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The effects of combat related stress on learning in an academic environment: A qualitative case study

Dissertation
Author: Kevin Peter Shea
Abstract:
This qualitative case study described the incidence of stress in the lives of Army officers, and its effect on their learning experiences at the Army`s Command and General Staff College (CGSC). It described the experiences of officers who have completed multiple combat deployments and coped with the effects of combat related stress in an academic environment. The study further illuminated a number of issues surrounding combat related stress and learning, and framed them using the words of the eleven United States Army Command and General Staff College student participants. This qualitative case study combined the interviews of the eleven students with other members of the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Army community to include an Army psychiatrist, a Department of Army civilian psychologist, a CGSC faculty focus group, and an Army chaplain. All of the Army officers in the study are combat veterans with an average of over 23 months of combat. This case study confirmed that being in an academic environment increased the stress levels of even combat veterans. This research further confirmed levels of anger, alcohol usage, and sleeplessness among CGSC students and its effect on their learning. It identified the impact of transitions, dual enrollment, and social functioning in family settings, as well as confirming that there is still a continued stigma associated with Soldiers seeking assistance for mental health. The stigma is exacerbated by inaccurate reporting and a culture that reflects a lack of support within certain levels of the service. This study contributes to the current body of knowledge and provides additional information and insights on the effects of combat related stress on learning. Finally, this study is relevant, germane, and timely given the number of Soldiers who have been repeatedly exposed to combat operations. This exposure to combat exponentially increases the incidence of combat related stress in their lives.

Table of Contents List of Figures ................................................................................................................................ xi

List of Tables ................................................................................................................................ xii

Acknowledgements ...................................................................................................................... xiii

Dedication ..................................................................................................................................... xv

Preface.......................................................................................................................................... xvi

Chapter 1 - Introduction .................................................................................................................. 1

Background ................................................................................................................................. 7

Combat Stress ............................................................................................................................. 8

Statement of the Problem .......................................................................................................... 12

Purpose ...................................................................................................................................... 13

Research Questions ................................................................................................................... 14

Methodology ............................................................................................................................. 14

Significance of the Study .......................................................................................................... 15

Limitations of the Study ........................................................................................................... 17

Assumptions .............................................................................................................................. 18

Definitions of Terms ................................................................................................................. 18

Summary ................................................................................................................................... 19

Chapter 2 - Literature Review ....................................................................................................... 21

The Human Brain ...................................................................................................................... 21

Brain Anatomy .......................................................................................................................... 22

Stress and the Brain .................................................................................................................. 25

Stress and Soldiers .................................................................................................................... 27

Stress and PTSD ....................................................................................................................... 29

Combat Stress and Soldiers ...................................................................................................... 31

Stress and Other Professions ..................................................................................................... 33

Holmes-Rahe Stressful Life Events .......................................................................................... 34

Stress and Clinical Studies ........................................................................................................ 36

Stress and MRI .......................................................................................................................... 38

vii Work and Reasoning ................................................................................................................. 38

Clinical Tests of Stress with Non-Human Subjects .................................................................. 39

Fear and Stress .......................................................................................................................... 40

Memory and the Brain .............................................................................................................. 42

Stress Hormones and Learning ................................................................................................. 43

Stress and Allostatic Load ........................................................................................................ 44

Experience, Transitions, Transformation, and Cohorts ............................................................ 47

Summary ................................................................................................................................... 50

Chapter 3 - Methodology .............................................................................................................. 51

Basis for Choosing a Qualitative Research Methodology ........................................................ 51

Case Study Methodology .......................................................................................................... 52

Characteristics of Qualitative Research .................................................................................... 53

Data Collection ......................................................................................................................... 54

Interviews .................................................................................................................................. 55

Data Analysis ............................................................................................................................ 56

Coding ....................................................................................................................................... 58

Student Population .................................................................................................................... 59

Sample Population .................................................................................................................... 61

Research Questions ................................................................................................................... 66

