Impact of Multiple Deployments on Children

With the recent announcement of President Obama’s fund increase to Military Family Programs, the importance of assisting our military Soldiers and families is ever prevalent. Today’s guest blog entry comes from a study completed at the Army War College by Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Steven Gerras discussing the the impact of multiple deployments on families, especially the children.

blog post 01-28Butner Elementary School students sing patriotic music during a ceremony to celebrate the Month of the Military Child on Fort Bragg, N.C. The Month of the Military Child takes place during April.  U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Jessica M. Kuhn

The new reality of repetitive deployments has led to innovative programs and policies designed to assist military children in dealing with the difficulties of deployments.  Initiatives—ranging from “flat daddies” replacing deployed soldiers at the dinner table, to senior leaders ceremoniously signing the Army Family Covenant at installations across the world, to the First Lady proposing nearly $9 billion to support military families—point to the growing concern that multiple deployments may be as stressful to Army children as they are to soldiers.  Despite the increased attention and seemingly endless resources directed at children in deployed families, however, there has been very little research examining the effects of multiple deployments on children.

In March of 2009, Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras from the U.S. Army War College began a two-phase study to examine the effects of multiple deployments on Army adolescents.  The first phase, collected through an online survey, evaluated the perspectives of over 2,000 soldiers, 700 spouses, and 500 Army children between 11 and 17.  The second phase collected the views of over 100 Army adolescents through individual interviews at 8 Army installations throughout the U.S. 

As expected, they found that strong families—to include a non-deployed spouse who coped well with deployments—as well as ample activities such as sports to keep Army youngsters busy serve to reduce stress levels of Army adolescents during a deployment.  Surprisingly, they also found that the attitudes of Army children play a role in dealing with deployment stress and coping with a life of deployments.  Children who believed that soldiers are making a difference in the world and that the American public supported the war were significantly more likely to report that they were coping better with deployments.  The study highlights the often overlooked impact of attitudinal factors such as the influence of public opinion concerning the war and the importance—in a life marked by multiple deployments—of an adolescent’s confidence that their parent’s call to duty is worth the sacrifice.

For a free download of the full study, please visit the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute website: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=962.