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06-22-05, 02:06 PM
June 27, 2005
War & wedlock
Stress of duty and deployments turning marriage into a minefield

By Karen Jowers and Gina Cavallaro
Times staff writers

The news came in a phone call like a rocket-propelled grenade a few months after the young officer arrived in Iraq: His wife wanted a divorce.
“She was sad, too much time alone … she felt like a single mother,” said the Army officer, who asked not to be identified because his divorce is not final.

He said deployment separation probably wasn’t the only issue, but his wife’s bombshell still “came out of the blue.”

The call was devastating, but he had to put his personal life on hold; he was responsible for nearly 200 soldiers in a very dangerous environment.

“I couldn’t worry about [her call] and send some kid home in a body bag,” he said.

He’s not alone. He knows three officers in his battalion who are getting divorced, he said. They are part of a broader increase in active-duty divorce rates — about 40 percent since 2000 — that is showing up most starkly among Army officers, but the trend is evident in all services to varying degrees at a time when the overall U.S. divorce rate is drifting downward.

“The statistics are clear: There’s a spike in the divorce rate ... people are indeed stressed,” said Col. Glen Bloomstrom, director of ministry initiatives for the Army’s chief of chaplains.

Bloomstrom said the responses to a nonscientific survey in February showed that the top fear of soldiers and family members is loss of a significant relationship — surpassing even death and major injury.

“We were shocked by that,” Bloomstrom said.

Last year, 6 percent of married Army officers — 3,325 soldiers — got divorced, almost double the percentage of the year before, and more than triple the figure from 2000. The numbers for enlisted soldiers are up, too, with 3.5 percent getting divorced in 2004, compared with 2.3 percent in 2000.

Divorce rates for the other services also increased in 2004, except for the Navy, which saw a slight drop, although that service’s trend line has been sloping upward since 2000.

The Navy also had a spike in 1998-99, when deployments were extended as two carriers were kept in the Persian Gulf in response to saber-rattling from Saddam Hussein.

The Air Force, which has the shortest operational rotations among the services, has seen its divorce rate stay relatively stable over the years. Even so, Air Force officials are reviewing the data.

“Our commanders are sensitized to these sorts of indications about stress. It’s a continual process at every base to look at this,” spokeswoman Jean Schaefer said.

The divorce rates for military women are significantly higher than for men, especially Marine women, who had a divorce rate of 8.1 percent in 2004. That holds true, historically. Researchers say military life may be tougher for civilian husbands than wives if they’re looking for a stable life.

Service officials note that the Defense Manpower Data Center figures simply show how many active-duty members who were married at the start of a given year were not married at the end of the year.

As such, the numbers include troops who had a spouse die, but these are not thought to be a large enough number to substantially affect the statistics.

Trouble on the home front

The upward trend in military divorce coincides with the most frenzied operational pace of the post-Vietnam era.

“The statistics don’t surprise me in the least. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse,” said Cenema Judd, an Army wife at Fort Campbell, Ky., who said she knows three other spouses whoare considering divorce.

While marriages can be stressed during deployments, they can become even more so when troops return, Judd said.

“The honeymoon period is great. Then, the next two to three months are horrid,” Judd said. “You’re living with a different person. It’s like living in a minefield. You never know what will trigger that ‘other person.’ It may be easier to just walk out than to hold it together.”

Her husband of 20 years came back from Iraq last year, and “it was ugly in our household for a while,” she said.

Compounding post-deployment stress is the fact that officers and senior enlisted people still work long hours seeing to the needs of junior troops, planning their next training cycles and reconstituting equipment.

“You can’t give as much as these guys give at work and still have anything left to give when they get home,” Judd said. “Some wives just can’t take it anymore.”

The increased deployment stress is certain to be a cause for friction in military families, said Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee.

“There is going to be stress on the force as long as we have the need for large deployments to Iraq that require the same people to deploy again and again,” he said. “That isn’t going to end until the mission is completed or unless we get more people in the ranks to spread the burden.”

Support for families

But the Marine Corps, facing similar deployments to Iraq, has not seen the same increase in its divorce rate. The officer rate has remained the same over the last two years, at 1.7 percent, while the enlisted rate has stayed within a range of 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent in recent years.

A key reason for that may be deployment lengths. Marines are on seven-month tours in Iraq, compared with a year for the Army.

“The leadership of the Marine Corps recognized it’s important to keep deployments at the traditional length of six to seven months,” said Maj. Scott MacFarlane, operations officer for Marine and family services at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Corps has continually sought to refine its support systems to help Marines deal with wartime stress and frequent deployments, MacFarlane said.

In addition, Marine leaders work hard to create a command climate in which it is not only OK, but encouraged, to seek help for problems, “to get rid of the stigma,” he said.

About 1,000 Pendleton leaders attended an all-day conference June 13 to help them deal with troops’ issues related to returning from deployments. One of the best-attended sessions focused on divorce and separation, MacFarlane said.

The Defense Department is aware of the issues and has taken steps to boost family support programs, said Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman. For example, Military OneSource is available 24 hours a day, providing access to counselors to discuss a wide range of family, deployment and other issues.

