Army STARRS All Army Study (AAS): In the Field
Each Army STARRS component is designed to capture a snapshot of soldiers’ experiences in different jobs and at different phases of Army service. The All Army Study (AAS) component will let the research team learn about active duty soldiers. Active duty applies to soldiers who are working full time in active military service, including activated Reserve Component and National Guard.
Researchers are randomly selecting Army units to participate in the AAS. These units may be at any stage of active duty service including pre- and post- deployment. The units may be stationed in the United States or around the world including Afghanistan.
If their unit is selected, soldiers will attend an Army STARRS briefing. They will learn about the relevance of the project, privacy issues, and that the study is strictly voluntary. Once soldiers understand their roles and their options, they will be invited to join Army STARRS. Each soldier can choose whether or not to be part of the study.
Soldiers who join the study will be asked to take a survey that includes questions about the soldier’s health and experiences. It covers events across all phases of Army service including training, combat, and non-combat experiences. Some soldiers will participate once, and others will be asked to work with researchers over time. All soldiers will be asked if researchers are permitted to link their survey information to administrative data from the Army.
A very important part of Army STARRS is privacy. In the AAS, like all of the study components, Soldiers’ personal information will remain strictly confidential and individual soldiers will not be identifiable (see Confidentiality is Key, below).
Every research study faces challenges and opportunities to develop new methods. This is also true with Army STARRS. Listed below are some of the more interesting aspects of launching the All Army Study.
A Representative Sample
Researchers need data from soldiers who represent the Army as a whole so that they have an accurate picture of Army life. To accomplish this, the Army STARRS team has identified a sample of Army units that, through the random selection process, represent the Army at all stages of the deployment cycle (pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment) as well as units who do not deploy. The project team works closely with the various U. S. Army Commands to create schedules that ensure soldiers in the selected units are able to hear a briefing on Army STARRS and have an opportunity to join the study. Developing this aspect of Army STARRS required a great deal of effort by both the research team and the Army.
Researchers need a snapshot of all phases of Army service, which means surveying soldiers around the world. This requires coordination between the research team and Army Commands, Army Service Component Commands and Direct Reporting Units including AMC, ARCENT, CIDC, EUSA, FORSCOM, IMCOM, INSCOM, MEDCOM, ODUSA, TRADOC, USAREUR, USARPAC, USARSO, and USASOC 1ST Army NETCOM/9TH Signal.
Paper and Pencil, or Laptop?
Adapting to the constraints of schedules, global locations, and resources, the Army STARRS team developed two types of AAS survey: a paper-and-pencil version (also known as “survey-in-a-box”) and a computerized version. The research team chooses the version best suited to each soldier’s environment and coordinates with the Army to get the materials to the Army STARRS participants.
Confidentiality is Key
Confidentiality is vital to every part of Army STARRS, including the All Army Study. No individual or personally identifying information will ever be reported in the findings of the Army STARRS research project. To ensure this, the research team removes all information that could identify a soldier from responses and other study materials. The Army removes this information from administrative records before sending them to the Army STARRS data enclave.
In addition, each soldier’s survey responses and other data will be combined with information from other soldiers. Researchers will analyze the combined information and report on their findings. Survey answers will not be used to evaluate a soldier’s abilities and they will not be shared with anyone in the Army. The only exception is if a participant shows imminent danger of self-harm or harming someone else. In this case, the individual is referred to the Army chaplain-on-call for follow-up consultation.
Researchers ask soldiers for permission to link their survey responses with administrative data from the Army. However, to maintain privacy, soldiers never put their names on their surveys. Instead, they use a survey ID. The administrative data that the Army sends to the Army STARRS date enclave don’t contain names either; they have a code in place of a name. The challenge for the research team was linking the various records that represent a single individual. The team solved the problem by developing a computer program that can link data without adding identifying information.
Because the Army STARRS questionnaire addresses some very personal topics, the Army and the research team consider the needs of any soldier who has a strong emotional response to the survey questions. Researchers and the Army worked to develop a number of safety measures that protect soldiers and their privacy. Resource cards with helpful phone numbers for military-specific programs such as Military OneSource, Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline, Real Warriors and others, were created and are distributed to every soldier during their Army STARRS briefing. Following each survey session, every participant must fill out a card indicating whether or not s/he would like to meet confidentially with a chaplain.
It is possible that a participant taking the computerized survey might indicate imminent danger of self- harm or harming someone else. In this situation, the computer will send a private message to the survey team who will speak to the chaplain-on-call. The chaplain will contact the soldier privately. This is the only situation where survey results are shared with a member of the military. Communications with a chaplain are privileged.