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Military Service and Human Capital: Policy Lessons from the Global War on Terrorism

November 11, 2013 09:40 AM

By George Atisa, Florida International University

On Friday, November 8, several presenters discussed that deployment overseas either for combat operations or non-war related is now a way of life for military families. This, however, comes with serious negative effects on spouses left at home and the whole family as well as on the deployed parent. Specific impacts of these deployments upon military families range from emotional, social, domestic violence and even on their children’s education.

The other finding presented was that high performance mentors lead to early promotions in the military. All panelists designed their research to both identify causes of domestic violence and also to find out factors that can help these families to cope.

This cross-cutting panel—chaired by Alison Jacknowitz, American University, with presenters M.E. Hughes, Johns Hopkins University; Joseph Sabia, San Diego State University; David Lyle, United States Military Academy; and Laura Argys, University of Colorado Denver—disclosed that multiple deployments for individuals have been on the rise over the years. Out of the 80 percent of parents that have deployed, 33 percent have been deployed up to four times. Individual officers have no decision-making authority on whether to accept to be deployed or not, as it is units within the armed forces that are called up. Deployment overseas is a very stressful exercise on individual solders as well as their spouses and children. Once a spouse is deployed, the parent who remains home makes big adjustments both emotionally and with the family responsibilities. This causes mental stress and emotional problems. Deployed spouses often start to engage in substance abuse and drug use.    

Combat solders are trained in ways that make them less sensitive to violence so that they can kill/injure their combatants with little feeling. These insensitive feelings together with the mental stresses caused by these deployments find their way into homes. Upon return from deployment, these military spouses tend to be more violent, a situation that emotionally hurts families, and creates instability in marriages, divorce and sometimes leads to child abuse cases. Exposure to combat increases violent behavior from the range of 50 to 100 percent. Effects of military deployment are not the same across all the ranks. There is less domestic violence and other mental and social problems among high ranking commissioned officers.      

Families that have one parent deployed to fight overseas cope through support given by extended family members, teachers at schools when they get to know kids with parents on deployment and living with other deployed families. Use of communication technology such as  Skype and Facetime greatly helps spouses and children to stay in touch. One thing that was unclear from the research was how mentorship and promotion through the ranks affects emotional and stability of military officers on deployment.     

 

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