Recently I reviewed the current literature on military families and deployment in preparation for updating the Center for Deployment’s (CDP) online course, The Impact of Deployment on Families and Children. While this is a topic that I’ve been teaching since I first joined the CDP almost nine years ago, I was excited when I ran across an article that summarized the deployment cycle challenges that military families face in a new way.
Yablonsky, Barbero, and Richardson (2016) used qualitative metasynthesis to better understand the course of deployment from the family perspective. They analyzed 21 qualitative research reports published between 2004-2013 and determined that the deployment cycle is experienced by military families in four temporal domains: pre-deployment, deployment, transposement, and post-deployment. (The authors used the term “transposement” to describe the experiences of at-home family members during Service members’ deployments.) While Service members and family members share pre-deployment and post-deployment transitions, they go through deployment/transposement transitions in parallel.
Pre-Deployment: “Getting Ready”
Traditionally, the pre-deployment stage is known as a time of “getting ready,” both for the Service member and their family. Service members are beginning to think about deployment-related issues while family members are starting to mentally prepare for the Service members’ absence. According to Yablonsky et al. (2016), during this period all family members felt uncertainty about the future, had a need to complete tasks in preparation for the deployment, and experienced emotional distancing as the deployment date approached.
Deployment: “Staying Engaged”
During the deployment stage, the Service member is physically dislocated from their family. Challenges faced by Service members during this period revolve around their ability to remain focused on the mission while staying engaged with their family back home.
Transposement: “Altering the Family”
The transposement period for families occurs simultaneously to the deployment period for Service members. For military families, this period is a time of adapting to an altered family unit – one that does not include the Service member.
Post-Deployment: “Reintegrating the Family”
The post-deployment, or reintegration, stage is generally known as an exciting but challenging time for Service members and families. The Service member returns home, reunites with their family, and then begins the process of reintegrating into their family, who may have a whole new routine and way of operating. This is a period that is often filled with anticipation and mixed emotions.
According to Yablonsky et al. (2016), during this period all family members were focused on managing expectations and readjusting family roles. They also noted that both Service members and other family members had a need for understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices that were made during the deployment.
As noted by the authors, much of the research on military families and deployment has focused on family experiences in the context of Service member activities. As a military spouse, I know first-hand that the challenges faced by at-home family members and Service members differ during a deployment separation. I was excited to see a model conceptualizing the “transposement” period as a parallel, yet discrete, experience, and I look additional research in this area in the future.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Marjorie Weinstock, Ph.D., is a Senior Military Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
Yablonsky, A. M., Deers, E. B., & Richardson, J. W. (2016). Hard is normal: Military families’ transitions within the process of deployment. Research in Nursing & Health, 39, 42-56. doi:10.2002/nur.21701
Blue Star Families. (2017). 2017 Blue Star Families military family lifestyle survey: Comprehensive report. Retrieved from https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/MFLS_ComprehensiveReport17-FINAL.pdf
Faber, A. J., Willerton, E., Clymer, S. R., MacDermid, S. M., & Weiss, H. M. (2008). Ambiguous absence, ambiguous presence: A qualitative study of military reserve families in wartime. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(2), 222-230. doi: 10.1037/0893-318.104.22.168
Military OneSource. (2012). Military deployment guide: Preparing you and your family for the road ahead. Retrieved from http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/Project%20Documents/MilitaryHOMEFRONT/Troops%20and%20Families/Deployment%20Connections/Pre-Deployment%20Guide.pdf
Pincus, S. H., House, R., Christensen, J., & Adler, L. E. (2001). The emotional cycle of deployment: A military family perspective. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, Apr-Jun, 15-23.