Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Adult and Continuing Education

First Advisor

Dr. Randee Lipson Lawrence

Second Advisor

Dr, G. Thomas Fox

Third Advisor

Dr. David Shostak


This research examines major transitions in military life experienced by veterans of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These transitions include reintegration challenges that deployed military members encounter as they blend back into family, community, church and a peacetime setting, from the war-zone to a civilian career and lifestyle. While most military personnel are resilient and have the ability to recover from the difficult circumstances associated with combat, such as experiences and exposure to traumatic situations, many experience problems handling stress over the months or years of transitioning from a war-zone to civil society. The research focused on: the impact that these transitions had on the military members returning from combat, and on their families and communities; the level of involvement these groups face during the transition phase; and the interest in making the transition better for everyone. The following research questions guided this study: “What are the most significant challenges faced by military service members when they return from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan? What were their transformative experiences? What common factors apply to resilience and transformational learning? What are the most important resources that contribute to the transformational process of the military service member? What external support has been most helpful during the transformational process?”

This study incorporates a theoretical framework introduced and developed by Jack Mezirow over a period of years that has become known as Transformative Learning Theory (1978, 1981, 1990a, 1991, 2000). It is considered the “most researched and discussed theory in the field of adult education” (Taylor, 2007, p. 173). Mezirow’s theory addresses the issue of how and why personal experiences, specifically crises, change the way people view, understand and participate in their world.

In addition to transformational learning theory, this study also focused on the resiliency theory, which is defined as “the capacity to rebound from adversity, misfortune, trauma, or other transitional crises, strengthened and more resourceful” (Seccombe, 2002, p. 384).

The methodology used in this qualitative study was a narrative ethnographic approach. Narrative inquiry involves entering into lives of each participant. This form of qualitative research focuses on a search for common themes across the participants’ stories and uses the participants’ stories to develop and confirm existing conceptual systems. Several sources of data were used in addition to stories shared by the participants, such as various types of media, observations, my personal experiences, creative expression, and my field notes. Four major themes emerged from the data analysis process: Theme one - The Fight Response; Theme two - Readapting to the New Culture of Civilian Life; Theme three - Rebuilding a New Support System Outside of the Military; and Theme four - Finding Meaning, Perspective and Purpose in a New Life. The combined analysis of all sources of data supported the fact that in most cases the veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced various levels of difficulty during the transition to civil society. In the process of these transitions, the veterans experienced some form of transformational learning, which can be applied for future research, analysis, and study.