By Captain Gene Thomas Gomulka
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I entered the military at the age of 18; married at 19; had a child with my wife when I was 20; and ended up divorced at the age of 22. My failed marriage experience soured me on military life and I left. While I have not remarried, I live daily with the emotional and financial consequences of marrying too young. You may want to use your weekly column to discourage others from making the same mistake...
I regret that you and so many other military personnel married very young only to find yourselves divorced so soon thereafter. Unfortunately, I'm not at all surprised by our high military divorce rates. How many people do you think would be injured or would die if we allowed them to parachute without going to jump school? Hence, until the armed services require and offer better relationship training and materials, military personnel will continue to marry and divorce at much higher rates than their civilian counterparts.
Months before USA Today and Stars and Stripes recently reported significant increases in military divorces, Mr. David Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, was contacted and urged to implement recommendations contained in an earlier AOSD report calling for “Premarital education programs within each service carefully designed to ensure readiness, timeliness, and relevance.” Unfortunately, DOD appears to be responding to this recommendation the same way it dealt with contractors who, aware of what was happening in Iraq, offered to provide better armor for our vehicles. Growing numbers of military marriages will continue to “crash and burn” until DOD ensures that military personnel, particularly recruits, are provided with proper premarital training.
This problem does not only involve enlisted personnel, but officers as well. While it was reported that Army enlisted divorces increased by 28 percent between 2003 and 2004, Army officer divorces during that same period increased by 78 percent. Unfortunately, apart from a premarital program implemented at the U.S. Naval Academy by Chaplain Miles Barrett for engaged First Class Catholic midshipmen, I have no evidence to show that chaplains at the other service academies are providing Cadets with effective interactive self-grading premarital materials to lower their chances of joining the growing percentage of young divorced officers.
The failure on the part of the armed services to provide better relationship training during basic training and at service academies contributes to the large number of military personnel who marry younger than their civilian counterparts. While the median age for first marriages in the United States is 27 for men and 25 for women, many military personnel continue to marry, and subsequently divorce, in their early 20s. Even though the military employs chaplains and counselors to help service members make wise decisions about marriage, divorce and remarriage that can not only impact their lives, but also the lives of their spouses and children, many military personnel are hesitant to avail themselves of their services out of concern for privacy. For example, a service member might be concerned what could happen if, in the course of counseling or in the completion of a questionnaire graded by a professional, it became known that he had a problem with his temper. Could he be investigated for possible abuse? Could he possibly even lose his security clearance? It is because of these concerns that many military people marry, divorce and remarry often without seeking professional help from either military chaplains and family support counselors, or civilian counselors contracted by Military One Source who offer up to six free counseling sessions.
The only way to improve efforts to help military personnel is by providing them with assistance in a format that does not threaten their privacy or their careers. If Chief Master Sergeant Anthony Buggage, t he Superintendent of the Family Support Center at McChord Air Force Base, reordered interactive self-help relationship materials within six months of his first order, it was not because his base did not have talented counselors, chaplains or effective programs, but because he saw how his Airmen were more receptive to utilizing tools (similar to home pregnancy tests) that did not require them to potentially compromise their privacy by meeting with a counselor or chaplain. Until more people within DOD and the armed services provide enlisted and officers with effective premarital and marital materials, I believe that more people (like yourself) will continue to marry prematurely often only to find themselves divorced within a few years.
You can't go back in time and not marry and divorce as you did, but you can learn from the past and be better prepared the next time you ask someone, “Will you marry me?” Before anyone asks that heart stopping question, I strongly recommend that they take time together to complete a self-grading inventory (e.g., Marriage and Military Life ) or any number of professionally administered civilian oriented ones (e.g., Prepare FOCCUS). By using one of these effective relationship tools, you can access your strengths and weaknesses and, ultimately, enhance your chances of having a long-lasting and happy marriage.
Columnist and author whose books are available at www.plaintec.net
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© 2005 Gene Thomas Gomulka. All opinions
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