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Aggression in The Military Pre and Post Deployment: Analytical Essay

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There is no doubt that every human being has expressed some form of aggression even once in their lifetime. Often times we are able to correct our actions and learn from our mistakes to ensure that our spur-of-the-moment display of anger never occurs again. Some individuals, however, seem to express anger and aggression in the simplest situations. There are others who somehow appear to lack control of how extreme they can retaliate to someone or something that offends or affects them negatively. This behavior is widely seen in men in service, namely police officers and soldiers. While we are fully aware of the studies done on police brutality not much study has been done on aggression in the military. This study seeks to focus on aggression in the military and what causes individuals to develop this behavior. A number of individuals would argue that aggression is a behavior that is developed after being exposed to combat, however, my hypothesis “Aggression is not a behavior that is developed within the military but is a behavior that pre-existed prior to enlisting” seeks to refute such claims. It is obvious that military service can have a long-lasting effect on people. But, on the other hand, this research also underscores that it’s really difficult to change a person’s personality. This will be done by conducting research that will involve the issuing of self-administered surveys to a total of 600 individuals from the North Georgia region as well as the review of other studies previously done on the same topic.

Aggression in The Military Pre and Post Deployment


In today’s advanced technological society, we are plagued with constant reports of violence. every day we turn our televisions on there is another report of an individual being harmed because some service member decided to abuse his or her authority or an innocent citizen is harmed by another civilian. Many of these cases involve individuals in the military. “Media coverage of violence and assaults committed by ex-servicemen has focused attention on whether serving in combat makes soldiers less stable and more prone to violent outbursts” (Kelland, 2013, para.1). There are however a number of cases that are not as highlighted as the ones we see or hear in the media that is associated with intimate partner violence, mass shootings and or homicides. This has become an issue especially when the perpetrator belongs to the military. These behaviors lead to certain studies trying to determine if the military creates aggressive individuals or was aggression a characteristic of the individual before they enlisted. On November 5th, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed a total of 13 individuals after committing a shooting spree at Fort Hood Texas. 2 years later an Individual by the name of Estaban Santiago executed a mass shooting at the Fort- Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport killing a total of 5 individuals and injuring 6. After Esteban Santiago killed five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6, reports trickled out that the Iraq War veteran had returned from his 2011 combat tour a “changed man” (Steele, 2017). These two incidences are not the only mass shootings or violent activity that has involved military personnel who were deployed. This research is conducted to determine what might be the underlying cause of aggression in these individuals and whether or not the military should be blamed for creating violent individuals. This topic is important because if findings should suggest that there is a correlation between the military and aggressive behavior then a lot needs to be done to correct the problem. The research is aimed at determining whether or not there is a correlation between deployment exposure and aggressive criminal behavior in reserved and active duty military personnel. The topic has been studied by several individuals, but the issue is not discussed as it should be to bring awareness. Another reason for conducting this research is to determine if more needs to be done to evaluate individuals on a psychological level before they enlist. The research is also intended to determine what deterrence methods should be in place to prevent an individual from succumbing to aggression after they have enlisted or been discharged from their duties.


Upon conducting this research, the following variables will be studied along with other factors to better understand the topic:

  1. Combat Exposure- Describes the duration of time an individual has experienced war, or any traumatic situations related to but not excluding combat. How does their combat exposure affect their level of aggression?
  2. Age- The length of time the individual has lived for. Does an individual’s age determine how well they are able to control their aggression?
  3. Rank- Refers to the position held in the hierarchy of the armed forces. Like age does the rank an individual hold determines how well they are able to control how they display their aggression?
  4. Marital status- The state of being single, married or domestically involved. Can being in a relationship be a trigger for aggression?
  5. Mental Health- Refers to the psychological and emotional well-being of an individual. Do individuals display certain levels of anger because they are suffering from a mental illness?
  6. Social Interactions- Refers to the communal relationship between two or more individuals. How does the social learning theory contribute to the cycle of aggression and does it really apply?
  7. Reserved Veteran- a former member of the Armed Forces that was released under conditions other than dishonorable. Has there been a clear indication that aggression was a behavior that was developed in the military?
  8. Enlisted Veteran- Refers to an individual who currently serves in the military. Since enlisting has there been an obvious display of aggression?
  9. Arrest record- A report of an individual’s criminal history relating to both felony and misdemeanor charges. Does having a record indicate that being aggressive has a negative correlation to serving in the military?
  10. Substance abuse-Using a drug for purposes other than its prescribed solution. Are individuals who abuse drugs more prone to displaying aggression?

