Deployment Effects Military Personnel and Their Families



The problem of deployment and its effects on military personnel has become particularly acute. The intensity of military operations continues to increase, as well as the number of soldiers deployed to participate in combat operations worldwide. The current review of literature is intended to highlight the most relevant findings in the study of deployment and its effects on military personnel. A total of five articles are reviewed, analyzed, and criticized. The following themes are discussed: (1) the effects of deployment on military personnel and their family dynamics; (2) mental health outcomes of deployment; and (3) deployment and education among the military. The results reveal a significant methodological gap that warrants further empirical research.

Keywords: deployment, military personnel, effects, family

How Deployment Affects Military Personnel and Their Families

With the growing intensity of international military operations, the issue of deployment and its effects on military personnel has become particularly acute. The war on terror organized and administered by the United States is likely to persist in the coming years. Therefore, more military professionals will be exposed to the dangerous impacts of deployment and will have to be faced with the tragic consequences of their participation in combat operations worldwide. Yet, while the negative influences of deployment on military personnel are widely recognized, the ways in which deployment changes the patterns of family functioning are yet to be understood. According to Werner and Shannon (2012), deployment is the starting point of family transitions. They require a thorough review of the family roles and obligations that change the relationship dynamics within a family unit. This being said, the focus of the current literature review is the issue of military deployment and its implications for military personnel and their family members.

Military deployment is a stressful event for military personnel and their families. The given literature review is designed to find recent empirical support to the assumption that deployment has far-reaching negative impacts not only on military professionals but also on their families. The review of literature is intended to answer the following question: how does deployment affect military personnel and their families? Major attention is paid to the issues of family functioning and how it changes after one of the family members is deployed. The review covers a total of five empirical studies published in 2012 and 2013. Only one study used quantitative design. The two literature reviews and two qualitative studies were included in the current analysis. High prevalence of secondary findings, as well as the differences in study designs can potentially complicate the process of analyzing and interpreting their results. Nevertheless, these are the most recent insights into the topic of military deployment and its effects on families that have been shared by other scholars. The strengths and weaknesses of the studies included in the review will facilitate the development of recommendations for future research.

The Issue of Deployment and Its Effects on Military Personnel

The issue of deployment and its effects on military personnel is gaining momentum in scholarly and empirical literature. The logic behind the popularity of the topic is quite simple: the operational tempo of the global war on terror has become unprecedented, urging U.S. authorities to deploy a greater number of its military professionals (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2012). Werner and Shannon (2013) confirm: after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the number of deployed soldiers has increased to its maximum since World War II. Between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. lost 4,400 soldiers in casualties; 31,000 soldiers were injured as a result of their direct participation in combat operations around the globe (Werner & Shannon, 2013). As of 2009, a total of 1.8 million of the U.S. personnel were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan (Schlomer et al., 2012). Many of them were deployed more than once (Schlomer et al., 2012).

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Schlomer et al. (2012) are right stating that, “this increased tempo for the US troops in the current conflicts not only impacts service members but also their families.” A consensus is emerging that the fact of military deployment puts families into the state of transition, due to changes in family structure and functioning (Schlomer et al., 2012; Werner & Shannon, 2013). Still, a detailed review of the major impacts of deployment on military personnel and their family members is needed. In the present review, the following themes were identified: (1) increased stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed reported by family members due to the growing pressure of family responsibilities; (2) changes in soldiers’ mental health after deployment; and (3) problems in pursuing a degree in higher education during deployment. These themes are reviewed below.

Military Deployment and Its Effects on Families

In the context of military deployment, families seem to be the most interesting and popular topic of analysis. Contemporary researchers are particularly curious about how the patterns of family functioning change after one of family members is deployed. Lara-Cinisomo et al. (2012) analyzed the experiences of family caregivers, who were not deployed but have experience living through at least one deployment. The results of quantitative research analysis suggest that family members face numerous stressors due to deployment, the most serious being related to the fulfillment of household obligations. Non-deployed caregivers report considerable difficulties with assuming the roles the deployed family member typically fulfilled (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2012). The growing burden of responsibilities results in a wide spectrum of emotional reactions, from the sense of being overwhelmed to the feelings of anger and increased nervousness (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2012). These findings resonate with the results shared by Schlomer et al. (2012) and Werner and Shannon (2013).

