Australian Defence Force members deployed to an operational area are often exposed to risks beyond those experienced in everyday living. Their families’ lives are changed by both their absence and an awareness of the risks involved. This study focused on understanding the impact of these changes on the physical, mental and family health of military families, using the Timor-Leste deployment as an example. Understanding these impacts will allow policy makers to better support the past, present and future families of deployed ADF personnel.
Considerable international research into the effects of deployment on military families first appeared after the Gulf War of 1990 to 1991 and burgeoned after the Middle East deployments that began in 2001. Studies of the longer term effects of Vietnam War deployments on military families are also increasingly being reported. Broadly, the studies have found that deployment decreases the emotional wellbeing of spouses and children. Positive effects are also identified, however, among them increased independence for spouses and closer spousal relationships. Just how representative the international findings are of Australian military families is unclear, though, because of differences in each country’s military service and social demographics.
In August 2007 the Department of Veterans’ Affairs set up the Family Study Program in order to assess the impact of service on the health and welfare of the families of deployed ADF personnel. It was through this program that the Department commissioned the Timor-Leste Family Study, which used a large random sample to examine the effects of deployment to Timor-Leste on the physical, mental and family health of Australian military families. Operations in Timor-Leste began in 1999 and since then more than 20,000 personnel have deployed there (Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association 2010). At the time of preparation of this report 380 ADF personnel were deployed to Timor-Leste (Department of Defence 2012a).
The Timor-Leste Family Study is retrospective and cross-sectional and generated data from self-report questionnaires completed by serving and ex-serving ADF members and their partners. The design of the study means that it is not possible to infer causation from the findings; that is, it is not certain that one thing caused another, only that there is an association between them. The analytical methods used throughout the report are described in Chapter 4. A Scientific Advisory Committee and a Consultative Forum from the Family Study Program provided guidance on the development and conduct of the study.
This report outlines the study background, aims, development, methods, results, discussions and conclusions.
Timor-Leste is a democratic republic lying north-west of Australia, at the eastern end of the island of Timor in the Indonesian archipelago. As noted, ADF operations in the country began in 1999 and are continuing.
In June 1999 the United Nations established a mission in East Timor, UNAMET, to supervise the August independence referendum. ADF Operation FABER supported UNAMET through the deployment of six members (Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association 2010). The majority vote for Timor-Leste’s independence as opposed to Indonesian integration provoked a mass campaign of pro-integration militia violence. In response to the violence, the Australian Government, with a UN mandate and strong support from the Australian public, initiated the ADF-led International Force for East Timor, or INTERFET.
Operations WARDEN, SPITFIRE, STABILISE and FABER were the ADF contributions to INTERFET. The ADF’s task was to restore peace and security in Timor-Leste and to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations. INTERFET ended in February 2000 and was replaced by Operation TANAGER, which involved the deployment of an ADF battalion group to prevent insurgencies on Timor-Leste’s western border and concluded when Timor-Leste achieved nationhood on 20 May 2002. (Nationhood saw the name East Timor changed to Timor-Leste.)
Operation CITADEL, a three-year infantry deployment, took place from nationhood until 2005. Operations SPIRE and CHIRON were small ADF contributions to the UN effort between 2004 and 2006. An outbreak of rebel violence in May 2006 resulted in the Timor-Leste Government asking for international peacekeepers. Operation ASTUTE is Australia’s ongoing contribution to the ADF-led International Stabilisation Force. Operation TOWER, a small contribution to the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, also continues.
The Timor-Leste deployments were of three to seven months’ duration (Australian War Memorial n.d.) and included both warlike and non-warlike operations.*Operations STABILISE, WARDEN and TANAGER were warlike, whereas Operations SPITFIRE, SPIRE and CHIRON were non-warlike. Operations FABER and CITADEL had both warlike and non-warlike periods. The continuing operations are non-warlike.
As noted, more than 20,000 current and ex-serving ADF members (the majority from the Australian Army) have deployed on one or more of the ten operations (Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association 2010). Four soldiers have died in-country to date, all from non–combat related causes (Australian War Memorial n.d.).
The Timor-Leste deployments represent the largest deployment of ADF members since the Vietnam War. In recognition of the impact of these deployments on the members’ families, the Department of Defence established the National Welfare Coordination Centre in 1999. The centre provides 24-hour information and referral services for families of deployed members. The Timor-Leste deployments were, and are, generally viewed positively in the ADF, Australia and overseas.
Other ADF operations, 1999 to 2010
Excluding Timor-Leste, the ADF deployed members to 13 different overseas operational areas between 1999 and 2010 (Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association 2010). The largest of these deployments have been the several operations in Afghanistan (from 2001) and in Iraq (2003 to 2011) and the peacekeeping operations in Bougainville (1997 to 2003) and in Solomon Islands (from 2003). ADF members have deployed on a number of UN and other international missions, such as the NATO force in the former Yugoslavia, the Multinational Force & Observers in the Sinai, and the UN Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East.
ADF members have also been deployed for numerous humanitarian responses to natural disasters, both overseas (for example, Operation Sumatra Assist in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) and in Australia (for example, Operation Vic Fire Assist in response to the 2009 Victorian bushfires). Royal Australian Navy members have also been deployed on Operation RESOLUTE in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, providing border and maritime protection since 2006.