Shadowed by War: Building Community Capacity to Support Military Families

Article excerpt

The context of military service has changed greatly since the events of 9/11. The forward deployment of service members to active war zones, which involves the issues of separation, time away from home, and eventual reunion, increases the vulnerability of their families to multiple, negative short-term and long-term effects. This article explores these issues and suggests a new approach to building support systems to support these military families. To this end, a capacity-building framework is introduced, and 4 diverse and innovative social action programs consistent with this approach are highlighted. Implications for implementing the community capacity-building model are presented.

Key Words: community capacity, community support, deployment, family support, military families.

The worst time is when the phone rings because you don't know who is calling. They could be calling, telling you that he got shot or something. (Global War on Terrorism, 13-year-old son of Army Soldier; Huebner, Mancini, Wilcox, Grass, & Grass, 2007)

The forward deployment of service members to active war zones, which involves the issues of separation, time away from home, and eventual reunion, increases the vulnerability of their families to multiple, negative short-term and long-term effects. Although it is difficult to place a positive spin on family issues associated with war and its aftermath, the U.S. military has an impressive human service delivery system in place that is designed to support families and thus lower their chances of experiencing problems and dysfunction. In recent years, the military services have discovered the broad power of community - as botti encompassing and distinct from the formal human service deUvery system - as a resource for supporting mUitary famines and helping them cope effectively with adversity and positive challenges (Bowen, Mancini, Martin, Ware, & Nelson, 2003; Hoshmand & Hoshmand, 2007).

There are three parts to our discussion of building community capacity to support military families in the shadows of war. First, we present demographic information and research findings on military families that provide a context for the current discussion. This research is relevant for understanding the nuances and challenges of providing support to military families. Second, we present a community capacity-building social action model, which informs expanded program models that include attention to community partners and resources. Part 3 is an elaboration of programs now in the field designed to support military families who reflect this community capacity-building approach.

THE CONTEXT

According to the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (2005), more than half (55%) of active military members are married and about 43% have children (40% of whom are younger than 5 years). There are two types of data that reflect key aspects of the circumstances of military families in today's Global War on Terrorism: deployment and death/wounded in action. As of November 2007, there were 162,000 troops deployed to Iraq (Reuters, 2007) and 26,000 to Afghanistan (Whitlock, 2008). About 1.5 million service members have spent service time in Iraq; about 500,000 have served two tours of combat, 70,000 have served three, and 20,000 have been deployed five or more times (Olson, 2007). Given that deployment tours can last up to 1 5 months, many military personnel have been spending more time overseas than at home. From March 2003 through February 2008, 3,965 U.S. military members died participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 29,320 were wounded in action (Defense Manpower Data Center, 2008). From October 2001 through February 2008, 478 military members died participating in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, the Philippines, Southwest Asia, and other locations) and 1,867 were wounded in action. How much or when these operations may change remains undetermined at this point; however, the issues of deployment and the risk of injury or death remain defining elements of military service (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008). …