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Research Synopsis

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Research Questions

  1. How does deployment experience vary among the services and components?
  2. Does the Army retain soldiers with the largest amounts of deployment experience?
  3. What are the characteristics of soldiers who deploy?

Over the past 15 years, deployments have represented a key aspect of military service, with many service members completing multiple tours. Given the disruption that deployments pose, it is not surprising that they are associated with numerous service member and family outcomes. Therefore, accrued deployment experience constitutes a relevant metric not only for measuring military experience, but also for measuring service member and family well-being. In this research, the authors compare deployment experience across the services and components. They also examine the transitions of soldiers between Army components to determine whether the Army retains soldiers with the largest amounts of deployment experience. Enlisted personnel made up the bulk of those who have deployed, as do personnel from the active component of their service. Most service members who deployed were married at the time; about half had children. Average time spent in a single deployment varies across the services. Consequently, the same amount of total time deployed could have different impacts depending on how that total deployment experience was accumulated. Also, service members' individual resilience to deployments may vary. Given such variation, deployment experience may need to be managed differently across services and personnel. Tracking deployment experience carefully, in terms of total number of deployments and total time deployed, would likely assist in managing these differences.

Key Findings

Since 9/11, 2.77 Million Service Members Have Served on 5.4 Million Deployments

  • 86 percent deployed were enlisted; 10 percent were women.
  • On average, deployed personnel were under 30 years old; more than half were married, and about half had children at the time of the deployment.
  • The average length of deployment varies across the services; multiple deployments are not uncommon.

Soldiers Across the Army's Three Components Have Provided the Majority of the Person-Years of Deployments

  • The majority of soldiers with deployment experience were no longer serving in the Army as of September 2015, but the majority of heavily deployed soldiers remained in the Army.
  • These heavily deployed soldiers make up about 13 percent of all soldiers but possess half the Army's deployment experience.
  • The experience of the most–intensely deployed service members represents a unique resource.

The Selected Reserve Provides One Way to Retain the Army's Deployment Experience

  • Some soldiers with deployment experience transitioned from the Regular Army to the Selected Reserve; the Selected Reserve thus provides an avenue for retaining deployment experience.
  • The deployment experience of former Regular Army soldiers makes up about one-quarter of the total deployment experience within the Selected Reserve.


  • Because the same amount of total time deployed could have different impacts on members of different services and may need to be managed differently across the services, a good first step would be to track both the number of deployments and the total time deployed carefully.
  • The resilience of the most heavily deployed service members and their families should be carefully tracked; it may also be appropriate to focus key resources and services on this group.
  • Continuing to encourage soldiers to consider the Selected Reserve upon leaving the Regular Army will help retain deployment experience.
  • Managing the experience of the most–intensely deployed and seeking ways to transfer the knowledge and skills obtained during deployment before those service members leave military service could enhance the effectiveness of training.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office, and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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