• deployment;
  • hygiene;
  • military nurses;
  • war;
  • women's health

Introduction: The purpose of this study was to describe women's health and hygiene experiences during their deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan during the war years, 2003 through 2010.

Methods: A phenomenological method described the essential structures embedded in the women's health and hygiene experiences. Colaizzi's method of data analysis was used to guide the discovery of themes. Interview data were gathered from 24 interviews with military nurses who served in the war zones. Female military nurses were specifically selected for this study because of their insight, awareness, and knowledge base.

Results: Seven themes emerged from the data and captured the essence of the women's experiences: 1) bathroom trips and facilities: a walk on the wild side; 2) shower challenges: lack of privacy, water problems, and location issues; 3) menstruation: to suppress or not to suppress; 4) staying clean: a monumental task; 5) various infections: annoying distractions; 6) unintended pregnancies: wartime surprises; and 7) safety issues: enemy attacks and sexual assaults.

Discussion: In the current military structure, more women are being deployed to combat zones and will endure the challenges and hardships described in this study. The health and hygiene experiences of deployed women are an important part of their daily lives in combat zones. Educational programs and clinical services need to be tailored to this cadre of women, with focused attention on preparation and anticipatory guidance prior to deployment. Access to health promotion and appropriate clinical services during deployment is critical. Finally, as these women return home as veterans, it is important for all providers to understand the contextual framework of their service and its impact on their lives.