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Combat deployment experiences and soldier mental health: Examining the factor structure of a combat experiences scale

APA Citation:

Sherman, H., Frye-Cox, N., & Lucier-Greer, M. (2021). Combat deployment experiences and solider mental health: Examining the factor structure of a combat experiences scale. Military Medicine, usab456. https://doi.org/10.1093/milmed/usab456

Abstract Created by REACH:

Using data from 14,860 Soldiers, this study examined whether distinct combat experiences emerged that were differentially related to mental health. Links among combat experiences, post-deployment coping, and subsequent mental health symptoms (i.e., anxiety and depression) were examined while accounting for individual (e.g., gender) and interpersonal (e.g., marital status) characteristics. Two distinct forms of combat experiences were identified: expected combat experiences and responsibility for non-enemy deaths. When Soldiers reported responsibility for non-enemy deaths, it was associated with poorer post-deployment coping and, in turn, more mental health symptoms.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Sherman, Haley, Frye-Cox, Nicky, Lucier-Greer, Mallory


Researchers and practitioners are invested in understanding how deployment experiences impact the nearly 193,000 U.S. service members who deploy in a given year. Yet, there remains a need to adequately identify salient deployment experiences through survey measurement tools and understand how differential experiences are uniquely related to mental health outcomes. Therefore, this study examined the factor structure of an established combat experiences measure from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS) dataset to identify underlying survey constructs that reflect nuanced deployment experiences. Then, we examined the association between diverse combat experiences and current mental health symptoms (i.e., anxiety and depressive symptoms) and the mediating role of coping.Data were drawn from the Army STARRS data (N = 14,860 soldiers), specifically the All Army Study component. A principal component analysis (PCA) was conducted to examine the dimensionality of the combat experiences scale, and then a path model was conducted to examine the relationships between combat experiences, coping with stress following a deployment, and mental health symptoms while controlling for relevant individual and interpersonal factors.Results from the principal component analysis suggested that the Army STARRS combat experiences scale encompasses two components, specifically: “Expected combat experiences” and “Responsible for non-enemy deaths.” Both “Expected combat experiences” and “Responsible for non-enemy deaths” were associated with higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, respectively, and “Responsible for non-enemy deaths” was also indirectly linked to these mental health outcomes through coping with stress after deployment.These findings provide insight into the dimensionality of combat experiences and offer practitioners a more nuanced understanding of how to process unique combat experiences that differentially relate to mental health symptoms.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Oxford Academic

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Auburn University, HS
Auburn University, NFC
Auburn University, MLG


deployment, deployment experiences, mental health outcomes, mental health symtoms, All Army Study

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


Funding for this research was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Hatch project 1017588 [Mallory Lucier-Greer, Principal Investigator].

REACH Newsletter:

  February 2022

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