Role of the Researcher .............................................................................................................. 66

Standards of Quality and Verification ...................................................................................... 68

Chapter 4 - Findings...................................................................................................................... 73

Overview of the Study .............................................................................................................. 73

Demographics ........................................................................................................................... 73

Qualitative Methodology .......................................................................................................... 73

Participant Profiles .................................................................................................................... 74

Barry ..................................................................................................................................... 74

Tom ....................................................................................................................................... 75

Neal ....................................................................................................................................... 75

Elizabeth ............................................................................................................................... 76

Colin ...................................................................................................................................... 76

viii Ryan ...................................................................................................................................... 76

John ....................................................................................................................................... 77

Jack ....................................................................................................................................... 77

Newton .................................................................................................................................. 78

Timothy ................................................................................................................................. 78

Bruce ..................................................................................................................................... 78

Analysis and Findings in Regard to the Research Questions ................................................... 81

Research Question One ............................................................................................................. 82

How did the influence of combat related stress affect the learning of CGSC students? ...... 82

Combat related stress in the classroom ............................................................................. 83

Memories and stress in the classroom .............................................................................. 87

Combat related stress in a civilian academic institution ................................................... 89

Marital stress and its impact on learning .......................................................................... 90

Opposing Points of View .................................................................................................. 93

Summary ............................................................................................................................... 94

Research Question Two ............................................................................................................ 95

What were the common themes in how each participant dealt with stress? ......................... 95

Alcohol .............................................................................................................................. 96

Social Functioning, Relationships, and Family Separations. .......................................... 100

Stress and family separation ........................................................................................... 103

Anger............................................................................................................................... 105

Sleep/Concentration. ....................................................................................................... 107

Time Management .......................................................................................................... 111

Research Question Three ........................................................................................................ 113

What were the common outcomes, from the perspectives of the participants with respect to combat related stress in the classroom and if so, what are they? ........................................ 113

Fear ................................................................................................................................. 113

Transformations and Transitions .................................................................................... 117

Transitions....................................................................................................................... 119

Stigma & Stress............................................................................................................... 121

Stress ............................................................................................................................... 123

ix Behavioral Health Wellness Survey Form ...................................................................... 126

Research Question Four .......................................................................................................... 128

What were the teaching and learning episodes for the staff and faculty? ........................... 128

Summary ................................................................................................................................. 132

Chapter 5 - Analysis, Discussion, and Implications ................................................................... 134

Overview of the Study ............................................................................................................ 134

Restatement of the Problem .................................................................................................... 134

Review of the Research Methods ........................................................................................... 134

Discussion ............................................................................................................................... 135

Research Question One ........................................................................................................... 137

How does the influence of combat related stress affect the learning of CGSC students? .. 137

Academic Stress .............................................................................................................. 137

Marital Stress .................................................................................................................. 138

Dual Enrollment .............................................................................................................. 139

Flashbacks ....................................................................................................................... 141

Research Question Two .......................................................................................................... 142

What are the common themes in how each participant dealt with stress? .......................... 142

Alcohol Usage ................................................................................................................. 142

Social Functioning, Relationships and Family Separations ............................................ 142

Anger............................................................................................................................... 143

Sleep/Concentration ........................................................................................................ 144

Time Management .......................................................................................................... 145

Research Question Three ........................................................................................................ 146

Are there common outcomes, from the perspectives of the participants with respect to combat related stress in the classroom and if so, what are they? ........................................ 146

Fear ................................................................................................................................. 146

Transformations and Transitions .................................................................................... 147

Stigma ............................................................................................................................. 147

Stress ............................................................................................................................... 148

Research Question Four .......................................................................................................... 149

What were the teaching and learning episodes evident for the staff and faculty? .............. 149

x Implications of Findings ......................................................................................................... 150

Implications for Practice ......................................................................................................... 154

Recommendations ................................................................................................................... 157

Recommendations for Future Research .................................................................................. 159

Reflections .............................................................................................................................. 160

