Abstract: Examining Soldiers Welcome Experience in the U.S. Army (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

501P Examining Soldiers Welcome Experience in the U.S. Army

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sara Kintzle, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Eva Alday, MPH, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Michele Calton, PhD, Research Psychologist, The U.S. Army Research Institute
Carl Castro, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Michalle Mor Barak, Ph.D., Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Soldiers must quickly adapt and adjust to frequent changes associated with military service. Whether it be joining the military, a new duty station, training or deployment, these periods present increased vulnerability to challenges. Research suggests welcoming practices could ease these transitions (Bernstein & Salipante, 2011). These practices are also critical to understanding inclusion within the Army. As the military works towards promoting inclusion, a better understanding of how Soldiers are welcomed can provide insight into improving the acceptance of new members. The purpose of this research was to explore the welcome experience of Soldiers in the Army.

Methods: Researchers recruited enlisted Soldiers to participate in focus groups on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Participants discussed their welcome experiences coming into the Army and their subsequent experiences getting into their new duty stations. The researchers conducted 19 focus groups with 120 Soldiers. The sample was diverse in gender (28% women), race (53% White, 24% Black, 15% Other, 8% no report), ethnicity (30% Latino), and rank (80% junior enlisted). The focus groups lasted approximately one hour and were recorded and transcribed for analysis. The researchers conducted two rounds of thematic analyses. Analyses began with a line-by-line examination of the data by three researchers, leading to the identification of codes. Coders met at key stages through the coding process to compare and discuss their analyses and interpretations. A final set of themes were developed from the coding process (96% rater agreement) and data were recoded a second time utilizing round one themes.

Results: Welcome experiences included: positive welcome experiences, receiving mixed reception from unit to leader to team, and most prevalent, not receiving any welcome. Participants described differing welcome experiences based on the participants’ installation, leaders, and units. Soldiers with a positive welcome experience described activities such as counseling, social activities, introductions, and job assistance. Such activities were appreciated and most often done by peers. Soldiers with no welcome experience described not knowing their new team, showing up to a duty station unprepared for their arrival, or being in their new duty station for weeks before anyone noticed them. Some Soldiers identified their welcome to the unit as being “smoked” by their new leaders (i.e., tough, punitive workouts).

Sponsorship was a major theme related to welcome experience. Most Soldiers reported not having a sponsor, with some reporting not being aware a sponsorship program existed. Some participants reported being assigned a sponsor who never contacted them or who was not on post when they arrived. Participants who reported having sponsors stated it was an incredibly helpful experience for which they were grateful. Availability of sponsors clearly had positive impacts on the transition experiences of Soldiers who had sponsors.

Conclusion: Results demonstrate much can be done to improve the welcome experience in the Army. Examples include, using standardized welcome programs, setting expectations regarding the reception of new members, and the development of opportunities for the acceptance of transitioning Soldiers. Such interventions could promote inclusion while also benefiting Soldiers and the Army at large.