One of the great promises of technology is staying in touch. Sometimes it goes awry. Last year, an Army friend passed along the true story of the United States soldier who accidentally “pocket dialed” his parents while in a firefight in Afghanistan. That 3-minute message on his parents’ home answering machine wasn’t exactly how the soldier intended to stay in touch!
One of the great promises of military social media is using technology to stay in touch in secure ways that don’t compromise OpSec, or Operational Security. Deployed troops take communications beyond phone calls and emails, by uploading videos, video-Skyping, and video-conferencing with their friends and loved ones.
But even the best technology for staying in touch doesn’t bridge the gap absences cause. While every military family has its own story about what happens when Dad (or Mom) deploys, John and Adriana Roldan’s story captures a trend. While John was deployed they communicated as frequently as possible, they hid the hard stuff: he didn’t talk about combat dangers, and she didn’t talk about the combat going on at home — a son’s terrifying tantrums.
Sgt. Chad Ward, an infantry team leader with 1st Bn., 14th Inf. Regt., 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, holds his wife, Kazia and son, Asher, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, before deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Jan. 30. Ward is one of nearly 100 Soldiers who are the first to deploy since the brigade’s main body left for Iraq in November. Photo by: Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller; 8th Theater Sustainment Command PAO www.army.mil
Anecdotal stories of the stresses families experience are nothing new to staffers at the non-profit National Military Family Association. Nearly all of the employees and volunteers are military spouses, retired military and military children; they know the stress first-hand. The Association started summer camps for military children several years ago (“Operation Purple“) and began hearing higher volumes of stories about the stresses of eight years of war and multiple deployments.
Increasingly, more attention is paid to what warriors experience, but the Association discovered that no one had ever undertaken a rigorous, scientific study of the effects of parental deployment on children. So they raised the money and commissioned the highly respected RAND Corporation to undertake a ground-breaking study with the goal of discovering evidence-based results of what children experience.
The first wave of results are in and the National Military Family Association has them. Among other key findings, the Study reports that military children experience higher levels of anxiety, that family reintegration is tough (reintegration is the term for post-deployment, when the soldier-parent returns), and that the well-being of the caregiver at home is intimately linked to the well-being of the child. To some of us, the results may produce a “well duh!” moment, but this is solid, evidence-based research, not just a friend’s story or a gut feeling.
I’m grateful to the National Military Family Association for commissioning this study, and for examining its results to see what needs to be done to help — in particular — the children. One of the things that really strikes me is that we have to address the issues of reintegration before soldiers deploy. If you know that a son or daughter is going to think Dad’s a stranger when he comes home, let’s do everything we can to lessen the psychological and emotional distance.
I’m smart enough to know that the U.S. military is smart enough to know this is an issue, and based on all the honorable soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines I’ve been privileged to meet, I’m trusting them to be working on this. But here is my two cents: We’re making extraordinary progress with communications. Let’s set up the kinds of frequent communication – including innovative social media tools and platforms – that keep parents and children connected when they’re apart.