Staff Perspective: The Deployment Life Study - Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description

Staff Perspective: The Deployment Life Study - Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description

Review of The RAND Report:

I recently had the opportunity to attend a webinar by the authors of the new RAND Report: “The Deployment Life Study: Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description.”  This is a topic that’s of interest to me both personally and professionally, so I wanted to share what I learned.  This is a 3-year study that is still ongoing, whose objective is to identify the antecedents, correlates, and consequences of family readiness across the deployment cycle.  The study follows approximately 2,700 military families throughout the deployment cycle (pre-, during, and post-deployment).  There are up to 3 participants per family (Service member, spouse, and child over age 11), and there are nine assessments that are conducted over a 36-month period.   The researchers are still in the data collection process, which should end in May of 2015.  So while they do not yet have final results, this report details the methodology and information learned from the baseline sample.

So why a 3-year study on deployment and family life?  As we know, military families have experienced increased OPTEMPO over the past decade, and DoD leadership has placed an emphasis on family readiness for deployment.  However, the concept of “family readiness” is not necessarily one that is well understood.  The assumption is that those families who are ready to deal with military life fare better than those who are unprepared, and in a 2012 DoD Instruction, family readiness was defined as: “the state of being prepared to effectively navigate the challenges of daily living experienced in the unique context of military service.”  But questions about family readiness remain.  For example: What are some of these challenges?  What are the skills or tools need to meet these challenges?  What are the characteristics of families that are more or less successful at meeting these challenges?  These are some of the questions that the Deployment Life study is designed to explore.

The longitudinal design of this study allows for the collection of baseline data and between one to three follow-up assessments at the pre-deployment stage of the deployment cycle and additional multiple follow-up assessments at both the deployment and post-deployment stages.  One of the ultimate goals of the study is to assess the long-term experiences of military families going through a deployment.  To that end, six areas of long-term well-being are being measured: marital dissolution, military retention, child academic achievement, financial well-being, physical health, and mental, emotional, and behavioral health.

While data collection of follow-up waves are still in the field, the baseline survey has been completed with all participants.  The survey covers seven different domains:

  1. Demographics & Personal History

    • Age, gender, education
  2. Military Experiences
    • Rank, years of service, deployment history, retention
  3. Family & Household Composition
    • Adults & children in the household
  4. Marital & Parenting Relationships
    • Marital quality, parent-child relationships
  5. Health & Well-Being
    • Physical, behavioral, & psychological health
  6. Use of Services
    • Medical & behavioral health services, non-military services
  7. Adaptive & Coping Processes
    • Social support networks, readiness (emotional, fiscal, etc.)

Some generalities can be made about the baseline sample, many of which are not surprising given what we already know about military families.  In this sample, the majority of Service members are male and married to civilian wives, and most of them are in first marriages and have young children.  Roughly 80% of the families live off base and the average family has moved 3 times since 2004.  Service members in the sample have an average of 10 years of service.  At the time of the baseline assessment, less than 10% of Service members and spouses reported any marital conflict or violence, alcohol or drug use, or mental health problems.  Among the active duty Service members, 74% reported that they are likely/very likely to remain on active duty, a sentiment that was echoed by active duty spouses (72% are somewhat/ strongly in favor of the Service member staying in the military).

The prospective design of this study is one of the ways in which it differs from most studies of military families, which generally rely on retrospective reports of deployment experiences.  Another strength of the study is that data is being collected from multiple family members within the same families.  There are, as always, also some limitations to the study, including a potential for decreased representativeness due to the inability to contact some families and the possibility of response bias, particularly for those questions about sensitive topics.  Overall, I believe that the Deployment Life Study has the potential to contribute significantly to our understanding of military family readiness.  I am excited to see the results when they are available, so stay tuned for more information!

“The Deployment Life Study: Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description” can be accessed online at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR209.html

Marjorie Weinstock, Ph.D. is the Lead, Military Families & CBT for Depression at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Staff Perspective: The Deployment Life Study - Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description | Center for Deployment Psychology


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