Purdue News

September 5, 2006

Military families provide insight on adjusting to constant change

Shelley MacDermid
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — U.S. service members and their families have to do double duty when adjusting to repeated deployments, but Purdue University researchers are providing information to help the government support the more than 1.3 million families of active duty and reserve personnel.

Two studies were conducted by Purdue's Military Family Research Institute. Shelley MacDermid, the institute's co-director, said the research was motivated by the need for data about the changes families must deal with each time the military members are deployed.

"Repeated deployments mean that the post-deployment period is also a predeployment period," said MacDermid, director for Purdue's Center for Families and associate dean in the College of Consumer and Family Sciences. "Members and families have a dual set of tasks: getting their daily lives re-established at home and also preparing and training for their next time period away from home."

"Coming Home: An Army Reserve Unit Returns from War" contains data gathered from interviews conducted over a one-year period. These interviews consisted of 16 members who returned home from a deployment in 2004 and 20 parents or spouses. A second study, called "Global Perspective on Deployment and Reunion," assembled information gathered from focus groups made up of 256 active-duty members and military service providers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

One of the most universal experiences associated with deployment is that relationships go through a complex set of transitions that can take considerable adjustment time when members return home to their spouses, MacDermid said.

"About half of the participants in the study on the reserve unit reported a 'honeymoon' in well-being following return from deployment, which was actually a smaller proportion than we expected," MacDermid said. "They often took several weeks following return for spouses to relearn how to depend upon and accommodate one another. There were new expectations involving routines and responsibilities that affected the amount of time it took to make the transition."

MacDermid said no data were gathered from children, but parents and service providers reported children experienced similar issues involving the transition. Members reported they find it more emotionally difficult to return home from a deployment to children who have changed substantially in appearance or behavior.

"Supervising children during deployment is complicated not only by parental absence, but also by the limited programs for children," MacDermid said. "It's especially difficult to know how to reintegrate returning military members into children's lives when the timing of redeployment is uncertain."

The studies were funded by the Office of Military Community and Family Policy in the U.S. Department of Defense.

"The department's Social Compact recognizes the fundamental reciprocity that exists between the service member, the military family and the mission of the Department of Defense — 'families also serve,'" said Jane Burke, principal director to the deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. "The Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University has provided valuable insights in support of policy and program development."

Other findings include:

• The most active times for changes in well-being were in the weeks immediately prior to departure and following return. Levels of well-being before deployment did not appear to strongly predict later levels.

• Most of the reservists interviewed became more focused on career goals during deployment. Reservists who held leadership positions during deployment sometimes felt frustrated about their lack of influence in their civilian workplaces.

• Six months following return, half of the reservists reported mild symptoms of combat stress.

• Twelve months following return, participants reported that they had recovered to predeployment levels of well-being.

MacDermid said, in general, participants demonstrated poor awareness of military policies and of the programs available to them. Most of the reserve participants who were deployed early in the war in Iraq experienced difficulties accessing military services, including receiving pay, dental insurance, renewing ID cards or using the commissary.

MacDermid said she hopes the research will result in finding better ways to prepare troops and their families for returning from deployments. She recommends future research to investigate other areas of concern, such as accessibility to support services and the impact of gradual versus abrupt returns to family and work life.

Writer: Maggie Morris, (765) 494-2432, maggiemorris@purdue.edu

Source: Shelley MacDermid, (765) 494-5774, shelley@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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