In Closing ................................................................................................................................ 161

References ................................................................................................................................... 163

Appendix A - KSU IRB Approval .............................................................................................. 175

Appendix B - Informed Consent ................................................................................................. 176

Appendix C - Student Survey Form............................................................................................ 177

Appendix D - Interview Protocol ................................................................................................ 178

Appendix E - Behavioral Health Wellness Survey Form ........................................................... 181

Appendix F - Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory ............................................................................. 183

xi

List of Figures Figure 1.1 Projected Number of Officers for 2007 ......................................................................... 6

Figure 1.2 Service Members with PTSD 2003-2007 .................................................................... 10

Figure 2.1 Neuron ......................................................................................................................... 23

Figure 2.2 The Human Brain ........................................................................................................ 25

Figure 2.3 Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory ............................................................................ 35

Figure 2.4 Stress & Allostatic Load .............................................................................................. 46

Figure 3.1 CGSC-ILE Class Composition .................................................................................... 61

Figure 4.1 CGSC Year in Review ................................................................................................. 81

Figure 5.1 Mid-Career Officers Identified Risk Factors ............................................................. 152

Figure 5.2 Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Campaign .......................................... 153

xii

List of Tables Table 4.1 CGSC Demographics of Interviewed Students ............................................................ 79

Table 5.1 Stressors for CGSC Students………………………………………………………...162

xiii Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge the aid, assistance, and access of a number of individuals and their roles in the completion of this dissertation. First, I would like to thank Kansas State University (KSU) and the US Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) for their help and participation in this research case study. On the Army side, I would like to thank Colonel David Cotter, Dr. James Martin, and Dr. Chris King who allowed the research to go forward when others had questions. Kansas State University contributed the faculty and the motivation to both begin and finish this program. They also provided a first class dissertation committee. I owe special thanks to Dr. Cheryl Polson for getting me involved in this program. Dr. Royce Ann Collins is a long-time friend, a fellow adult educator, and a mentor who helped with her positive encouragement and dissertation tips. Dr. Trudy Salsberry showed me that qualitative research can be messy; but rewarding when you begin to understand the information through the lived experiences of those being researched. Finally, there would not be a dissertation without the help, assistance and advice of my major professor, Dr. Sarah Jane Fishback. She understood the process and believed in the product I was producing. Dr. Fishback gave freely and unstintingly of her time, and her experience, and I appreciate her enthusiasm and efforts on my behalf. I would like to thank the members of my KSU cohort who have always been a source of energy, friendship, and assistance especially Dr. John Persyn, Jon Moilanen, Roy Merrill, Dr. Shawn Cupp, Dr. Laura Peck and Dave Vance. My colleagues within the Department of Command and Leadership at CGSC also deserve thanks for their contributions and efforts of time, technical assistance, reading support, and encouragement. My thanks to those colleagues especially Dr. Bill McCollum, Kevin Gentzler, Jim Thomas, Dr. Ted Thomas, Dr. Scott Borderud, Matt Broaddus, Ken Turner, and Mark Williams from my teaching team. Many Soldiers and military friends kept me on the right path in the Army and made me a better Soldier and officer. I owe thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to Major (Ret.) Phillip A. Drumheiser, LTC (Ret.) Thomas F. Burrell, Bonnie Burrell, Colonel (Ret.) Bruce D. Grant, Pat Grant, and LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin for their kindness, friendship, and mentoring throughout the years.

xiv There is no way I would have been able to complete this research without the support and inspiration of my family, both extended and immediate. My siblings, Barry, Jacqueline, Hilary, Patrice, and Maryann served as an inspiration and motivation for what they have accomplished in their lives. My immediate family was a source of constant support and motivation also. As Ryan was heard to say on more than one occasion, “When will you be done with this, Dad?” Well, Ryan, Colin, and Captain Timothy Shea, USMC, “I am done!” Finally, to my wife and best friend Ada, thanks for your love and support throughout the years. You have been a great companion on our adventures, as well as a true Army spouse who can PCS an Army family without a husband, and raise 3 sons while your Soldier is himself deployed. You have been the rock that anchored my life. As Bob Hope used to say, “Thanks for the memories.” Lastly, this research has been both a labor of love and a continuing source of inspiration as it is an honor to be associated with those who defend us on a daily basis. If there are any mistakes, errors, or omissions they are mine and mine alone.

