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Does Deployment to War Affect Public Service Motivation? A Panel Study of Soldiers Before and After Their Service in Afghanistan


  • Morten Brænder is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Government at Aarhus University in Denmark. He holds a master's degree in the history of ideas and comparative religion and a doctorate in political science. In his dissertation, “Justifying the Ultimate Sacrifi ce—Civil and Military Religion in Frontline Blogs,” he analyzed how American soldiers deployed to Iraq justifi ed their participation in the war. In his present research, he studies how exposure to extreme situations affects motivation. E-mail:

  • Lotte Bøgh Andersen is professor in the Department of Political Science and Government at Aarhus University and the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research. Her research interests include motivation, behavior and performance of public employees, leadership and the use of economic incentives in the public sector, and the relationship between professionals and service users. She has published numerous articles about public service motivation, professionals, and performance in the public sector. E-mail:


Exposure to the extreme stress of warfare may affect soldiers’ perceptions of others and society. Using panel data from two companies on a tour of duty to Afghanistan in 2011, this article analyzes how different dimensions of soldiers’ public service motivation are influenced by deployment to war. As expected, soldiers’ compassion decreased and commitment to the public interest increased, while self-sacrifice did not change systematically. Deployment to war was expected to affect inexperienced soldiers more than their experienced colleagues, but this hypothesis was only partially satisfied. The key contribution of the article is the use of panel data and the examination of motivational changes. Moreover, studying soldiers’ public service motivation enables us to connect public administration and military sociology and thereby to establish a better understanding of motivation in extreme settings.