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Conducting Your Wartime Mission in Peacetime

Army research psychologists have been deploying to conduct behavioral health care research for many years prior to 9/11. Research psychologists have deployed to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kuwait, just to name the major ones. In addition, research psychologists have also conducted countless data collections in garrison and during training exercises. Thus, when it came time to conduct data collection missions during combat deployments they were ready. However, conducting data collection missions during peacekeeping or humanitarian deployments is very different than conducting data collection missions in a combat environment.

The data collections in Iraq would be the first ever psychological health research missions conducted during ongoing combat operations, yet built upon the sociological research conducted during World War II. This accomplishment cannot be overstated. It was only because of the field and deployed research experiences involving these other types of military operations that research psychologists were so hugely successful in conducting their research mission during combat operations.

Dying for a Data Point

Many opponents of conducting research in combat operations have stated that “no data point is so important that it is worth dying for.” Yet it is only by conducting such research studies can the health and wellbeing of the service be immediately improved. These critics seem to be saying, “Hey, let’s wait until the current conflict is over, and then conduct a series of lessons learned (usually using only anecdotal data) and then from these anecdotes decide how to fight the next war.” Thankfully this legacy approach to improving military medicine has been soundly rejected by most senior military leaders.

When it comes to conducting behavioral health research in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is amazing how eager soldiers and Marines were to answering candidly questions about the behavioral health care they received while being deployed and how that care can be improved. More often than not, the observations and recommendations provided by these soldiers and Marines were the same recommendations being developed and considered by the research team based on quantitative assessments.

Indeed, although I was told that a Marine would never talk to “an Army guy,” later I was told by a navy corpsman who attended the interviews that he had never heard Marines talk so openly and candidly before, including to Navy and other Marines. Soldiers and Marines can detect sincerity, and they know when someone doesn’t give a shit about them. Unfortunately, many soldiers and Marines often only encounter the latter.

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