xv

Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to my parents Jack and Elizabeth Shea. They were members of the Greatest Generation. My father served as an Infantryman in the European Theater of Operations in WWII. My Mother was a WAVE in the US Navy and worked as a cryptologist breaking Japanese codes for the Pacific theater. I now understand that my father suffered from some form of post traumatic stress and one of his defenses was to self medicate with alcohol. Both parents instilled a love of reading, learning, and education in their children, as well as a deep and abiding love of God and country. I know now what a wonderful job they did raising 6 children and affording us the opportunities we all had to achieve and succeed in life. Finally, this study is dedicated to the 11 CGSC students and the other 510,000 Soldiers they represent.

xvi

Preface Enter text for your Preface here. This section is optional. If you do not include a Preface delete this section. Be sure to retain the “Section Break” that appears on the next line.

1

Chapter 1 - Introduction “They are repeatedly exposed to high-intensity combat with insufficient time at home to rest and heal before redeploying." Bobby Muller, Veterans for America

From the earliest Greek soldier to his present-day counterpart, Soldiers have had a number of opportunities to experience combat, and then dealt with the after effects of those combat experiences later in their lives (Marlowe, 2001). There are both short and long-term effects associated with combat stress. Although stress is a part of daily life, it is also an inherent and sometimes insidious side effect of combat. Over 200,000 veterans from the current US conflicts have already applied for disability benefits through the Veterans Administration (VA) and 47% or 95,000 of those veterans have had some form of reported mental illness (Bilmes, 2007a). Estimates of 20% of the deployed forces are thought to suffer from some form of stress and it could cost more than $6.2 billion to treat them (Jelinek, 2008a; Morgan, 2008). A recent Rand survey estimated that the percentage of veterans who suffer from some form of stress may be higher than the 20% estimate (Tanielian et al., 2008). Combat has been continually associated with the high use of mental health services following deployment (Hoge, Auchterlonie, & Milliken, 2006). We must prepare for the very real challenges, some timeless, and some new to us, presented by these recent combat veterans of our latest wars. This exploratory qualitative research study examined the effects of combat related stress on learning in an academic environment. It focused specifically on Army field grade officers who have returned from combat and have attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At the conclusion of the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States Army began a program to down-size from an active duty force of 786,000 Soldiers to an active duty force of approximately 500,000 (Fontenot, Degen, & Tobin, 2004). At the time, the United States military had no credible peer adversary in the world with the “demise of the Soviet bloc” (Boot,

2 2002, p. xx), the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent withdrawal of Iraqi military forces from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War (Boot, 2002). However, the lack of a peer military adversary did not effectively deter paramilitary forces or non- state actors from attempting to impose their will in other parts of the world. The peace the United States Army thought they had secured when the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe, and when Saddam Hussein withdrew his forces from Kuwait was short lived (Kaplan, 2005b). The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989 and the Soviet Union began to lose power and control in Eastern Europe. Warsaw Pact countries that had kept their people and their ethnic and religious differences in check since the end of World War II could no longer maintain that level of control. Eastern Europe was in turmoil. The Balkans beckoned, and NATO needed the assistance of the United States in Europe again. The US Army and the US Air Force were both heavily involved in a part of the world where Iron Curtain countries had ruled with an iron fist for decades (Boot, 2002; Fontenot et al., 2004). In 1995, the US Army and the US Air Force found themselves involved in religious and ethnic difficulties in Eastern Europe (Boot, 2002; Fontenot et al. 2004; Kaplan, 2005a; Priest, 2004). During this same decade, the Army also deployed to Haiti and Somalia (Boot, 2002). A new decade began in 2000 and brought fresh challenges as non-state actors projected their influence and terror on the world stage with bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London. In the aftermath of the September 9/11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC the US Army found itself tremendously over-committed and over-extended. Smaller by almost a third of its size a decade earlier, the Army found itself struggling to meet its world-wide commitments (Fontenot et al., 2004). These commitments eventually grew to what became a two front strategy of fighting in Afghanistan beginning in 2001, and then followed by Iraq in 2003 (Filkins, 2008; Fontenot et al., 2004). Specifically, in 2003 the Army had 369,000 Soldiers deployed overseas in 120 different countries as well as Iraq and Afghanistan (Fontenot et al., 2004). The Army struggled to maintain the forces and the balance necessary to not only fight in two combat theatres of operations, but to re-set and re-train those forces prior to repeatedly redeploying them. Lieutenant General Robert Durbin, US Army, spoke in Manhattan, Kansas at the Institute for the Health and Safety of Military Families located at Kansas State University and

