‘Military people won’t ask for help : experiences of deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel, their families, and implications for social work

2017-01-13T04:42:50Z (GMT) by Siebler, Philip Neil
The aim of this study is to gain knowledge and understanding of the life experiences of Australian Defence Force (ADF) peacekeepers who were deployed to East Timor as part of the International Force for East Timor (InterFET), and/or the United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor (UNTAET) force, and of their families who remained in Australia. In-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of ADF men and women who were deployed, as well as their non-deployed partners, to help achieve this aim. A social work ecological understanding, that considered micro, meso and macrosystem levels, provided a framework to illuminate the complexity of the deployment experience. Deployment to war and peacekeeping operations poses a number of risks for military personnel and their families. Deployment has been shown to have a significant deleterious impact on people who undergo the experience with respect to physical and mental health. Non-deployed family members may also be negatively affected. In reviewing the literature, only two Australian studies of limited scope were found. The Australian knowledge base for social work practice is very limited in this setting. Understanding of families’ experience of living through and following a military deployment requires scholarly study to establish further knowledge in this field. The study found the overall deployment experience was affected by a complex array of circumstances at each of the levels which compounded and interacted to influence interviewees’ outcomes with respect to physical and mental health, and family functioning. Microsystem level circumstances included the uncertainty of deployment, concerns about children and adolescents, physical and mental health and family functioning problems, the advantages and disadvantages of communicating during separation, and finding meaning in the experience. Living and working conditions in East Timor of ADF personnel, the communities in which non-deployed respondents lived, social support and networks, and perception of military family support organisations, were important aspects at the mesosystem level. Finally, macrosystem level circumstances included the military institution, culture and policies. Interviewees described a range of positive and negative experiences of social work practice at all three system levels. The conclusion of the thesis highlights that the military institution and its culture pervaded every aspect of respondents’ daily lives and influenced behaviour and consequent outcomes. It is concluded that military family life is incongruent with military duty associated with deployment and its aftermath. Military family life is placed under great stress with military duty pertaining to a deployment. The primary recommendation is that policies need to change those aspects of the military institution and its culture that negatively affects families. Social workers in the Australian military setting, with their ecological focus, are well-placed to intervene across micro, meso and macrosystem levels. This will lead to better outcomes for military families who require coordinated care throughout all the stages of deployment and after their military careers.