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Problematic anger is frequently reported by soldiers who have deployed to combat zones. However, evidence is lacking with respect to how anger changes over a deployment cycle, and which factors prospectively influence change in anger among combat-deployed soldiers.
Reports of problematic anger were obtained from 7298 US Army soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. A series of mixed-effects growth models estimated linear trajectories of anger over a period of 1–2 months before deployment to 9 months post-deployment, and evaluated the effects of pre-deployment factors (prior deployments and perceived resilience) on average levels and growth of problematic anger.
A model with random intercepts and slopes provided the best fit, indicating heterogeneity in soldiers' levels and trajectories of anger. First-time deployers reported the lowest anger overall, but the most growth in anger over time. Soldiers with multiple prior deployments displayed the highest anger overall, which remained relatively stable over time. Higher pre-deployment resilience was associated with lower reports of anger, but its protective effect diminished over time. First- and second-time deployers reporting low resilience displayed different anger trajectories (stable v. decreasing, respectively).
Change in anger from pre- to post-deployment varies based on pre-deployment factors. The observed differences in anger trajectories suggest that efforts to detect and reduce problematic anger should be tailored for first-time v. repeat deployers. Ongoing screening is needed even for soldiers reporting high resilience before deployment, as the protective effect of pre-deployment resilience on anger erodes over time.