The D-Word – Part 1: Preparing Military Families for Deployment

Summary

Considering a military-related transition, it’s best to prepare in advance to ensure a smooth transition and minimize the number of unforeseen complications that may arise. ((If the military allows you to plan ahead, that is!))

Existing research shows that military families are able to build their family resilience (i.e., the capacity of the family in overcoming significant life challenges) during times of separation and other stressors as a result of engaging in pre-deployment preparation (Troxel et al., 2016).

By Jenny Rea, Ph.D.

The word “deployment” often receives a bad rap. This is likely due to the fact that deployments have been recognized as the most stressful aspect of military life. While each stage of the deployment cycle has specific emotional challenges, the pre-deployment stage is likely the most pivotal phase for helping military families be prepared for deployment uncertainties and stressors.

Pre-Deployment – Stage 1 of the Deployment Cycle

“Pre-deployment refers to the period between when the service member receives deployment orders and when they depart for active deployment. Pre-deployment activities and preparations play a significant role in how families will manage deployment-related stressors” (Frye-Cox, White, O’Neal, Lucier-Greer, 2022).

Military Family
Military Family | Canva

Service members report high amounts of ‘preparation stress’ and diminished time with their families due to spending an extensive amount of time training, inspecting equipment, and preparing for an upcoming deployment (Blessing et al., 2020). Military families, including service members’ spouses/partners, children, and extended family, have also indicated that the pre-deployment phase is the most stressful period in the deployment cycle. This was due to the anticipation of their service member’s absence or potential death, as well as the stress of getting financial and familial affairs in place (National Military Family Association, 2005).

Together, one study found that 44% of service members and their spouses reported noteworthy symptoms of depression (e.g., loss of interest, extreme sadness) during pre-deployment, approximately four months prior to being deployed to Iraq.

Deployment Preparedness and Family Functioning

Deployment preparation may represent a critical period for service members and their families, and this preparation time may influence the deployment itself, as well as how military families adjust long-term during post-deployment reintegration. 

Blessing and colleagues (2020) explored the relationship between deployment preparedness (i.e., having appropriate training and expectations for deployment), family functional impairment (e.g., difficulty sharing emotions and offering support to family members), and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among a sample of 98 Veterans at two-time points (i.e., baseline and eight-month follow-up). They found that Veterans who reported being better trained and more prepared for deployment also tended to report better family functioning, which, in turn, was related to lower symptoms of PTSD over time. These findings suggest that deployment training and preparedness can impact PTSD symptoms and family functioning and have long-term consequences on Veterans’ personal and family experiences.

A recent review of evidence-based strategies, written by the Military REACH team at Auburn University, highlighted several unique strategies to help military families navigate deployment. Below are a few tips and strategies for military family service providers as they assist military families in the early phases of pre-deployment.

Tips and Strategies for Service Providers

References

  1. Blessing, A., DeBeer, B. B., Meyer, E. C., Riggs, S., Kimbrel, N. A., Gulliver, S. B., & Morissette, S. B. (2020). Deployment preparation, family functioning, and PTSD in returning veterans. Military Behavioral Health, 8(2), 130-138. https://doi.org/10.1080/21635781.2020.1713265  
  2. Collins, C. L., Lee, K.‐H., & MacDermid Wadsworth, S. M. (2017). Family stressors and resources: Relationships with depressive symptoms in military couples during pre‐deployment. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 66(2), 302–316. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12251
  3. Frye-Cox, N., White, M. L., O’Neal, C. W., & Lucier-Greer, M. (2022). Review of evidence-based strategies to help military families navigate deployment. Retrieved from https://militaryreach.auburn.edu/DetailResult?resourceid=69e24a70-ecaa-4b4d-b546-d62ae092c4ec&resType=resSum 

Troxel, W. M., Trail, T. E., Jaycox, L. H., & Chandra, A. (2016). Preparing for deployment: Examining family-and individual-level factors. Military Psychology, 28(3), 134-146. https://doi.org/10.1037/mil0000110

This post was written by Jenny Rea, Ph.D., military spouse and mom of four kiddos under five years. Jenny consults with OneOp’s Family Transitions team to provide free and open-access multidisciplinary professional development resources for providers serving military families. You may find more blogs, podcasts, and webinars from Family Transitions. We invite you to engage with Family Transitions on Twitter @OneOpTeam and OneOp on Facebook.

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