The best piece of advice I can give is this: It's not the goodbyes that are important. It's what you do during the time that they're away.
My dad was career Navy (36years), aka our entire childhoods and part of our adulthood. This was during 2 wars, 3 if you count the Cold War, countless operations, and periodic peacetimes. He was never gone less then 6 months out of every year. This was before our great era of communication. He was on submarines, so we were lucky to get even one letter...and if he phoned from some port, we kids never heard about it. I actually chat online with many of my friends on the front lines these days...so the isolation isn't usually as bad as it was 20 years ago, or even 10. (I was in the USMC myself until 'I broke myself'. ;)
During the time while they're gone it's entirely how YOU react & treat their deployment that makes the big difference on how your kids react and feel about it. We saw this time and time again, especially when we were living on base overseas with thousands of other families is our exact same position. My mum, and most of our friends' mums or dads made it fun, and nonchalant. Our dads & mums were talked about, we'd tease them by having a their favorite dinner or some other thing they liked best while they were away sometimes, and we knew our mum's loved and missed them...but we were a military family...this was what daddys & mums did. Some (very few) of our other friends' parents on base made such a huge weeping deal about it that they would hide out at our houses where "Everything's not terrible over here! :) Can I stay for dinner??? Puh-leeze???" Their parents spent their days either crying or angry or just generally afraid.
There's an old quote that says "The best thing my mom ever did for me was to love my dad." We never forgot our dad, and always looked forward to seeing him because when my mom talked about him she was happy. She didn't talk about the danger he was in except to say "Oh, you know your dad, he can handle it". She DIDN'T say "Oh, I wish your daddy was here for your birthday"...she DID say "Won't you have a blast telling you dad all about this party?" It was a thousand little things just like that, everyday, that made us feel like our Dad was with us...even when he was far away. To this day I'm very close with both my parents...even though the time I actually spent with my father growing up was probably negligible compared with most people. My mom created his presence for us, not a sadness that he wasn't there.
Whenever he shipped out we typically said our goodbyes at home, but we got to come in the car every once and awhile. I was ALWAYS disappointed coming in the car because it was never the grand old party they showed in the news...and everyone was distracted and stressed out.
To remember while they're gone:
1) They're safer then we are...we have a better chance of dying in a car accident while they're gone....yay uplifting thoughts! :P
2) It's always safer to serve at war then at peace. (The average number of deaths from training accidents EACH YEAR in peacetime hovers around 100,000.) We all know the count for Iraq. And all the years of VietNam was what? 70,000? I have to admit, I don't know off the top of my head. Still better then just one year training at home...Um...if peace breaks out (and we all pray it does) just try and forget this fact!! But for now, hold on tight :)
3) If you don't have honorable people fighting wars, what HAVE you got?
4) It's better to plan for happiness then sadness. Sadness needs no help, happiness does.
Peace & Laughter & Safe Returns,