Military Deployment: How School Psychologists Can Help

By Pisano, Mark C. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Military Deployment: How School Psychologists Can Help


Pisano, Mark C., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Nearly 70,000 children have at least one parent in the U. S. National Guard or Reserve (Our Military Kids, 2007). These children are in civilian schools, very possibly in buildings where you work! Some could be experiencing their parent's first deployment and feeling very alone and scared.

Military deployments have become more frequent for service members in the Guard and Reserves and are having a significant impact on the functioning of the service member's family and on their reintegration into civilian life. There are approximately 456,000 National Guard soldiers and 400,000 reserve soldiers. There are 205 National Guard posts across America with North Dakota being the only state without one. Every other state in the U.S. has at least one post but some have as manyas 12. On military installations across the world, Department of Defense school psychologists deal constantly with deployment issues and the impact they have on children in the schools. Children who do not have easy access to a large installation, however, are especially vulnerable to emotional wounds because of the lack of access to base support networks. This is increasingly common in the war on terrorism with the important role playedby the National Guard and Reserve whose families frequently do not live near military bases.

How school psychologists can help. Civilian school psychologists would be advised to find those students who have a parent deployed as a National Guard or Reserve service member. They may not be easy to find because of the strong sense of pride present in most service families. This culture of military families is probably strongest on military bases but very likely exists with Guard and Reserve families as well. Start with your teachers and ask them to let you know when they have a student of a service member. You can make a difference to that student and his or her family.

PREDEPLOYMENT AND THE ANTICIPATION OF DEPARTURE

The 82nd Airborne prides itself on being able to send a battalion of soldiers anywhere in the world within 24 hours! Notice for deployment can come months in advance or in only a few hours. Service members from the Guard and Reserve are being chosen individually based on their particular skill area often, without much notice, leaving the families distraught and unsure of where service members are going or when they will return. Whereas deployments for individual service members used to occur approximately every 20 months, now it is not unusual for the time between deployments to be only 8 months. No matter how much time the family has prior to deployment, the stress on service members and their families can be tremendous.

During this stage, it is common for family members to feel anger, sadness, fear, confusion, and nervousness as well as pride. Especially with a first-time deployment, fear is the overwhelming emotion. At times, the nondeployed spouse is feeling anger, often directed either at the military service or at the spouse who is going to be deployed. In addition, the family may be torn between trying to support the service member tobe deployed and seeking family time together. As the service member is preparing for deployment, his/her time may be limited and the family may feel unimportant, and it is not unusual for marital discord to occur with the emotional distance created by the preparation for deployment. Some families report instances when the service member appears already "psychologically deployed" and the spouse feels as though "all this would be easier if he/she just went ahead and left." There are some instances when a deployment takes place before the reintegration process from the previous deployment is finalized. It can seem like dad or mom is leaving again before he/she has actually had a chance to get comfortable with being back with the family from the last deployment.

How school psychologists can help. Try to encourage your families to develop a plan for taking care of the household and themselves. …

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