Community Capacity, Extension, and the Geographically Dispersed

Friday Field NotesIn recent years the military has reshaped its deployment methods in order to adapt to the demands of disparate global conflicts.

In the course of Operation Desert Storm, Reserve soldiers comprised just 25% of deployed servicemen (Department of Defense Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1992, 1991).

Due to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent troop surge of 2007, this number of deployed Reserve and National Guard soldiers accumulated to 40-50% of deployed servicemen (Defense Manpower Data Center, 2009).

At no other time in history has such a large population of Reserve and National Guard units been deployed.

This adaptation in deployment methods is significant because families of these soldiers are located in geographically dispersed civilian communities, not traditional military installations where important services to support the stresses of deployment are readily available.


A team of Michigan State University researchers and extension professionals provides an excellent assessment of this situation, and provides clear recommendations in their recent Journal of Extension article titled Meeting the Needs of National Guard and Reserve Families: The Vital Role of Extension. Using representative data from the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR State of the State Survey (SOSS), the researchers explore family-related issues and post-deployment needs  (IPPSR, 2008) and consider the implications of their work, with focus upon the characteristics of the Extension system that position professionals to assist military families and communities through difficult transitions. Today’s Friday Field Notes features this paper.

According to Ames and colleagues, “while National Guard and Reserve families live in every state and territory, this article examines the case of Michigan with the goal of providing implications for Extension professionals across the United States… unlike states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, or Virginia, Michigan does not have a large military base, and therefore it lacks the traditional infrastructure to address the needs of soldiers and their families (e.g., access to commissaries, health care facilities, and social support). Even though there is no military base, the Michigan National Guard and Reserve force operates with 19,151 members (National Governors Association, 2008), and these soldiers and their spouses and children account for 44,581 Michigan residents (National Governors Association, 2008).”  The authors point out that other states likely encounter similar challenges, especially in the absence of large military installations.

Perhaps the most important finding of this work is the perception that the responsibility for addressing issues related to National Guard and Reserve deployment and transition rests at the national and family levels. However, the study authors point out, “there appears to be a disconnect between these two levels, and neither is equipped to address the complex needs of NG soldiers and their families on its own.” They go on to point out that the 2009 National Leadership Summit on Military Families recommended shared responsibility between the family support community and families, and that Cooperative Extension is a key component of this “family support community.”

Further, the research team observes that it appears that state and community system resources are being overlooked. Again, referencing the  the Leadership Summit, they point out that participants expressed concern that many families often are unaware of supports in spite of available resources and growth in program opportunities (National Leadership Summit on Military Families, 2010)… that there is a need to coordinate and build capacity in states and communities in order to bridge multiple sources of support.

Extension, Ames and colleagues argue, has an important role to play in this coordinating and capacity-building effort. “The Extension system provides a presence within all counties across the country, which allows it to reach the dispersed population of National Guard and Reserve families. Extension provides research-based information to promote the welfare of families, and it has proven its commitment to serving military families (Carroll et al., 2008). Extension also is well suited to build capacity through community and economic development initiatives.”

We encourage you to have a look at the entire article, or to reach out to one of the research team members, listed below.

Barbara Ames
Professor and Graduate Program Director
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Sheila Smith
Extension Program Leader, Children, Youth, Families, & Communities
Michigan State University Extension

Kendal Holtrop
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Adrian Blow
Assistant Professor
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Jessica Hamel
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Maryhelen MacInnes
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology

Esther Onaga
Associate Professor
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan




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