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02-27-07, 07:48 AM
Studies: Troops struggle to reconnect with families

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : March 05, 2007

Multiple wartime deployments are complicating military families’ ability to reconnect when the troops come home, according to two small studies of active-duty and reserve families that have prompted more extensive research.

“The post-deployment period is now also a pre-deployment period,” said Shelley MacDermid, co-director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, which conducted the studies. Participants talked about coping with feelings of uncertainty about when they would deploy again while also trying to focus on reintegrating with their family after the deployment that had just ended.

“The adjustment process was complicated and prolonged by longer deployments, newer marriages, combat stress, difficulties reassuming peacetime duties, and preparation for redeployment,” researchers found.

Complicating matters was the fact that between the major combat deployments, families experienced many shorter work-related separations, researchers found.

The researchers said more study is needed to determine what can be done to help military families adjust.

The Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy has now funded a larger study, MacDermid said.

“This reinforces what we already knew,” said James Scott, director of Individual and Family Policy for the Defense Department’s Office of Reserve Affairs. “We are trying to increase the counseling resources and education and training options for the service member and the family. We realize the best answer is to have reunion and reintegration training at every stage of deployment.”

More efficient help

With limited resources, reserve officials are working to better use counseling and training resources already available, he said.

One study looked at an Army Reserve unit that had deployed in early 2003 and stayed in Iraq for about 15 months. The members were given two weeks’ notice before the deployment. Of the 120 members of the unit, 55 were asked to participate in the study; 16 agreed, ranging in rank from E-3 to O-3. Eleven spouses and two partners participated, along with seven parents of single soldiers. Interviews were done at various intervals after the deployment.

In the other study, 105 active-duty military members ranging from E-2 to O-6 who had deployed and returned at various times, and 152 service providers at eight stateside and eight overseas bases, were interviewed.

Half of the reservists reported getting “back to normal” as soon as they returned from deployment. It took a lot longer for the other half — seven to 12 months following their return. The traditional average falls between those time frames — about two to six weeks for the initial “honeymoon,” with the reintegration completed within six to 12 weeks.

MacDermid cautioned that “it would be irresponsible to draw conclusions” from these studies, which were small and whose participants were not randomly selected.

“Any time anyone reads about stages, people vary,” she said. “Families should worry much less about whether they’re normal than whether they’re able to function. If not, maybe they need to get information or help.”