Rather than saying that you have 365 days to go until you see him, count by the number of Mondays until it is over. Only 52 Mondays to go doesn’t sound near as daunting as 365. And it makes it really exciting when it comes down to the end of the deployment.

When you are counting down, especially with children, always ensure that you have a way to add additional days to the countdown if necessary. As we all know, dates are never set in stone and it’s very likely that dates could be pushed back. By adding a few extras to the jar or to the chain of paper links, it will guard against disappointment in your children that the countdown is over but he has still not returned home.

I always found it easier to plan a countdown to smaller milestones instead of counting down to the end of the deployment or a very long training cycle. While I always tried to cram my schedule full of activities and trips to stay busy and keep my mind occupied, it also had the added bonus of making creating mini countdowns much easier. For instance, I would plan a weekend road trip two months away and count down to my road trip instead of to the end of deployment. The countdown seemed much shorter and it still gave me something to look forward to.

Always celebrate the small milestones along the way. When you go from three digits to two digits to one digit, always celebrate the transition from one to the next.

As a military wife, you will quickly become accustomed to the count down method and develop a strategy that works best for you and your family. For me, personally, focusing on a daily countdown was a bit overwhelming and caused me to focus too much on the fact that he was gone. Not that I could forget but it made me dwell on him being gone too much. I chose to countdown in a weekly method and would sometimes even change it up or countdown by multiple methods during the course of his absence. Find what works for you and your family and have fun with it. It can be a creative way to spend family time together each day.