Hypothesis and Research Questions

The hypothesis for this paper is “Aggression is not a behavior that is developed within the military but is a behavior that pre-existed prior to enlisting”. While conducting this research the following questions will be considered by the researcher:

  • What percentage of U.S soldiers are involved in violent crimes?
  • How are individuals who face trauma via the military being assisted?
  • What demographic factors contribute to the levels of aggression in military personnel?
  • Are there any programs that are currently focused on assisting military men struggling with aggression and how effective are they? Should more focus be placed on an individual and his level of aggression pre or post-deployment?


The research will be completed using a sample size of 600 North Georgia Military personnel including veterans and reserved individuals. Participants will be selected from the North Georgia region, specifically the Georgia Army National Guard, Camp Frank D Merrill Army base, and Dobbins Air Reserve Base. It is the intention of the researcher to contact the Center for Army Analysis (CAA) so that participants can be identified. Questionnaires will be issued to each military base on the same day between the hours of 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM eastern time. A total of 200 participants will be selected from each military base using a systematic random sampling technique where every fourth individual that participates is selected for use in the research. The intended sample frame for this research will be military personnel who were either still active or had been deployed, veterans, and those with little or no combat exposure.

Data Gathering Procedures

To gather enough information to initiate the research the researcher integrated various literary sources using the technique, of data mapping. This allowed the researcher to identify specific themes related to the topic being researched and narrow down the sources obtained to the ones that were most relevant.

The research will be completed using a sample size of 600 self-completion questionnaires with a total of 10 questions. A copy of this questionnaire can be found in the appendices of this research. Questions will be closed-ended to allow for easy replication and fewer irrelevant answers to questions asked. This also ensures that the information can be easily gathered from a large population. To ensure that everyone has access to the survey and can complete it at any given time, the online survey generator, survey monkey will be used. Questionnaires will collect a range of information on deployment history, pre-military behavior, acts of violence, and experiences since joining the military.

The research was conducted in compliance with the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the International Review Board (IRB) with regard to protection for all human subjects participating in the research. A participant list is expected to be gathered from the Center for Army Analysis (CAA) after which a consent form will be sent via email informing individuals that participation is voluntary and confidential and they can choose to quit at any given time.

Data Analyses

Analyses of the data are expected to be fairly easy but time-consuming. There will be a total of 600 questionnaires to gather information from and a total of 200 will be from each military base. Each question will be analyzed individually, and responses presented in a statistical method. The information received during this study will not be generalizable to the entire population but only to the North Georgia region. To improve the generalizability the study can be replicated in a different region to test the hypothesis.

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Literature Review

In recent years reports of high-profile cases of violence committed by veterans have intensified (MacManus et al., 2013). In this study, various aspects of aggression among military personnel that is, active duty and veterans are explored. Having military personnel displaying high levels of aggression has become a widespread societal problem. Aggression is an emotional state that generates hostility and violence and a veteran who displays such behavior are at risk for coming in contact with the law and severing relationships such as work and personal ones. Many researchers have suggested that exposure to combat leads to increasing levels of aggression. An outbreak of serious crime in the United Kingdom in 1919 was attributed to the returned of “callous” and “battle-hardened” servicemen (MacManus et al., 2015). But, is the military really to be blamed or held accountable for creating violent individuals? The question that needs to be asked is whether or not this behavior of aggression and undoubtedly low levels of self-control existed before or after enlisting. The researcher believes that the military does not create aggression, but this behavior was present before an individual decided to enlist. While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is widely studied and in most instances is held accountable for aggression there has to be other underlying factors that contribute to this behavior. Some of these factors include combat exposure, Substance abuse, social ties, and pre- enlisting interactions.

