Soldiers’ Experiences in Staying Connected with Family While Deployed: In Their Own Words




Durham, Susan W.

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This qualitative study described the experiences of members of the United States Armed Forces in communicating and maintaining relationships with family and other loved ones while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Service members described a range of communication issues related to their abilities and desires to maintain their roles in the family unit while deployed, the effects that 21st century communication technologies had on unit safety and mission focus, and the effects and expectations that nearly real-time, round-the-clock access had on the stresses of living in a combat environment. Twenty interviews were conducted either by phone or face-to-face with veterans who were deployed at least once to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. This sample represented enlisted and officer personnel (generically referred to as soldiers) from four uniformed military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps). An interview script with 13 primary questions was employed; spontaneous probes and follow-up questions were used to elicit more detail or for clarification.Using inductive content analysis, the interviews revealed five main themes related to experiences in communicating with their loved ones while deployed: (1) Creating Normalcy Through Connecting With Others; (2) Understanding the Spoken and Unspoken; (3) Connecting and Disconnecting; (4) Changing Sense of Self; and (5) Sustaining a Common Bond. Under each theme were two to seven dimensions of each theme that participants had described. The findings illustrated a broad range of complex interactions between and within soldiers, their families, comrades-in-arms, the home environment, and the combat environments. These were all influenced, for better or worse, by the presence or absence of 21st century communication technologies. Based on these findings, several recommendations for military leadership and for those working with loved ones left at home were developed. These are based on the notion that, while deployed, soldiers have the opportunity to become or remain involved with their families, including family problems, without sacrificing mission or safety.



Communication, Deployment health, Family, Mission, Safety, Soldiers