3 said, “We really have no idea how the multiple, prolonged deployments are affecting the lives of our Soldiers and families” (Milburn, 2009, p. A3). After nine years of near continuous fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian leaders have taken a closer look at the condition of their nation’s Army. Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State, as well as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a retired Army general said the “active Army is about broken” (DeYoung, 2006, para.10). Army Chaplain (Major) Roy Myers provided insight from a Soldier’s perspective when he said the following in an interview at Fort Leavenworth in 2008 for the Combat Studies Institute: The greatest challenge is going to come back to people. If we haven’t train-wrecked yet, and this is my humble opinion, we will train-wreck personnel wise. We are not retaining people the way we should. The people we’re retaining may or may not be good at what they do. I don’t have situational awareness of that. The people we are bringing in, I’m inclined to think, because we’re lowering standards … I can’t think of a situation where lowering standards as much as we have is a good thing. We’re in a situation now where you could almost cut the desperation with a knife. What I’m hearing from my technical chain is that all the things we look at to tell us how healthy the Army is, they’re saying the Army is not healthy. There are disciplinary problems, family problems, AWOLs, desertions, drug problems – the list goes on. The Army has probably reached its breaking point, in my opinion. If it hasn’t reached its breaking point yet, it certainly will. (Duckworth, 2008, p. 21).

John Murtha, a Pennsylvania congressman, and a Marine veteran of Vietnam voiced similar concerns, and was quoted as saying, “The readiness of the Army ground forces is as bad as it was right after Vietnam” (Thompson, 2007, p. 30). Even if people cannot agree on the status or readiness of the Army, it is an Army that is in pain. It is suffering. It is an Army that has suffered in silence. Narcotic pain relievers have been prescribed for 50,000 Soldiers or about 10% of the active duty forces (Ricks, 2009). The pace of the last nine years has taken its toll and increased the levels of stress within the Army. Speaking before a general session of Congress General David Petraeus acknowledged, “U.S. forces are under considerable stress” (Brook, 2008, p 1). This stress can be measured in both men and military materiel. Various personnel indicators signified that the Army is an institution under stress. The Army struggled to meet its annual recruiting goal. The annual enlistment goal for the Army is 80,000 recruits. In 2005, the Army missed that target by 6,627 recruits (Brook, 2007). Since then the Army has lowered enlistment standards to meet

4 those goals by introducing waivers for age, education, drug usage, medical issues, and criminal records according to retired general Barry McCaffrey

