- Growing up in Armyville: Canada's Military Families during the Afghanistan Mission by Deborah Harrisson and Patrizia Albanese
Once, while leading a tour of an exhibition about the Afghanistan War at the Canadian War Museum, a woman who was present with her two middle school-aged children approached to apologetically (but firmly) explain that they needed to leave. Her husband, a Canadian Armed Forces member, was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, and the exhibition was hitting a bit too close to home for her and her children. I thought of that family when reading Growing up in Armyville.
The book takes a close look generally at the people of Canadian Forces Base "Armyville" (a pseudonym), with a specific focus on the experiences of a sample of students who attended Armyville High School between 2006 and 2010. During this period, 800 soldiers from the base prepared to deploy, separated from family to serve overseas in Afghanistan, and returned and reintegrated postdeployment. Some 1,000 students filled out the authors' survey, based on questions from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. The authors also interviewed 61 self-selected students and graduates from the community, whose open reflections about fear, withdrawal, stress, loss, and service are included at length in each chapter, expressing the advantages and stressors of military family life in their own words.
The effort undertaken by Harrison and Albanese's team was not just academic. They engaged with the Armyville School District. Using a collaborative action research (CAR) approach, the team collaborated with the community [End Page 234] and administrators that would benefit from the end results of their study. As the researchers searched for insight into the impact of deployments on military family life, the school-affiliated participants sought information about how to improve supports for affected families during deployments (p. 4). The results of their research were communicated at a symposium following the surveys and interviews, leading to recommendations about how to better calibrate the school district and educators during high-stress periods such as the deployment to Afghanistan.
The book is very well organized, and structured so that even nonspecialist readers can access its findings. Beginning with a brief synopsis of the patterns of Canadian military operations overseas, including Afghanistan, the authors proceed to describe the key terminology used in the study and introduce the reader to "Armyville." They then bring the reader through three chapters dedicated to the three stages of deployment as they affect families—the year or so leading up to deployment, the period during which a military member is separated from their family, and the longer postdeployment period, when military members and their families reintegrate with each other and settle into a new pattern of life. The concluding chapters focus on the recommendations made to the school district through the team's symposium and the outcome of those recommendations.
The three chapters covering the predeployment, deployment, and postdeployment phases are informative and engrossing, thanks to the authors' lively writing and generous use of excerpts from interviews with adolescents. Consider the following student insight into the limited effect of superficial supports coupled with an unwillingness or inability to address the root causes of anxiety and depression: "We all had Support the Troops stickers. We all wear red on Friday, and all that. But the real stuff that's making these kids sad, it just gets pushed under the table. … Talking about it now makes me realize that there's so many kids that still aren't getting the support they need" (p. 129).
Harrison and Albanese's findings provide valuable insights to military historians as well as historians of childhood, family, and gender. Their careful parsing of their findings reveals how boys and girls responded to stressors differently, how boys and girls responded to their own changing roles in the families as fathers or mothers deployed, and how they chafed against going back into the box of adolescence and childhood once their absent parent returned and tried to restore predeployment...