The Persian Gulf Conflict: The Impact of Stressors as Perceived by Army Reservists

By Hammelman, Tracie L. | Health and Social Work, May 1995 | Go to article overview

The Persian Gulf Conflict: The Impact of Stressors as Perceived by Army Reservists


Hammelman, Tracie L., Health and Social Work


As a result of the Persian Gulf conflict, many military families were suddenly separated. This fact alone is not new; the difference in this situation is that, unlike previous wars, there were significantly more single parents and dual military parents called up to serve. According to the New York Times, as of February 1991, the U.S. Defense Department reported that 16,300 single parents and 1,200 military couples had been called to serve in the Persian Gulf ("In Capitol," 1991, p. A10).

Because of the suddenness of this conflict, military personnel had to be deployed quickly. The abolishment of the draft prompted the military to turn to U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard personnel to meet troop quotas for the Persian Gulf conflict. This study investigates various stressors that influenced the soldier and his or her family as a result of the Persian Gulf conflict. For the purposes of this study, stressors are defined as physical changes in a soldier's or his or her family's environment that caused psychological distress.

Because little is known about alternative families in the military, this study can inform social workers as well as other professionals in the mental health field about this population. Alternative family is defined as any configuration of people, either biologically or legally related, in which the family composition represents anything other than the traditional two-parent nuclear family in which the man is the primary wage earner and sole person in the military and the woman is the homemaker and main caretaker of the children, if there are children. In addition, this research may also provide professionals with a greater understanding of the military population and the unique stresses they experience, thus enabling the use of the most appropriate therapeutic interventions. Last, support programs may be instituted in future military call-ups to prevent or lessen the impact of these stressors on soldiers and their families.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Literature on stress and the military has emphasized that two-patent families in which the man was called to duty experience a great deal of stress (Hill, 1945, 1949; Hunter, 1982; McCubbin, Dahl, & Hunter, 1976). Information about stress experienced by single-parent and two-parent military families, however, is virtually nonexistent.

Studies indicate that a soldier's stress level is significantly higher if he or she is deployed in a high-combat area (Stretch, 1985). Likewise, families of soldiers who are sent overseas to complete their tour of duty also experience severe stress (Bey & Lange, 1974; Hunter, 1982; Solomon, 1988). Studies that compare stress levels of families of U.S. Army Reserve soldiers deployed in different locations are still lacking.

Bey and Lange (1974) and Stretch (1985) reported that families of lower ranking soldiers experienced greater stress than the families of higher ranking soldiers. Wolfe, Brown, and Kelley (1993) and Sutker, Uddo, Brailey, and Allain (1993) also found statistically significant results to indicate that lower ranking soldiers experienced more stress than their higher ranking counterparts. Research on gender and stress, according to Wolfe et al. (1993) and Sutker et al. (1993), also indicates that women suffer psychologically significantly more than men.

On the basis of this research, indications are that soldiers (and their families) who suffer the most stress are female, serve in a high-combat area, and have a lower rank. Data are insufficient to determine whether family composition has an impact on the soldier or his or her family. For this study, therefore, it was hypothesized that lower ranking soldiers would be affected more by stressors than higher ranking soldiers, soldiers stationed overseas would experience greater stress than soldiers who remained stateside, female soldiers would be affected more by stressors than male soldiers, single soldiers would suffer from more stress than married soldiers, and single-parent families would be affected more by stressors than two-parent families. …

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