It is no doubt that combat exposure can have certain psychological effects on deployed individuals. According to Kwan (2017) the greater prevalence of violence among deployed US reservist troops may be explained by a number of factors, such as the difference in length of deployment (p. 277). Although being deployed contributes somehow to the display of violence it cannot be entirely blamed. The stress of deployment only allows a certain individual to display characteristics that they already had possessed. “The military attracts certain personality types in the first place, including people who tend to be lower in agreeableness” (Badger, 2012). This is why often times when military personnel expresses anger it is referred to as a “military personality”. Many individuals believe that a soldier needs to be aggressive for them to be effective at their job. In further support of these findings, Kelland (2012) stated that “Some people with aggressive dispositions make very good soldiers, that’s the nature of the game” Agreeableness is in many ways associated with aggression which depends on how an individual can self-regulate. Self-regulation allows an individual to have stronger self-control. According to Badger (2012) once a soldier is back into the real world they won’t automatically go back to their original personality. This all depends on how grounded the individual was before enlisting. While the military wants you to become more organized, and this goal will definitely be achieved it is highly unlikely that an individual will change completely. The author further stated that he believed that the military does create violent individuals because it is their job to change the individual’s perspective upon enlisting (Badger, 2012). This I suppose is a way to make them into better individuals who are alert and can make quick and informed decisions. Contrary to Badger’s research, however, another research conducted in August 2006 and August of 2007 indicated that considerably higher levels of risky behavior were more prevalent during an individual’s civilian life (Thomsen, Stander, McWhorter, Rabenhorst &Milner, 2011). While some researchers conclude that being deployed causes aggression one article refuted this theory by stating “that it is not solely the fact of deployment that is associated with severe aggression, but the longer the deployment, the more likely severe aggression becomes” (McCarroll et al, 2000, p. 355).

Some scientist have done research that suggests that a particular defective gene is responsible for aggression. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research on this but the social learning theory does indicate that social interactions can lead to a child learning aggressive behaviors.

There is no doubt that aggression is in part genetically determined and children who are aggressive as infants also are aggressive when they are adults (Stangor, 2014). This theory also ties in with the social interaction theory that would indicate that an adult displaying high levels of aggression is based upon what they experienced as a child. During previous research, it was indicated that risky behaviors were more common at younger ages. (Thomsen et al.,2011). This may be indicative of an individual gaining more social ties such as becoming married, having a higher rank, or just simply joining the military. In a study of 1,710 military individuals, of the reservist who was of officer rank, only one reported violent behavior (Kwan et. al, 2017). These social ties are ones that no individual wishes to put at risk with any form of violent behavior that may cause them to have a run-in with the law. Having more social ties also indicates that they can eliminate certain life stressors such as unemployment issues and mental problems. This is not only seen with individuals in the military but anyone in society that has climbed the social ladder is expected to age out of crime. The study conducted by Jamie Kwan and his colleagues further stated that when violence was indicated it was related to a number of socio-demographic, pre-enlistment factors (Kwan et al., 2017). We have to remember that a child lives what they learn and viewing violence increases the cognitive accessibility of violence. If a child is corrected when they behave aggressively they may subsequently curve their aggression. “Individual differences in aggressiveness are presumably largely due to environmental influences arising from both the general culture and personal experiences from families and their neighborhood” (Clark, 1946, p. 423). Modeling these behaviors is fairly easy for children who grew up seeing violence with their parents. When we see violence, violence is activated in our memories and becomes ready to guide our subsequent thinking and behavior in more aggressive ways (Stangor, 2014). According to the American Journal of sociology, most military personnel were maladjusted before the army, and enlisting just simply brought to the surface a personality disorder that was already present for years (Kwan et al, 2017). With these indications from the various research done it became easy for analysts to conclude that aggression resulted from the loss of control and could be in relation to alcohol use or other drugs. “Several studies and data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show no evidence that military veterans including those who witnessed or waged combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are more prone to lethal violence than the general population” (Steele, 2017, p.).

