The contribution of the perception of the meaning of the military role, the cognitive flexibility and social support for adaptation to military service in Israel among soldiers in back-office positions
Adaptation and adjustment to the military environment is complex. It requires leaving behind the familiar and moving to a new surroundings and new demands. Many studies have investigated the effects of military service on soldiers in combat positions. A less-explored but significant population includes those serving in back-office positions. They are also required to adapt to the new and foreign military environment that includes an unfamiliar lifestyle and discipline. In addition, they are often required to perform in roles they did not necessarily choose, or function in an environment and under circumstances that greatly differ from their expectations. Those soldiers may experience adjustment difficulties of varying degrees and thus studies examining the contribution of various factors in the adjustment to military service of soldiers in back-office positions are of great importance.
The present study was based on Deci & Ryan's (2000) self-determination theory. According to which a person's motivation to act, thus adapting to different situations, is influenced by addressing three innate psychological needs. The first is the need for autonomy, that is, a sense of freedom of choice and control over decision-making. The second is the need for a sense of competence, namely to feel capable and able to attain the expected goals and the third, the need for a sense of relatedness, namely, a desire to feel connected to others—to love and care, and to be loved and cared for. The study variables were selected according to these three needs: “The meaning from the military role” variable refers to the need for autonomy as reflected by the perception of freedom to choose a role or to choose how to act or perform within the role. The “cognitive flexibility” variable refers to the need to feel capable to succeed in a role and able to achieve significant results in it. The variables “social support” and “seeking help from a mental health officer (MHO)” refer to the need for relatedness, since the desire to feel loved and cared for can be satisfied by the informal environment, by friends for example, as well as by the formal environment, namely, an MHO.
The purpose of the present study was to examine the contribution of the three variables that constitute each soldier's personal resources meaning of the military role, cognitive flexibility and social support, to back- office soldiers’ adaptation to military service. Another objective of the study was to examine the social support variable as a moderating factor in the relationship between role meaning and adaptation to service and a mediating factor in the relationship between cognitive flexibility and adaptation to service.
A secondary objective of the study was to examine the relationship between consulting a MHO and the research variables: meaning of the military role, cognitive flexibility, social support and adapting to military service.
Methods: The study population consisted of 200 female and male Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, aged 18-23 years(µ=20 years, SD = 0.951), with an average duration of service of 14.11 months (SD = 8.68). Of those, 107 (53.3%) soldiers consulted the MHO. The control group included 93 (46.5%) soldiers who had not consulted the MHO to that point in their military service.
Procedure: The study received approval from the IDF Research Division and the IDF Ethics Committee, and was conducted in partnership with a researcher from the military.
Investigators contacted soldiers at three open bases asking them to fill out the questionnaires via a link sent to their mobile phones. Prior to completing the questionnaires, those who agreed to participate in the study signed an informed consent form.
Research tools included five self-completion questionnaires: a demographic questionnaire, a role meaning questionnaire (WAMI; Steger, Dik, & Duffy, 2012), the Cognitive Flexibility Scale (Martin & Rubin, 1995), a social support questionnaire (The Medical Outcomes Study-MOS; Sherbouurne & Stewart, 1991) and the Soldier Adaptation to the Army Questionnaire-SAAQ (Winter & Ben Kanz, 2000).
Results: The study found that soldiers who had consulted the MHO had lower levels of cognitive flexibility, adaptation to service and social support of Instrumental type compared to the control group. A positive relationship was also found between military role meaning, cognitive flexibility, and social support for adaptation to service.
The study also found that while the social support variable partly mediated the relationship between cognitive flexibility and adaptation to service, it did not seem to moderate the relationship between role meaning and adaptation to military service. These findings are in line with Deci and Ryan theoretical model (Self-determination theory, Deci & Ryan, 2000), since our study found that the contribution of the three variables corresponds to the three innate psychological needs that predict adaptation, in this case, adaptation to military service.
Limitations of the study: The data in this study is based on subjective reporting by the soldiers and may suffer from the usual problems that self-reported data does. It thus may be biased and incomplete, as admitting to having difficulties is not easy for this age group. One should not infer causation from data collected at a single point in time. Additionally, this study did not investigate support offered or not offered by commanders, a factor which could be highly significant to a soldier’s ability to adapt to the military environment. There is also no information on soldiers who dropped out of military service due to inability to adapt. A further study that includes the missing factors is warranted.
Importance and implications of the research: The importance of the research is in widening and deepening the understanding of factors that contribute to adaptation problems to military service of non-combatant soldiers. Findings of the research are consistent with the theory of Deci & Ryan (2000) and indicate the necessity of addressing the three needs, as described in the theory, in order to help the soldiers, adapt to military service and thus retain them and let them achieve their potential in the role.
The findings indicate the importance of the role being perceived as meaning by the soldier, the soldier’s social support network, and his or her cognitive flexibility. Those factors contribute significantly to the soldiers’ success in adapting to military service. Soldiers who feel that their military role is significant and meaningful, adapt better to military service.
Low cognitive flexibility obviously interferes with a soldier’s adapting to the new and different military environment. Such soldiers have to learn to develop cognitive flexibility to help them adapt to military service. This learning may be achieved with the help of an MHO, and it is suggested to further explore this option.
Social support has also been found to be a significant contributor to adaptation to military service both directly and indirectly in the relationship between cognitive flexibility and adaptation.
The contribution of these personal and environmental resources to adaptation to military service reflects the soldiers' experience in the role and highlights the distress of soldiers whose social resources are poorer. The military’s attention to these factors may lead to better preparation of the soldiers for their intended role and may constitute yet another layer in establishing successful preparation programs for the military service. In addition, resources should be invested in programs that help soldiers acquire cognitive flexibility skills thus easing their adaption to military service. The findings on the importance of social support could also be reflected in commanders' work with soldiers by offering them tools to increase their social support.
Another significant contribution of this study is that it shows that adaptation theories to work environments can be used for adaptation to military service of soldiers in non-combat positions. Thus information and tools presented in the literature on adaptation to work environments can be applied to the military non-combat environment as well. This literature provides a better understanding of the needs and difficulties of non-combat soldiers and assists in finding tools to help them better adapt to their military service.
Last Updated Date : 12/07/2020