Military Deployment: Preparing Soldiers and Their Families

Article excerpt

Due to downsizing and a changing mission in the U.S. Army, family separations have increased significantly in the last few years. Separations have taken a financial and personal toll on Army families. The U.S. Army worked with researchers at two universities to revise and update the Operation READY (Resources for Educating About Deployment & You) curriculum developed in 1993. During site visits to six Army installations, individual and focus group interviews identified the issues and problems experienced by families when a soldier is deployed, and revealed the best way to incorporate these into the revised curriculum.

Regular Army soldiers, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard members are increasingly separated from their families for combat, training rotations, humanitarian missions, and other deployments. In the past 12 years, the average frequency of deployments increased from one every 4 years to one every 14 weeks (White & Shinseki, 2002).

During separations, young spouses, children, and other family members may be left in unfamiliar environments, often far from their "roots" and families. These separations can have a negative impact on family members (Angrist & Johnson, 2000; Kelly, 1994; Ryan-Wenger, 2001) and soldiers, whose concern about their families' well-being affects their morale and individual readiness (Schumm & Bell, 2000).

Although single soldiers also can encounter difficulties during deployments, enlisted members with spouses or children experience the greatest stress (Tiemeyer, Wardynski, & Buddin, 1999). This underscores the importance of providing Army personnel with training focusing on issues affecting soldiers and family members before, during, and after deployment. Increasingly, family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals assist with deployment planning for active military and reserve families. Operation READY (Resources for Educating About Deployment and You), is an up-to-date curriculum developed by a team of FCS professionals, that prepares Army families for deployment.

BACKGROUND

Today's military is ". . . predominantly a young, married force with children (Raezer, 2002, p. 5)." About 49% of enlisted soldiers have children, more than 63% of whom have a paygrade of E6 or lower (Military Family Resource Center, 2002).1 Moreover, the number of single parents is rising: about 36,000 single soldiers (70% E6 or under) are parents. An additional 12,800 members with children are in joint-service marriages (Military Family Resource Center, 2002). In light of the growing number of families, assisting Army families with the issues encountered during deployment has become an important element of the Army's focus on Family Readiness-a vital component of Mission Readiness.

THE EVOLUTION OF OPERATION READY

In the early 1990s, following Desert Storm and Desert Shield, reports in the media and professional journals described extensive emotional, legal, and financial difficulties encountered by families when the armed forces deployed. In response, the Department of Army provided grants to FCS faculty at the University of California, Riverside, and Texas A & M University to study deployment issues and produce a curriculum to be used by the Army Community Service2 (ACS) center staff to prepare soldiers and their families for separation.

The first edition of the Operation READY curriculum, completed in 1993, included videos, leader's guides, a Family Readiness Handbook, and four workbooks for children ages 3 to 17. The materials were provided to all stateside and overseas ACS locations.

Much has changed since the early 1990s, including increases in deployments, technological advances, the increasing number of single and dual military parents, and a stronger emphasis on family readiness. In 2001, the Army asked the two universities to re-examine the effects of deployment on families and revise/update the Operation READY curriculum. …