Another cause of aggression in some individuals is substance abuse. Many researchers believe that this correlates to PTSD and other mental illnesses. “Although PTSD is perhaps the most researched diagnosis when considering violence in combat veterans, there is literature suggesting that other psychopathologies can be linked with violence” (MacManus et al., 2015, p. 1968). Some individuals abuse alcohol and other drugs to cope with the effects of PTSD and so they can be related to aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, the majority of the study revealed that pre-enlisting interactions were the number one influence on aggression. Because the military cannot be blamed for this behavior we as a society are now faced with the issue of trying to determine how this can be corrected before an individual chooses to enlist. “Since neither psychiatric histories nor projective psychological studies on every soldier are practicable, general policies will have to be made on how these individuals are selected (Clark, 1946, p. 423). This is a complicated task, but something has to be done to protect the number of lives that are being lost each year. Some military personnel have indicated that they are expected to return to normal life and adjust but this is difficult. They are then faced with individuals who cannot fully understand them and according to Kwan and his colleagues, this lack of support and the greater transitional difficulties are thought to increase the risk of developing post-deployment mental health issues alcohol and drug misuse (Kwan et al., 2017). Although we have developed a good understanding of the causes of aggression what exactly to do about it is an even more difficult question. Further studies have also indicated that reserves displayed extremely high levels of aggression after being deployed than frequent deployers. “It is possible that the higher levels of violent behavior among deployed reservists may be influenced by a lack of preparation for homecoming” (Kwan et al., 2017,p. 277). It is this difficulty to transition that may possibly lead to post-deployment mental issues and alcohol issues which are all factors for violence.

Conclusions and Limitations

The involvement of military personnel in extreme violent behaviors has been increasing over the past years. The aim of this research was to determine the underlying cause of this increase in violence and whether or not the military and being deployed was the main causative factor. The research is intended to bring to the forefront an issue that is rarely spoken about. This should allow individuals to become aware of the topic so that more care and thought are practiced before and after an individual enlists.

Because of the increase in the issue of aggression in the military we need to invest in more individual treatment and anger management programs. So, while we can all agree that aggression can be caused or triggered by several outside factors such as PTSD, and alcohol and drug abuse there is no doubt that the majority of individuals that display such characteristics did so before enlisting. This was established through the major findings of the research that confirmed that deployment did not introduce new aggressive behaviors among those who had not engaged in them previously. It is important to note and be aware of these facts because individuals at times are misinformed.

This research was not possible without a few strengths and weaknesses. Because the researcher relied entirely on self-reporting of violent activities from offenders, it is possible that they would avoid being honest or underreporting because they simply couldn’t remember details. Individuals who suffer from conditions such as PTSD may easily remember traumatic events and may over-report, (i.e. saying an event was more violent than it actually was). There is however a benefit to using self-reporting methods. Some Participants might be more likely to report incidences of aggression and violence that were never reported to law enforcement. One strength of the research was that, unlike all other literature, PTSD was not the only mental illness that was taken into consideration. Another setback in the study is that it was specific to the North Georgia region of the United States and so was not generalizable to all military personnel. To improve the generalizability of this research replication of the study in different regions to test the same hypothesis would be necessary. The majority of the literature used focused mainly on men and excluded females entirely. Although the majority of service individuals are men there is a large part of the population that includes female service members. Limitations also existed on the combat exposure of the studied population. This was obvious when at least two of the literature used for the study focused entirely on individuals who experience combat in Afghanistan and Iran.

in order to gain a full understanding of how widespread aggression is among military personnel a more in-depth evaluation of servicemen is needed. This should include observations, interviews, and a wider studied population. The findings from the overall research could also assist the military official in improving or developing a risk assessment of violence among serving and ex-military personnel. The research did not include a lot of statistics and any future report of the same topic should focus on including statistical data. A greater understanding is also needed for what type of training and support military personnel need, more specifically reservists, in order for them to transition effectively into society.

