The Readjustment Experiences of Single Women Returning from Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan
On January 24, 2013, the Secretary of Defense rescinded the 1994-ground combat exclusion policy to integrate women into all occupations previously closed to them, particularly special operations, infantry, and armored divisions. This change in policy required military policy makers to establish gender-neutral standards for physically demanding jobs to meet the military's needs. Extensive research exists on the readjustment experiences of male veterans and families adapting to new lives after a service member returns from combat, yet the experiences of single women returning from combat remain empirically unexplored. The purpose of this study was to fill the gap in this area of military research. This phenomenological study used Ingram, Schneider, and DeLeon's theory of the social construction of target populations and policy design to explore the ways in which single women returning from combat perceived their social construction changed as they reintegrated into their units or transitioned from the military back into their communities of origin. A purposive sample was drawn using snowball sampling. Data from interviews with 13 single women who served in combat were analyzed using Moustakas' modified version of van Kaam's method. Seven key themes emerged from the data: anticipation and perceptions of deployment in a combat zone, as well as readjustment experiences including social activities, people who influenced readjustment, value derived, needs, and social interactions. Positive social change may occur by raising the awareness among military leaders, military scholars, and policy makers about the need for policies and further research that could possibly aid future generations of single women returning from combat.