(Brook, 2007). On September 29, 2010 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke at Duke University in North Carolina to an audience of students and faculty. He said, First, as a result of the multiple deployments and hardships associated with Afghanistan and Iraq, large swaths of the military – especially our ground combat forces and their families– are under extraordinary stress… There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience. These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began. And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides. (Gates, 2010, p. 3). Suicides have increased in each of the last four years with 141 confirmed suicides in 2008 (King, 2009), and the Army now has the highest incidence of suicides in the last 28 years (Jelinek, 2009; Thompson, 2007). This number of suicides put the Army above the national average for suicides according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (King, 2009). Army suicides in 2008 set a record, and LTG Robert Durbin commented on this statistic at Kansas State University when he said, “Unfortunately 2009 may set another record” (Milburn, p. A3). Fort Leavenworth was not immune from this unfortunate statistic. In the past four academic years there have been three suicides among active duty Army majors attending CGSC. According to the Pentagon enlistment waivers climbed, “from 4,918 in 2003 to 8,129” in 2006 (Thompson, 2007, p.33). In 2007 the Army enlisted 511 convicted felons (Ricks, 2009). Other negative personnel indicators are increases in DUIs, domestic abuse, divorces, bad conduct discharges, and suicides. The Army is also short officers. Specifically, the Army is short majors in some career fields. Since 2001 there has been a corresponding decrease in the number of officers, remaining on active duty after their initial commitment is over (Brown, 2008). Most officers serve an initial tour of four to five years depending on their commissioning source. Army officers commissioned through a civilian university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program normally have a three or four year service obligation after graduation depending on their scholarship status as an undergraduate. Traditionally, officers commissioned through the United States Military Academy, at West Point, New York have a five-year service obligation to compensate the government for

5 their education. At the conclusion of the five years, they are usually free to leave the service, although in past years many have remained on active duty. Recently many junior officers or Captains have been leaving the Army shortly after their initial commitment is completed. This shortage of officers is beginning to have an impact. Evidence of the severity of this is offered by using an excerpt of an e-mail from Colonel George T. Lockwood, Director, Officer Personnel Management, and United States Army Human Resources Command. In May 2007 Colonel Lockwood sent an official e-mail addressed to all Army Fellow Officer Leaders that articulated the issues and the problems the Army faced with respect to officer manning. He said, The Army is facing significant challenges in officer manning, now and in the immediate future. Transformation and GWOT OPTEMPO has forced HRC, in concert with the Army G1 and G3, to re-examine manning priorities and associated fill levels, and you may be aware of the recently published Manning Guidance and revised priorities. Managing priorities, however, will not be enough. force structure growth of nearly 6,000 captains and majors, coupled with lower officer accessions throughout the 90's, has significantly reduced the availability of field grade officers, especially logisticians, signal and MI officers. Promotion of two year groups to MAJ in FY06 increases our MAJ fill rate to 90% but decreases CPTs fill to 82%, and availability of senior CPTs, who traditionally serve in the Generating Force, falls to 51%. Read that last line again, please. Our inventory of senior Captains is only 51% of (our) requirements. (G. T. Lockwood, personal communication, May 14, 2007).

Captain Liz McNally, a West Point graduate, and an aide to General David Petraeus when asked about what types of captains are getting out replied, “Almost all of them” (Ricks, 2009, p. 305) including herself. This has created a shortage of majors in the Army (Brown, 2008). The Army is currently short 3000 majors at the field grade or the mid-career level (Brown, 2008; Thompson, 2007). Majors are mid-career officers, who in effect run much of the day-to-day activities of units and organizations at the tactical level of operations for the US Army. Bryan Bender and Renee Dudley collaborated on research about officer retention and wrote the following, “To offset the current shortage, the Army has broken some of its own guidelines for promotion. In 2006, the Army had to promote more officers ahead of its own timetables, according to the most recent statistics. For example, the Army had a goal of promoting about 70 percent of eligible majors to the next rank of lieutenant colonel; instead, it promoted 90 percent of them to fill the vacuum. The same year, the Army advanced nearly all of

6 its captains to majors, roughly 20 percent more than its guidelines call for” (Bender & Dudley, 2007, p.1).

