Sunday, November 29, 2009

Military divorces edge up as war takes its toll

Divorce rates among Army enlisted soldiers continued a gradual and steady increase for the seventh straight year with nearly 10,000 married G.I.s ending marriages during fiscal 2009, according Pentagon figures released Friday.

Four percent of marriages among enlisted soldiers failed. The trend mirrors findings by Army battlefield researchers earlier this month that revealed a similar year-by-year increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq who complain of failing marriages.

The evidence shows that long and multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are damaging military marriages, says Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, a research psychologist.

"The pressures are most evident for the younger soldiers," says Army Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, a research psychologist. "(But) we are starting to detect some of the affect on (senior enlisted soldiers), particularly in terms of marital satisfaction."

The divorce rate within the Army is not the highest among the services — Air Force enlisted airmen registered a 4.3% divorce rate this year. But the Army is the largest service, with 100,000 more married troops than the Air Force, and is the only service that has shown a steady increase in divorce among enlisted service members for several years.

Air Force and Navy enlisted rates have fluctuated. And the rate among enlisted Marines stayed steady at 4% from 2008 to 2009, numbers show.

Soldiers and Marines have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The overall divorce rate in the U.S. military increased from 3.4% to 3.6% this year. The civilian divorce rate in the USA for the 12 months ending in January 2009 was 3.4%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Army researchers have focused special attention on the marriages of troops at war, completing six field studies and surveys in Iraq and three in Afghanistan since 2003.

They found evidence that soldiers with more electronic access to their families are having more marital problems.

In Afghanistan, one in four married soldiers working support or logistic jobs and confined to combat installations, where there is greater access to telephones and the Internet, reported marital problems. By contrast, 16.4% of married soldiers who regularly leave installations to engage in combat, convoys or other missions said their relationships were failing.

Army Maj. Jeffrey Thomas, a research psychologist, says this may be due to some soldiers becoming too involved in their family lives via the Internet or telephone.

"It's a great thing to have that set up there and the ability to reach out and talk to family and be involved," Thomas says. "But you can also get dragged into minor squabbles and things that are probably best resolved by the spouse."

You … get dragged into minor squabbles and things that are probably best resolved by the spouse," Thomas says.

Researchers also found a strong link between multiple deployments and failing marriages among soldiers fighting in Afghanistan this year, Bliese says. Some 14.3% of married soldiers on their first deployment and 12.6% of those on their second deployment complained of marital problems. But nearly one in three married soldiers on their third deployment said their marriages were in trouble.

In Iraq in 2003, 12.4% of married soldiers surveyed in 2003 in Iraq said they planned to divorce or separate after returning home. This year, nearly 23% of soldiers fighting in Iraq made those claims, according to Army data.

The percentage of soldiers in Iraq who say they have a good marriage has declined from about 80% in 2003 to about 60% in 2008.

All military services offer programs aimed at strengthening marriages in order mitigate deployment stresses, says Air Force Lt. Col. April Cunningham, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

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