The fact of deployment is frequently associated with high levels of ambiguity, due to the factual absence of the family member at home. Such ambiguity leads to depression and causes the feelings of isolation, loneliness, loss and abandonment (Werner & Shannon, 2013). The results of the literature review by Werner and Shannon (2013) also indicate the need for family caregivers to provide additional support to children at times of deployment. Some family members fail to cope with overwhelming obligations, making a decision to relocate or join an extended family (Schlomer et al., 2012). Still, many families manage to successfully navigate through the challenges posed by deployment, and many others even find their increased involvement in household chores to be a positive driver of successful transition to a new state (Schlomer et al., 2012; Werner & Shannon, 2013). Unfortunately, the design and methodological weaknesses inherent in the discussed studies complicate further generalization and interpretation of these findings. Inconsistent sampling presents one of the biggest research issues (Lara-Cinisomo et al., 2013), followed by the risks of subjectivity and bias in presenting secondary findings (Schlomer et al., 2012; Werner & Shannon, 2013). Moreover, given that only Lara-Cinisomo et al. (2013) used an empirical model of the study, questions arise as to whether the results are consistent enough to inform future practices. Nevertheless, researchers continue their analysis of the issue and expand their views on deployment and its effects on military personnel.

Military Employment Effects on Mental Health

Another theme identified in the current review of literature is the impact of military deployment on soldiers’ mental health. Pietrzak, Pullman, Cotea, and Nasveld (2012) performed an extensive review of longitudinal studies to understand the mental health outcomes of the soldiers involved in the recent conflicts. Based on the analysis of 18 studies, Pietrzak et al. (2012) concluded that the most common adverse effects of deployment were depression and PTSD, followed by anxiety and panic attacks. A diversity of factors moderate the relationship between deployment and mental health of deployed military personnel, such as timely provision of frontline treatment and the life circumstances that may exacerbate the severity of the disease event (Pietrzak et al., 2012).

Still, one study can never suffice to confirm the relationship between military deployment and adverse mental health outcomes. Despite the fact that Pietrzak et al. (2012) focused on longitudinal studies that are well-known for high levels of design validity and reliability, the number of such studies was small. Also, the risks of bias and subjectivity in interpreting secondary findings should not be ignored. Undoubtedly, future researchers have a solid reason to continue the discussed line of research, which will help to develop practice recommendations to minimize the negative consequences of deployment for military personnel.

Military Deployment and Education Opportunities

A relatively new topic in the study of military deployment is its implications for the education opportunities available to military personnel. Thomason (2013) published the results of an exploratory study, whose purpose was to understand the impacts of deployment on military personnel’s involvement in education. The key finding is that deployment disrupts the continuity of educational processes in the lives of military personnel (Thomason, 2013). In other words, although the military environment encourages its personnel to pursue a degree, few deployed professionals can accomplish their learning mission. Failure to obtain a degree is associated with serious penalties for deployed officers, mostly in the form of denied promotions; the latter are not granted in the absence of the requisite civilian education (Thomason, 2013).

The study opens a new venue in the analysis of military deployment and its effects on personnel, even though a single qualitative study can never lead to any conclusive changes in the system of defense. The study is qualitative, which is why it lacks the validity and reliability characteristic of quantitative and mixed-method designs. It is the only study on the topic of deployment and its relation to education, thus making the process of analyzing and interpreting its results particularly complicated. Nevertheless, the results create a multifaceted picture of deployment and its numerous implications for military personnel, thus developing a new agenda for future researchers.

Discussion and Conclusion

The results of the current review suggest that deployment has a broad spectrum of impacts on military personnel and their family members. The latter reports higher levels of stress, anxiety, isolation, and a sense of being overwhelmed with additional obligations and chores. Military personnel display a variety of adverse mental health outcomes due to their involvement in combat operations. They also face obstacles on their way to pursuing a degree in higher education. Yet, the sample of studies included in the present review is too small to draw consistent results. Design and methodological deficiencies inherent in these studies complicate the analysis and interpretation of their results. The mentioned gaps warrant the need for further analysis of the issue.

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