Aug 28, 2013
Since 2001, the National Guard and Reserve have been utilized at unprecedented levels to fill key roles in overseas operations, with more than 800,000 reserve component members called to active duty since 9/11. As a result of these increased demands, guard personnel and reservists have experienced more overseas deployments—often in combat situations that extend for long periods or occur in rapid succession.
In many cases, this shift in operational tempo places a strain on families, especially as citizen warriors reintegrate back into their civilian lives and return to their civilian jobs after deployment. A smooth reintegration is critical not only for family well-being but also for military readiness.
Despite reintegration's importance, few studies have examined what guard and reserve families actually experience during this time. Recent research by the RAND Corporation aimed to fill that gap with one of the most comprehensive examinations to date of the reintegration experiences of reserve component members and their families.
RAND researchers administered a survey and conducted interviews with service members and spouses. The responses indicated that families with successful reintegration experiences share common traits. These families felt ready for deployment, had good communication with the service member and with the member's unit during his or her time away from home, and tended to be comfortable financially. When the service member deployed with his or her own unit and returned home without a combat-related wound, other physical injury, or a psychological issue, readjustment tended to go more smoothly.
In many cases, family initiative was key to a smooth readjustment following deployment: Maintaining good communication, deliberately carving out family time, and making use of reintegration-oriented resources all helped achieve positive outcomes. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) can use these findings to empower families to be active, effective architects of their own reintegration success. Doing so is important because families that reported that readjustment went well also tended to have favorable views toward service members' continued service in the National Guard or Reserve.
Although many families in the study sample fared well during reintegration, others experienced problems related to one or more of the following issues: emotional or mental health, health care, civilian employment, the spouse/partner relationship, financial or legal matters, child well-being, and education. Some problems were experienced soon after the service member returned home, others emerged later, and still others ebbed and flowed during reintegration. These families tended to have characteristics that differed from those associated with successful reintegration. Understanding these challenges and identifying the most effective ways for DoD to help mitigate them was at the heart of RAND's research.
There is a vast array of resources to assist reserve component families during reintegration—what the RAND researchers characterize as the "web of support" (see figure). These resources offer assistance in a wide range of areas, including education, health care, spiritual support, and social networks. While families most frequently cited using services offered by the service member's unit, they emphasized that private organizations, faith-based organizations, and state and local organizations were helpful in providing support as well. In addition, almost half of guard and reserve families in the study sought assistance from informal resources—family, friends, and social networks.
Despite the breadth of resources available, however, challenges can arise in supporting guard and reserve families. These families are not always aware that resources exist, or they have difficulty accessing them. They are concerned about quality and, at times, feel overwhelmed by the web of support. Resource providers also face barriers to supporting families. Providers interviewed for the study noted difficulties reaching some populations, particularly because many reserve component families do not live near military installations and are geographically dispersed. The stigma related to seeking help for problems, a lack of coordination across providers, and, in many cases, limited efforts to assess how well providers are doing also hinder providers' efforts to help these families.
While some responsibility for successful reintegration falls on reservists, guard personnel, and their families, there are steps DoD can take to facilitate the process. The study's findings led to recommendations in two general areas: improving DoD support resources and improving the broader web of support for families.
Maintaining good communication, deliberately carving out family time, and making use of reintegration-oriented resources all helped achieve positive outcomes for reserve component families.
While DoD has a central role to play in providing support for reserve component families in conjunction with the deployment cycle, it does not have to "do it all." A second set of recommendations thus focuses on improving the web of support.
The needs of reserve component families are continually evolving and, consequently, merit ongoing attention. Although military operations in Afghanistan are winding down, reintegration support will remain important into the future because the Reserve Component likely will be called upon again to support emergency and wartime missions. Moreover, service members who have deployed over the past decade and their families may confront longer-term challenges that have yet to appear and deserve the nation's continued support.