Soldiers' Divorce Rates Up
June 8, 2005
The number of active-duty soldiers getting divorced has been rising sharply with deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The trend is severest among officers. Last year, 3,325 Army officers' marriages ended in divorce -- up 78% from 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion, and more than 31/2 times the number in 2000, before the Afghan operation, Army figures show. For enlisted personnel, the 7,152 divorces last year were 28% more than in 2003 and up 53% from 2000. During that time, the number of soldiers has changed little.
The Army has no comparable data for past wars.
The stress of combat, long separations and difficulty readjusting to family life are key reasons for the surge, Army officials say.
"Rising through the ranks, every subsequent job gets more difficult, more intense and more demanding," says Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman. "So the stressors are extreme in the officer corps, especially when we're at war, and officers have an overwhelming responsibility to take care of their soldiers as well as the soldiers' families. There's a lot of responsibility on the leaders' shoulders, which, I can assure you, takes away from the home life."
"There is a deep concern and some significant resources aimed at helping families survive," says Lt. Col. Peter Frederich, a chaplain who has just been assigned to oversee policy and resources in the Army's family support programs.
Col. Glenn Bloomstrum, another chaplain, says that five years ago, the Army instituted one-day workshops to help soldiers and spouses talk about war experiences and ease the transition from combat to home. More recently, weekend marriage-education retreats have been introduced.
"There's a bonding that takes place between soldiers, and during that (family) reunion phase, you've got to make the transition from your buddies, who you relied on for life and death situations. Now, it's really time to spend time at home," Bloomstrum says.
Dennis Orthner, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has studied military families for 28 years, says he isn't surprised by the rise in divorces. "If the numbers are right, then we have more to worry about than just fighting a war," he says. "We're trying to fight a war with families that are struggling, and that's a real challenge."
The Army recognizes that for its all-volunteer fighting force to remain viable, it is essential to keep marriages healthy, Frederich says. "It all hinges on soldiers being able to stay soldiers for a long time."
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