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In March of 2009, over 2,000 soldiers, 700 Army spouses, and 550 Army adolescents in U.S. Army Forces Command participated in an online survey to determine the effects of multiple deployments on Army adolescents. The authors of the study, Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras of the U.S. Army War College, explored factors that could mitigate the detrimental effects of repeated deployments on the children of soldiers.
By analyzing the responses of the children, spouses, and soldiers, Wong and Gerras were surprised to find that the stress experienced by Army adolescents during a deployment is not associated with the number of previous deployments. In other words, there is no cumulative effect of the number previous deployments on the stress experienced by Army adolescents during a deployment. The study also found that Army adolescents are significantly more optimistic about how they are coping with deployments overall than their parents.
The factors that predict the lowest levels of stress during an individual deployment, in order of largest impact, are: 1) participation in activities such as sports, 2) a strong family, and 3) the adolescent's belief that the American public supports the war. The factors that best predict a child’s overall ability to cope with a life of deployments, in order of the greatest effect, are: 1) a child's belief that soldiers are making a difference, 2) a strong family, 3) the adolescent's belief that the American public supports the war, and 4) a strong non-deployed spouse.
Wong and Gerras explored the trends and issues raised in the online survey with a follow-on phase that included individually interviewing over 100 Army adolescents at eight Army installations across the U.S. The results of the overall study were recently published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.
The study highlights the importance of keeping Army children busy with activities during a deployment and reinforces the central role of a strong family. But the study also brings to the forefront the often overlooked impact of the attitudes of Army adolescents in dealing with a life of recurring deployments. Concepts such as duty, sacrifice, and service are critical in helping Army adolescents persevere as children of today’s often deployed soldiers.