Support for the 21st-Century Reserve Force

Insights to Facilitate Successful Reintegration for Citizen Warriors and Their Families

by Laura Werber, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, Karen Chan Osilla, Elizabeth Wilke, Anny Wong, Joshua Breslau, Karin E. Kitchens

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Research Questions

  1. What accounts for a smooth reintegration for reserve component families following deployment?
  2. What are the challenges reserve component families face after deployment, and who tends to experience them?
  3. What resources are available to help reserve component families through the reintegration phase of the deployment cycle?
  4. What kinds of reintegration resources do these families use and find helpful? What are the barriers to utilizing them?

Abstract

Many studies have examined the impact of deployment on military families, but few have assessed either the challenges that guard and reserve families face following deployment or how they manage the reintegration phase of the deployment cycle. This report aims to facilitate the successful reintegration of guard and reserve personnel as they return to civilian life after deployment. Using surveys and interviews with guard and reserve families, along with interviews with resource providers, this report examines how these families fare after deployment, the challenges they confront during that time frame, and the strategies and resources they use to navigate the reintegration phase. Factors associated with reintegration success include the adequacy of communication between families and the service member's unit or Service and between service members and their families, initial readiness for deployment, family finances, and whether the service member returns with a psychological issue or physical injury. Successful reintegration from the families' perspective was related to measures of military readiness, such as the service members' plans to continue guard or reserve service. In addition, there is a wide-ranging and complex "web of support" available to assist families with reintegration, including U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) programs, state and local government agencies, private nonprofit and for-profit resource providers, faith-based organizations, and informal resources (such as family, friends, and social networks). Opportunities for collaboration among providers abound. DoD does not have to "do it all," but the report suggests steps it can take to ensure that reintegration proceeds as smoothly as possible.

Key Findings

Several Factors Are Related to Reserve Component Families' Reintegration Success

  • Factors associated with successful reintegration included the family feeling ready for deployment; the service member deploying with his or her own unit; adequate communication from the unit or Service during and after deployment; the service member returning without a psychological issue, physical wound, or injury; and comfortable family finances.
  • Successful reintegration from the families' perspective is related to military career preferences. The reintegration experience can influence a service member's guard or reserve career plans and his or her spouse's or partner's preferences for continued service.

A Complex "Web of Support" Is Available to Reserve Component Families to Assist Them with Reintegration

  • Resource providers that support reserve component families fall into five broad categories: government organizations (U.S. Department of Defense and other federal programs, as well as state and local government agencies), private for-profit organizations, private nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, and informal resources (including family, friends, and social networks).
  • This web of support is extensive but can be difficult for families and resource providers to navigate. Both groups identified barriers to the effective use of reintegration support resources. Those cited by providers included difficulty reaching some populations and a lack of coordination across providers. Families discussed concerns related to access and resource quality.
  • Reserve component personnel and their families often rely on unit-based resources. Informal support resources also play a critical role, particularly for families that live far from a military installation.

Recommendations

  • To facilitate reintegration success for reserve component families, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should emphasize early preparation for reintegration by encouraging families to prepare for reintegration before and during deployment and reaching out to them sooner after deployment.
  • DoD should also involve family members in the reintegration process, particularly by engaging spouses more and facilitating good family communication throughout the deployment cycle.
  • DoD should shape perceptions about reintegration by removing the stigma associated with self-care and recognizing successful reintegration.
  • DoD should refine the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program so that it better meets these families' needs. This could include making it easier for families to participate and customize their experience, learning from events' successes and failures, and instituting standard criteria for provider participation.
  • DoD should ensure that units have the resources they need to communicate adequately with families and otherwise provide support.
  • DoD should also improve the ways it learns about families' reintegration experiences and encourage families to learn from each other by promoting best practices for successful reintegration.
  • DoD should expand its efforts to leverage the support resources offered by nongovernmental programs, promote community awareness of the challenges reserve component families face, and honor employers that support guard and reserve employees.
  • DoD should also identify gaps and overlaps in the support resources available to reserve component families. It should work to improve coordination among providers and address the reasons for a lack of resource use among these families (e.g., difficulty accessing resources, lack of awareness of resources, concerns about quality, inadequate outreach, cost, and difficulty obtaining information).
  • To improve the overall strength and coverage of the web of support for reserve component families, DoD should encourage providers to develop and learn from measures of effectiveness intended to evaluate how well they are meeting the needs of this population.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    What Do Guard and Reserve Families Look Like?

  • Chapter Three

    What Factors Relate to Successful Reintegration?

  • Chapter Four

    What Are the Main Challenges Guard and Reserve Families Face After Deployment?

  • Chapter Five

    What Resources Are Available to Help Guard and Reserve Families Reintegrate?

  • Chapter Six

    What Kinds of Reintegration Support Do Guard and Reserve Families Use and Find Helpful?

  • Chapter Seven

    What Are the Challenges to Supporting Guard and Reserve Families?

  • Chapter Eight

    What Advice Do Families and Providers Offer to Ensure That Reintegration Goes Smoothly?

  • Chapter Nine

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Details on the Assessment of Survey Instruments and Recommendations

  • Appendix B

    Details on the Web Survey and Interviews

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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