Figure 1.1 Projected Number of Officers for 2007

Speaking before a group of Soldiers at Fort Stewart, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed his concern about the multiple combat tours faced by Soldiers. He said, “We can’t afford to lose you. There’s a finite amount of gas left in this tank. And we’ve used at least half the tank” (Brook, 2008, p. A1). The stress of multiple combat tours has created a combat tested, but combat weary Army. General Richard Cody, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, said the deployment schedule is creating “incredible stress” on Soldiers and their families (Ricks, 2009, p. 305). Since October 2001, more than 1.9 million US service members have deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan (Buckholtz, 2009). Current projections from the Rand Corporation indicate that 26% of returning veterans may have mental health conditions (Tanielian et al., 2008). The new GI bill or the Yellow Ribbon program will soon allow many recent veterans back into the classrooms where they bring their experiences from combat, both positive and negative, with them. Approximately 354,000 veterans attended various academic institutions in

7 2008. That number is expected to reach 460,000 under the new Yellow Ribbon program (Williams, M. R., 2009). This exploratory research study will investigate the effects of stress from combat in a learning environment. This first chapter provides an introduction, background, purpose of the study and the problem statement, research questions, methodology, the significance of the study, as well as limitations, assumptions, definitions of terms, and a chapter summary. Background “There are individuals who are afraid to come in and get help despite needing it, because of fear that they'll be stigmatized." Dr. Charles Hoge

A certain amount of stress occurs in everyone’s life. No one lives his or her life without some degree of stress. Hans Selye, a pioneer in the field of stress research, called stress “the salt of life” (Carmichael, 2009, p. 47). Sometimes small things in our lives become hassles or stressors like forgetting an appointment, or failing to pick up your suit at the cleaners before a business trip. Other times stress comes in the form of a significant emotional event like the injury or death of a family member, a divorce, or the loss of a job (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Selye, 1976). Stress in small doses can often be useful and can have both powerful and positive effects in helping the body cope with the current stressful situation it faces. When working under a deadline or preparing for a test, the body releases small amounts of adrenaline that has the effect of sharpening the memory and heightening mental alertness (Carmichael, 2009; Mapes, 2008; Medina, 2008b; Selye, 1976; Wolfe, 2001). Another form of stress is the classic fight or flight reaction. This stress is triggered by fear or an actual event where the brain senses an affront to our physical safety and reacts accordingly (Medina, 2008a; Panzarino, 2008). When there is a confrontation to our physical safety or security, the body reacts immediately and moves into high gear with the brain leading the way. The body’s stress response system automatically initiates the biological adjustments that prepare us for the next level of response (Jaffe-Gill, Smith, Larson, & Segal, 2007). When the body is in fight or flight mode the brain reacts to that danger by igniting chemical alarms through the nervous system. The nervous system responds by releasing

Full document contains 202 pages
Abstract: This qualitative case study described the incidence of stress in the lives of Army officers, and its effect on their learning experiences at the Army`s Command and General Staff College (CGSC). It described the experiences of officers who have completed multiple combat deployments and coped with the effects of combat related stress in an academic environment. The study further illuminated a number of issues surrounding combat related stress and learning, and framed them using the words of the eleven United States Army Command and General Staff College student participants. This qualitative case study combined the interviews of the eleven students with other members of the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Army community to include an Army psychiatrist, a Department of Army civilian psychologist, a CGSC faculty focus group, and an Army chaplain. All of the Army officers in the study are combat veterans with an average of over 23 months of combat. This case study confirmed that being in an academic environment increased the stress levels of even combat veterans. This research further confirmed levels of anger, alcohol usage, and sleeplessness among CGSC students and its effect on their learning. It identified the impact of transitions, dual enrollment, and social functioning in family settings, as well as confirming that there is still a continued stigma associated with Soldiers seeking assistance for mental health. The stigma is exacerbated by inaccurate reporting and a culture that reflects a lack of support within certain levels of the service. This study contributes to the current body of knowledge and provides additional information and insights on the effects of combat related stress on learning. Finally, this study is relevant, germane, and timely given the number of Soldiers who have been repeatedly exposed to combat operations. This exposure to combat exponentially increases the incidence of combat related stress in their lives.