Military chaplains also are stepping up to counsel service members and their spouses. Army Col. Vincent Inghilterra, command chaplain for U.S. European Command, said morale remains high and troops still seem to believe in what they’re doing.

But he recognizes that doesn’t remove all the tension of repeated family separations.

“If you’re going to have continuing deployments, a person may come to a point of making a decision about staying in or being with the family,” he said.

He also is seeing a related trend: Many young, single officers who get engaged are making the call to get out before they wed.

Morten Ender, a military sociologist at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., said the military “may need to do a better job in general in counseling young officers and enlisted members about what marriage is all about.”

Searching for reasons

The statistics paint a distinct picture, but their underpinnings remain murky at this point.

“My gut feeling, from talking to officer spouses, is that it’s not just a divorce from the service member — it’s a divorce from the military,” said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association. “It’s burnout from taking care of not just your family, but everyone else’s.”

Stories vary. One attorney said three clients he had worked with divorced because their wives had affairs while they were gone. Army wife Ann Clem said the husband of an acquaintance at Fort Campbell returned from Iraq to tell her the marriage was simply over.

“It’s hard to say it’s because of operational tempo unless you interview each couple and try to get the facts,” said Col. Michael Cannon, commander of the 1st Battlefield Coordination Detachment at Fort Bragg, N.C. “You have the ebb and flow of human relationships that can be blamed on a myriad of reasons.”

Cannon said he thinks deployments can worsen other problems, but usually are not the primary cause of divorce.

“A lot of people get married young. If the relationship didn’t form on a good foundation to start with, it’s problematic. When you get married, you need to be fully grown up,” he said.

“We’re not just leaving people to flap in the wind. We have good programs to help,” Cannon said. “But it’s going to take two people in a relationship to work on it.”

But “working on it” while thousands of miles apart is easier said than done. Lt. Col. Andy Meverden, a Colorado National Guard chaplain, has been in the Army for 29 years and recently got divorced after almost as many years of marriage.

He acknowledges his marriage had problems before he deployed with 19th Special Forces Group to Afghanistan in 2002, but said the time away eroded any chance to reconcile with his wife.

“One of the things that kills people is rumors. They say, where there’s smoke there’s fire … that’s not always true. My wife fell victim to rumors,” Meverden said of her allegations that he was unfaithful. “The point is … if you had problems going into a deployment, they’re not going to go away. A deployment can exacerbate those issues.”

Meverden noted that the divorce rate among special-operations troops seems particularly high, a figure he chalked up to the severe mission tempo among these units. In the unit he worked with, some troops had been through as many as four marriages.

“I had to deal with a lot of ‘Dear John’ letters from America,” he recalled.

Ender, the West Point sociologist, was in Iraq a year ago to conduct research and found a number of officers who admitted having family problems, but insisted they were not related to deployment.

Ender also said many troops told him deployment actually had enhanced their relationships with their spouses.

“A number of soldiers said the deployment is a major turning point in their lives, and that one of the things that changed them is they feel much more committed to their family and loved ones,” he said.

However, others, are not so lucky. The anonymous soldier whose wife informed him by phone that she wanted a divorce said he knows five officers whose wives issued ultimatums: them or the military.

His own situation has made him reflect on whether he wants to stay in uniform.

“I have been saying goodbye for a long time — goodbye to my family, my kids, everyone,” he said. “There has been no stability or predictability in my life.”

Staff writers Vince Crawley, Mark D. Faram, Rick Maze and Gordon Trowbridge contributed to this report.


06-22-05, 03:14 PM
War & wedlock
June 27, 2005
War & wedlock
Stress of duty and deployments turning marriage into a minefield

By Karen Jowers and Gina Cavallaro
Times staff writers

Daaaah! Wait a minute. Hasn't this subject matter been around since World War II? I find it very hard to believe anyone that has a husband or wife, friend or relative, even acquaintance in the Armed Forces today would not be aware of these inherent marital risks.
What is the purpose of this article? Seems to me that someone is trying to reinvent the wheel and make a literary name for themselves (put themselves in print...as it were)
I know, I know, I didn't have to read the article but I thought that I was going to learn something new. Just in case you all want to know...I'm not a smarty pants either and never proclaimed to be one. This article just rubbed me the wrong way.
I still can't believe that most folks don't know about this subject matter already. For those that don't...happy reading.


A lot of good marital advice can be found in The Survival Guide for Marriage in the Military. It talks about finances, children, and all kids of problems that military familes deal with. You may want to check it out by visiting the publisher's website at: http://www.plaintec.net.

Adios from your article critic, Gary.:)

06-22-05, 04:56 PM
If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.

Phantom Blooper
06-22-05, 06:07 PM
Smarty pants....Smarty pants....! A lot of good advice can be found on the Leatherneck.com forum. The Good Wifes Guide!

http://www.leatherneck.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=20237 (http://) ROTFLMAO!

Semper-Fi! "Never Forget" Chuck Hall:banana: