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Prepare for the Challenges of Multiple Deployments

sailor with daughter

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The frequency of military service member deployment has increased in the past 10 years, with a growing number of American troops serving more than one tour in a combat zone.1 Many units return from combat zones only to immediately begin the process to deploy again. Warriors and family members in all components of the armed forces are experiencing the increased stresses of multiple deployments, whether they are single service members, single parents, dual military, active duty personnel, reservists or National Guard members.1

Deployments offer varying levels of challenges to military service members and their families. The stressors associated with multiple combat exposures can be risk factors for psychological concerns among military personnel and families.1 These risk factors increase with the number of tours. Physically and psychologically preparing for multiple deployments can help service members strengthen their resilience to help them cope with these challenges.

Facing New Challenges with Repeat Deployments

No two deployments are the same.2 With each new tour comes a new set of deployment characteristics, such as an increased or decreased level of combat or a longer deployment assignment.

Multiple deployments can add increased levels of anxiety, fatigue and stress for service members and their families.3 Some service members and their families report feeling they didn’t have enough time to physically and psychologically recharge after the first deployment before preparation for another tour begins. Moreover, the family dynamic may have shifted during the first deployment, with a new marriage, a new job for the spouse or the addition of children. In addition, children may have grown older and may therefore react differently to deployment.

Physically and Psychologically Prepare for Repeat Deployments

Service members who experience repeat deployments report higher stress than those on their first deployment.4 Outlined below are tips and guidelines service members and their families can use to prepare themselves for managing multiple deployments.

Physically preparing will help ensure that you are as fit and ready as possible over repeat deployments. Prior to deployment:5

  • Develop a routine sleep schedule, getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night
  • Keep active
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat well-balanced meals

In addition to physically preparing for deployment, Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team offers the following tips and suggestions for mentally preparing for repeat deployments:4

  • If possible, find time to rest and relax immediately following deployment
  • Take advantage of service-specific deployment trainings
  • Decrease stress prior to departure using relaxation techniques
  • Participate in support and network groups
  • Spend time with loved ones

Making the Most of Family Time

The amount of time between deployments differs for each family. Your family may have an extended break between deployments or be limited to a few months. No matter the length, making the most of your time together as a family is important to establishing and maintaining a supportive family unit.

Communication among service members and their families is essential in coping with separation during deployment.6 Take advantage of your time together by encouraging family discussions on concerns and expectations. Working together to develop a plan for overall family readiness will help service members and families feel more connected during the deployment cycle.

Children respond differently to deployment depending on their level of development. Younger children may not fully understand what deployment is really about, whereas older children may have feelings of anger and resentment toward the family member being deployed and leaving the family again. Tailoring your conversations to meet their level of understanding and acceptance will help your conversations be more effective.

Communicating with your family prior to leaving is an important step in the process. Take time to have fun with your family — creating happy memories prior to your departure will help them cope during your absence. If finding time to connect as a family is challenging, try some of the following:

  • Schedule family fun night. Schedule one night a week to do something fun as a family, such as movie nights, game nights, miniature golf or just having a night where everyone is at home.
  • Have family dinners. Dinner is a time when everyone can come to the table and talk about their day. As children get older, finding time for family dinners can be a challenge if you don’t make them a priority. Sharing a meal provides an opportunity for families to connect at the end of the day.
  • Take a vacation. If time and finances permit, taking a family vacation is one way to secure family time. Take a weekend trip to the beach, spend a night camping or take time to have a family vacation at home. These memories will help your family cope during long periods of separation.

The impact of multiple deployments on service members and families can be significant. Fortunately, many online resources and trainings are available to help provide guidance and support. To find more information on available online resources and trainings, visit our partners' websites.

Additional Resources

Sources

1"Affects of Multiple Deployments on Families," [PDF 275 KB] Defense Technical Information Center. Published Nov. 3, 2009.
2"Deployment," National Military Family Association. Last accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
3"How is Deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan Affecting U.S. Service Members and Their Families? An Overview of Early RAND Research on the Topic," [PDF 441.01KB] RAND Corporation. Last accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
4"Joint Mental Health Advisory Team 7 (MHAT VII) Operation Enduring Freedom 2010 Afghanistan," [PDF 6.4MB] Office of the Surgeon General U.S. Army Medical Command, Office of the Command Surgeon HQ CENTCOM, and the Office of the Command Surgeon U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A). Published Feb. 22, 2011.
5"Guide to Coping with Deployment and Combat Stress," [PDF 2.5 MB] U.S. Army Public Health Command. Published February 2008.
6"Report on the Cycles of Deployment: An Analysis of Survey Responses From April to September 2005," [PDF 853.28KB] National Military Family Association. Published September 2005.

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