All in all, it can be concluded that aggression is definitely a learned behavior. However, this behavior is not learned through the military as it was a behavior that preexisted before enlisting. This behavior normally develops from simply observing the interaction of our parents and at times the community in which these individuals grew up.


  1. Badger, E. (2012, February 24). How the Military Can Change Personalities, Slightly.,
  2. Clark, A. R. (1946). Aggressiveness and Military Training. American Journal of Sociology, 51(5),423.
  3. Kelland, K. (2013, March 15). Combat soldiers more likely to commit violent crimes: Study.
  4. Kwan, J., Jones, M., Hull, L., Wessely, S., Fear, N., & MacManus, D. (2017). Violent behavior among military reservists. Aggressive Behavior, 43(3), 273–280.
  5. McCarroll, J. E., Ursano, R. J., Xian Liu, Thayer, L. E., Newby, J. H., Norwood, A. E., Liu, X. (2010). Deployment and the probability of spousal aggression by U.S. Army soldiers. Military Medicine, 175(5), 352–356.
  6. MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M., Rona, R. J., Greenberg, N., Hull, L., Fear, N. T. (2013). Articles: Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study. The Lancet, 381, 907–917.
  7. MacManus, D., Rona, R., Dickson, H., Somaini, G., Fear, N., & Wessely, S. (2015). Aggressive and violent behavior among military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: prevalence and link with deployment and combat exposure. Epidemiologic Reviews, 37, 196–212.
  8. [bookmark: _Hlk5994400]Stangor, C. (2014, September 26). The Biological and Emotional Causes of Aggression.
  9. Steele, J. (2017). Focus: Are military veterans more likely for shooting sprees? Retrieved from
  10. Thomsen, C. J., Stander, V. A., McWhorter, S. K., Rabenhorst, M. M., & Milner, J. S. (2011). Effects of combat deployment on risky and self-destructive behavior among active duty military personnel. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45, 1321–1331.



  1. What is your age?
    1. 16-20 ☐ 21-25 ☐ 26-30 ☐ 31 and older ☐
  2. Please indicate your relationship status below
    1. Married ☐ Single ☐ Divorced ☐ Domestic Partnership ☐
  3. Please indicate your current status
    1. Enlisted ☐ veteran ☐
  4. What is your current rank?
  5. How long have you been enlisted in the army?
    1. Less than a year ☐ between 1-3 years ☐ 4-6 years ☐ over 6 years ☐
  6. I may hit someone if I feel threatened or I am annoyed.
    1. Yes ☐ No ☐
    2. If your answer above was “No” move on to question 7.
    3. If yes, how often do you get into fights?
      1. None at all ☐ 1-2 per month ☐ 3-4 times ☐ 5-6 times ☐ more than 6 times per month ☐
  7. I have had encounters with the law prior to enlisting in the military
    1. Yes ☐ No ☐
  8. Have you ever been diagnosed with any of the following? If yes, please indicate
    1. PTSD ☐ Depression ☐ Bipolar Disorder ☐ mood disorder ☐ anxiety disorder ☐ Other ☐
  9. How often do you spend time with friends?
    1. None at all ☐ once weekly ☐ at least 1-4 times per week ☐ more than 4 times weekly ☐
  10. Have you used drugs other than those required for medical use?
    1. Yes ☐ No ☐
  11. Where you involved in more fights before or after the military?
    1. Before ☐ After ☐

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Aggression in The Military Pre and Post Deployment: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 31, 2023, from
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