October 28, 2011 - I am a civilian psychiatrist who recently finished 20 months working as a contractor for the United States Army. Going into the job, I expected the degree of combat-related stress I saw in our troops. However, I was not prepared for the scope of impact our 2 long wars have had on military children.
Like most civilians with no military background, I didn’t realize how many children there are in the Army. During the Vietnam War, the United States used the draft to maintain a large fighting force of single soldiers, most of whom did only one tour of duty. Today, we have an all-volunteer force full of families. About 55% of the military is married, 1.9 million children have a parent in the military, and up to 1 million children have had a parent deploy.1,2 In fact, in 2010 the active-duty sector of the Army actually had more children (570,000) than soldiers (562,000).3
The consequences of this shift in military structure are major. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, the Army has had to recycle soldiers through multiple deployments, because our total force is relatively small. Some military families are resilient and cope well with the stress of deployments, but some do not—and for most it gets harder with each cycle. I met too many young parents in the infantry who were justifiably overwhelmed with the competing demands of going to war and raising kids, two pursuits that do not fit naturally together. Fights over finances, video game addiction, and infidelity were common, and too often this escalated into substance abuse, domestic violence, child maltreatment, and/or divorce. And, of course, some parents return with devastating injuries, or die in battle, both of which are hard on children. read more>>>