Family Readiness and Coping During Deployments Key Issues for National Guard and Reserve

For Release

February 11, 2009

As the U.S. military continues to rely on the National Guard and Reserve for overseas deployments, making sure their families are adequately prepared for those missions is critical, according to a study issued today by the RAND Corporation.

"How the families of National Guard and Reserve members handle deployment may influence their plans to stay in the military," said Laura Castaneda, one of the lead authors of the study and a management scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research institution. "This means that understanding and addressing the needs of these families is not only key to ensuring their well-being, but potentially affects the health of the Guard and Reserve as well."

To date, there has been little research on how deployments affect families of National Guard and Reserve members. Yet compared to full-time active duty personnel, guardsmen and reservists tend to be older and count a higher percentage of women among their ranks. These demographic differences may mean that deployments affect Guard and Reserve families differently. Further, Guard and Reserve families are more geographically dispersed, so many of these families are not near resources the military offers during deployment.

RAND's study focused on the families of enlisted personnel and officers serving in the Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Marine Forces Reserve. It features interviews with service members and spouses from more than 600 Guard and Reserve families that experienced at least one overseas deployment since September 2001. RAND researchers also interviewed military family experts, including Guard and Reserve professionals and representatives from military advocacy and support organizations.

In the interviews, service members and spouses discussed what it meant for their family to be ready for deployment, and most frequently mentioned finances, household responsibilities, or emotional and mental issues. Overall, 65 percent of service members and 60 percent of spouses felt their families were "ready" or "very ready" for their most recent deployment.

Because prior studies had assessed how well families coped with deployment, but had not defined the term, the RAND study also asked service members and spouses to define what "coping" meant to them.

"For younger couples and their families, ‘coping' tended to be expressed in terms of handling all the emotions associated with deployment," said Margaret Harrell, one of the lead authors of the study and a senior social scientist with RAND. "For older, more established families, it was more about how to get the kids to and from school and manage household responsibilities."

Service members and spouses also discussed the problems and positives their families encountered as a result of the deployment. Four out of five of their families had some type of deployment-related challenge, but the kinds of problems and the types of families associated with each problem varied a great deal. Commonly mentioned problems were related to household responsibilities, emotional and mental health, children, and employment. Yet, many also reported positive aspects of deployment, such as family closeness, greater self-sufficiency, income gains, and feelings of patriotism and pride.

The study's recommendations — some of which the military is already implementing — include making deployments more predictable in both their length and amount of advance notice, and limiting the average length of deployment. Also, the military should ensure that Guard and Reserve families understand they may be called to begin a new deployment every six years, and some service members may be tapped to serve more frequently.

In addition, the military could help these families improve their level of readiness prior to activation and raise awareness of local and community resources available to them. Emphasizing the positive aspects of deployment is also recommended, as is exploring ways that families can connect with one another, including families that live near one another but represent different units or reserve components.

The study, "Deployment Experiences of Guard and Reserve Families: Implications for Support and Retention," can be found at Other authors of the study are Danielle M. Varda, Kimberly Curry Hall, Megan K. Beckett and Stefanie Stern.

The study was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense Intelligence community.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.