Communication Underway: Everything to Know About Emails

Ok, how many of you have faced that love/hate relationship with refreshing your email inbox during deployment? I know I have! Even when I know that communication is down and the boat has gone “dark” for a mission, I still find myself refreshing my inbox…just to see if anything happened to come through from my spouse….you know, something like “Hey, I miss you! It was burger night tonight…keeping busy down here. Love you, say hi to the dog!” Even the shortest of emails always put a smile on my face.

Parents and significant others of a submariner learn to embrace email as their lifeline of communication while their sailor is underway. Unlike other Navy communities, submariners do not have the ability to casually communicate with their families via phone or video chat while they are out to sea. Forget about direct messaging platforms…in the submarine community, we learn to make email our jam…because it’s all we have! Don’t get me wrong, communicating solely through email can be tough!

But there are some email practices you can implement to help benefit your string of communication:

Email Do’s

  • Date & number in the subject line – Emails do not always send in chronological order. Sometimes one goes missing entirely. It’s very common to get emails out of the order in which they are sent. Depending on how often you and your sailor email, it can be very helpful to number and/or date your emails in the subject line. Take a moment to chat with your sailor prior to deployment so you can establish a system you both follow.

  • Start a new email every time (don’t just hit “reply”) – Each email you send to your sailor should be a brand new email. While it is second nature to just hit “reply,” remember to create a new email each time. Just hitting “reply” to respond can affect deliverability (at least in my experience).

  • Write as much as you want – With email (unlike Family Grams) there is not a character limit. So type away to your heart’s content!

  • Share what you’ve been up to (even if it’s the same old routine) – Deployments are hard on both you and your sailor. Being away can lead to feeling disconnected at times, so sharing what you’ve been up to – even if it seems mundane – can be a good way to stay grounded with one another. For example, telling your spouse you took the dog on a walk today around the same neighborhood as always may seem boring, but they can relate and envision exactly what you’re referring to, which can be comforting.

  • Keep your spouse updated on how the kids are doing and any milestones they are reaching – As much as we wish we could hit “pause” on our kid’s growth spurts during deployment, we can’t slow it down. Unfortunately, milestones can get missed in person, so use email as a way to tell your spouse the progression going on back home. Even if it’s something like “Hey, Sara has learned how to use the microwave all by herself now” or “Ben finally got the hang of tying his shoes without help.” 

  • Come up with a bucket list of things to do when they get home – The second half of deployment can feel like it’s dragging along at a glacial pace, you just want your sailor home! Come up with ideas together to tackle when they are back home. Maybe a hike you’ve wanted to do together, or perhaps they missed Christmas or a birthday this year and you’re going to pick a random day to “re-celebrate.”

Email Don’ts

  • Do not include attachments –  This includes photos, videos, copy documents, forms, etc. Attaching files in your email will bog down the system and can cause email to get very backed up on the boat. Large files affect deliverability…and trust me, the last thing you want is to cause the email system to get overloaded. Instead, send photos in their halfway box or let your spouse know you’ve captured some great videos of the kids to show them when they get back.

  • Do not include any information that violates OPSEC (for your own boat or any other boat). Discussing anything related to boat movement and boat schedule over email is a no-no. It’s tempting to ask things like, “When are you coming home?”, or “Hey, I heard you get a port call soon, where are you pulling in?”, but it is important to refrain from such questions. These types of questions can be addressed with your Ombudsman in person when the time comes. Patience is hard, but necessary to keep our sailors safe.

  • Do not include any information that you wish to remain absolutely private – It is important to note that the emails you send to your sailor have the potential of being read by others on the boat. Emails are censored and monitored for the safety and well-being of the sailors. 

Items to Take Caution With

  • Avoiding words/terms that could get flagged – Examples include (names of certain countries/regions, long strings of numbers, cuss words, etc.) This varies from boat to boat. If your email gets flagged that doesn’t mean it won’t get delivered, it may just get reviewed closer before passing it along. 

  • Sharing sad/sensitive news – This is of course up to your discretion. If a death or significant hardship in the family occurs during deployment, working with your ombudsman to get a red-cross message delivered to the boat may be a more appropriate (and efficient) method.

  • Getting mad when you don’t hear from your sailor – It is easy to resort to frustration and anger when you have not heard from your sailor for weeks or months (especially if you hear that another spouse recently received one). Just remember – each sailor has a different job to perform and the demands of their day can vary. Computer availability is another factor – they cannot always guarantee that a computer will be free to use when they are free to sit down.

While email can feel quite limiting, as part of the submarine community, we know how to make the best of it! 

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