Members of the armed forces serve in particularly stressful jobs whether they are in combat situations, training situations, or peacetime situations. Unlike most jobs, being a member of the military is a 24-hour a day, 365-day a year job. As Artiss (2000, p. 33) states, each member of the military is “owned for the full 24 hours of every day.” The five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard – each serve a unique function and have a unique place in the defense of the country. While each service serves a unique purpose and has a unique culture, common elements exist across the different services. All members of the military wear uniforms and operate within the chain-of-command; everyone has a place. All members of the military are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the penal code for the U.S. military, every hour of every day while a part of the military. Each service has, to one degree or another, a warrior ethos: members of the military are trained to kill other human beings. Unlike police officers, whose role is to “protect and serve,” members of the military exist for the sole purpose of implementing political policy by means of force or a show of force. All of these bits create a baseline level of stress in military members; this baseline stress is occupational stress. As Pflanz (1999, p. 401) notes, there are a “variety of arenas in which military life can adversely affect the mental health of military personnel.”
Stea (2002, p. 944-945) notes that the shared risk factors for suicide, unintentional injury, and physical violence indicate a susceptibility for military members. He also notes that people who are prone to physical violence are more apt to show symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. (p. 946) Certainly, specific traumatic events, along with occupational events, can provide the stressor which propels a person toward depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. However, Berwin, Andrews, & Valentine’s work (2000) shows that individual vulnerability factors play a large role in post-traumatic stress disorder among trauma-exposed adults. Their research shows that factors in existence before the traumatic event – such as psychiatric history, previous trauma, childhood adversity, and education – had some predictive effects, but that factors operating during and after the event – trauma severity, lack of social support, and additional life stress – had a somewhat stronger risk effect.
Begic (2001) observed significantly greater occurrence of aggression in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder than those without. He noted aggression focused inward – such as suicide – and aggression focused outward – manifesting itself as verbal aggression, physical aggression, sexual aggression, and vehicular aggression. Veterans exposed to physical or sexual mistreatment before experiencing the military-related traumatic event developed post-traumatic stress disorder more frequently than those who had not had prior physical or sexual abuse. (p. 674) And, stunningly, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder act aggressively nearly seven times more often then veterans without post-traumatic stress disorder. (p. 674) Stevenson (2000, p. 422) notes the “high prevalence of severe anger among combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD.” Another study (McCarroll, 2000, p. 41) determined “the probability of severe aggression was significantly higher for soldiers who had deployed” compared to those who had not deployed. A pre-9/11 study (Pearn, 2000, p. 434) showed that as many as 8% of all service members deployed on combat operations, peacekeeping, or disaster/humanitarian aid missions, show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder within 3 years of the deployment. Deployments provide an opportunity for both typical military occupational stress and traumatic-stress; traumatic events are never far from those who are in a combat zone. Castaneda (2005) reports that for troops deep inside the supposedly secure “green zone” of Baghdad, “violence relentlessly creeps up” on members of the military.
Pflanz (1999, p. 401) notes that perhaps as many as 48% percent of all U.S. workers will suffer from a psychiatric illness during their lifetime. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress (p. 402-403) are the most common forms of psychological illness. He notes that occupations with “low autonomy and little personal control over their work place individuals at a higher risk for mental illness;” this may have relevance for the military since the armed forces are founded on “discipline, following orders, and deference to those of higher rank.” (p. 403)
Both men and women in the military are subject to stressors and the possible mental illness stemming from those stressors. Merrill (2001, p. 621) notes that “a considerable percentage of women enter military services with histories of being victims of abusive behavior during childhood.” Abuse, and particularly sexual abuse, does not just happen in the civilian world. One study (DeRoma, Root, & Smith, 2003, p. 399) showed that nearly 10% of female veterans reported being raped while in the military. Another study (Rosen, 2002, p. 959) showed that nearly 40% of men and women on active duty had experienced physical partner violence in the past year. A third study (Rosen, 2000, 710) indicated that 85% of the female military members and 74% of the male military members had experienced some sort of sexual harassment or sexual abuse in the previous year.
As Stea (2002) notes, recognition of stress and the impact stress – be it occupational or traumatic in nature – is a leadership issue. Leaders should “recognize stress and its potential global impact on individuals.” (p. 947) He goes on to state, “the goal is to increase the rate and level of adaptive behavior and well-being and to decrease the rate or level of disruptive processes.” (p. 947) From a leadership perspective, “stress-related disruptive behavior and emotional problems that become evident in the work place serve as a means for early detection, intervention, and prevention” of negative behaviors. (p. 947) The question for leaders becomes one not only of identification of these stress-related behaviors but interventions which assist the individual, the military unit, and the chain-of-command.
The course of this research intends to answer the following three questions.
1. How can military leaders identify individuals likely to commit violence either within the military unit or at home?
2. What interventions can the military leader use to minimize stress and its potential global impact on individuals and the military organization?
3. What role does organizational conflict resolution play in the increase of the rate and level of adaptive behaviors and well-being and the decrease of the rate and level of disruptive processes?
In the course of this research, a more definitive link must be drawn from occupational stress and traumatic stress to mental illness (depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress) to violence. In addition, the research presented thus far does not draw any linkage between conflict and violence. This is a weakness in the current review of literature which must be addressed during the remainder of the research conducted.
In addition, the focus on all five branches of the military is perhaps too broad and consideration should be made to narrow the scope to a single service with a definable culture.
Military members are faced with both occupational and traumatic stressors which can cause a variety of mental illness which lead to violence and aggression. While these stressors perhaps “come with the territory,” the result of violence and aggression does not. Violence and aggression reduce unit effectiveness, injure service members, and negatively impact families and communities. Military leaders are responsible for all that goes on within their commands. Military leaders, then, must have effective methods and interventions to address the stressors and mitigate the impact on military members.
Artiss, K. L. (2000, January). The combat soldier. Military Medicine , 165(1), 33-40.
Begic, D. (2001, August). Aggressive behavior in combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Military Medicine, 166(8), 671-676.
Berwin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2000, October). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(5), 748-766.
Castaneda, A. (2005, June 10). Soldiers seek respite from Iraq violence. Yahoo! News. Retrieved June 10, 2005 from URL.
DeRoma, V. M., Root, L. P., & Smith, Jr., B. S. (2003, May). Socioenvironmental context of sexual trauma and well-being of women veterans. Military Medicine, 168(5), 399-403.
McCarroll, J. E. (2000, January). Deployment and the probability of spousal aggression by U.S. Army soldiers. Military Medicine, 165(1), 41-44.
Merrill, L. L. (2001, July). Trauma symptomatology among female U.S. Navy recruits. Military Medicine, 166(7), 621-624.
Pearn, J. (2000, June). Traumatic stress disorders: A classification with implications for prevention and management. Military Medicine, 165(6), 434-440.
Plfanz, S. (1999, June). Psychiatric illness and the workplace: Perspectives for occupational medicine in the military. Military Medicine, 164(6), 401-406.
Rosen, L. N. (2000, October). Personality characteristics that increase vulnerability to sexual harassment among U.S. Army soldiers. Military Medicine, 165(10), 709-713.
Rosen, L. N. (2002, December). Gender differences in the experience of intimate partner violence among active duty U.S. Army soldiers. Military Medicine, 167(12), 959-963.
Stea, J. B. (2002, November). Behavioral health force protection: Optimizing injury prevention by identifying shared risk factors for suicide, unintentional injury, and violence. Military Medicine, 167(11), 944-949.
Stevenson, V. E. (2000, May). Premature treatment termination by angry patients with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Military Medicine, 165(5), 422-424.