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Mothers in the MEAO

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The deployment of Australian female service personnel to areas of conflict is a relatively recent occurrence. Around 3000 women were deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) between 2001 and 2009.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs commissioned the University of Adelaide to conduct a study into the impact of deployment on female personnel with dependent children. This study, Mothers in the Middle East Area of Operations: The health impacts of maternal deployment, is the first of its kind in Australia. The aim of the research was to examine the effects of military deployment on the health and psychosocial wellbeing of female veterans with dependent children.

The findings of this research will help DVA and the Department of Defence to better understand the needs of deployed women and their families and ensure services are available to meet these needs.

Mother about to embrace her young son

The study findings indicate that female veterans who are mothers are generally healthy and resilient. Overall, mothers viewed their deployment as a positive and important aspect of their defence service, despite the challenges of balancing work and family commitments. One study participant commented:

“I suppose I was chuffed that I was selected to go and do the job that I was going to do…it was what our training prepares us to go and do [and] it was a role that I certainly wasn’t going to undertake lightly…”

Servicewomen considered several factors critical to their success in managing the competing military deployment and mother roles. These included:

  • their own levels of resilience and creativity
  • development of strategies that allowed them to successfully reintegrate into the family unit following deployment
  • support from a significant other
  • support offered through the Defence Transition Aides in Schools programme.

Communication, via Skype (a video chat software) and social media sites such as Facebook, was identified as being an important factor in how deployed mothers increased their abilities to cope while separated from their dependent children. As one respondent explained:

“Sometimes I would organise to Skype while they were in the bath so my husband would set up the iPad in the bathroom so they talked to me whilst they were in the bath and I could see what they were doing.”

 Other strategies to keep in touch, such as sending letters, small gifts, or books home to their children, or putting things in the post before they left so that a parcel would arrive soon after they deployed, were identified as beneficial in maintaining a maternal connection to the child.

The study found the majority of the female veterans to be resilient, organised and self-motivated in managing their military and family commitments. This research helps DVA to understand the experiences of families during deployments. The strategies identified in this study have helped mothers cope with familial separation while on deployment and provide real options and tools that can be shared with all mothers and fathers preparing for deployment.

If you are interested in reading more about this interesting report, the findings can be viewed on the DVA website.

An e-booklet translating the findings of this research into an accessible format for use on deployment or transition is currently being developed.

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