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Steven R. Wilson and Leanne K. Knobloch

Since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, communication scholars have turned their attention to understanding family communication processes across the deployment cycle. Military families are composed of service members as well as their spouses/partners, children, and extended family members. In 2012, U. S. Department of Defense statistics indicate that 53% of U.S. military personnel are married and 44% have children. Although scholars from fields such as family studies, psychology, and sociology have been studying military families since World War II, family communication scholars are relative newcomers to this topic. There are several reasons why communication scholars have spent the past decade investigating how service members, spouses, and children interact with each other as well as their larger social networks. One reason is the length and scope of the post 9/11 conflicts, such that millions of families in the U.S. and abroad have been impacted by these wars. A second is that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq represent the first time the U.S. has fought two wars simultaneously with an all-volunteer force. This has meant that the burden of service has fallen on a small percentage of the U.S. public, which sometimes has left military families feeling isolated from their civilian counterparts. Third, communication technologies have evolved in comparison to prior conflicts, such that service members often have had the opportunity to interact regularly with family via multiple channels (e.g., phone, video, email, and social networking sites as well as letters/packages) during recent deployments. A fourth reason is that deployments create a context in which families are faced with choices and potential dilemmas about communicating. From the time that deployment orders are received, throughout months of separation, and after the service member returns home, military families must decide what to talk about (or avoid talking about) openly. During deployment, family members must find ways of maintaining their relationships while coping with new stressors. After the service member returns home, families often must manage relational uncertainty while renegotiating routines. In cases where service members have difficulty readjusting to civilian life, family members must find ways of navigating dilemmas that can arise when they attempt to voice their concerns. Most military families display remarkable resilience in responding to these communicative transitions and tensions. By conducting research framed by a number of theories, family communication scholars have worked towards better understanding the experiences of military families and producing knowledge useful for those serving with military families. Although comparative work on military families in other countries is starting to emerge, most research on communication processes has focused on U.S. military families. Research grounded in the relational turbulence model, communication privacy management theory, multiple goals theories, relational dialectics, and intergroup communication theories has helped clarify how military families communicatively navigate the process of having a service member deployed.