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Army Programs Combat Rising Divorce Rate
By Monica Barrera
Army News Service
July 06, 2005

WASHINGTON - An increase of divorces among active-duty Soldiers has Army chaplains undertaking a number of programs to combat the rising trend and help Soldiers cope.

Divorces among officers tripled from fiscal year 2002 to 2004, according to statistics compiled by the Defense Manpower Data Center. After Operation Iraqi Freedom began, there was an increase of 3,024 divorces Army-wide.

"These statistics are a sign of a loss of a dream. People don't get married to divorce," said Army Chaplain Col. Glen Bloomstrom, director of the Ministry Initiatives Directorate for the Office of the Chief of Chaplains.

Several programs now help Soldiers cope with life and parenting after divorce. Divorce Care Support groups and Divorce Parenting classes are mandatory for Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas.

"We recognize [Soldiers] come because they are required," said Lt. Col. David Scheider, director of Family Life Chaplain Training Center at Fort Hood. "But it is difficult to get time off on a duty day, so the requirement makes leaders willing to let them go."

Also available is Army One Source which is a toll-free nationwide number as well as a Web site that allows Soldiers to contact a consultant regarding life's issues. Through this service, Soldiers and their families have access of up to six in-person counseling sessions at no cost to them.

Although deployment is an indicator of the stress on the force, both Bloomstrom and Scheider agreed that the problem is that many couples do not have the skills needed to make their marriage work. "Anytime there is a lot of stress, there is a higher opportunity for people to stray," said Scheider.

Marital skills have been studied by researchers at the University of Denver. The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health through the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program. PREP is known for thorough empirical research. Through PREP findings, Army chaplains are educating Soldiers and their families with coping skills and the skills needed to make a marriage successful. Chaplains have established several programs and services in the Army that are designed to help couples manage stresses associated with the military lifestyle. Bloomstrom said all of the programs focus on three primary areas: awareness, attitudes, and skills.

The Building Strong and Ready Families program "was the first marriage education program that was systemically and systematically implemented in the Army," said Bloomstrom, who has been involved with the program since its origin in 1999. BSRF was first established at Hawaii's 25th Infantry Division Artillery.

BSRF is not marriage counseling, said Bloomstrom. It is marriage education. As stated in the 2002 Executive Summary interim report of BSRF, "While the Army has developed and deployed numerous programs to treat and respond to family and couple issues, the strengths in the underlying design of BSRF lie in a focus on prevention rather than reactive, crisis management."

Retreats for couples in BSRF are called Strong Bonds retreats. This year, there are about 600 retreats scheduled Army-wide, each with 20 to 50 couples attending. For Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, there are weekend retreats. Active component Soldiers have one-day events and overnight retreats. All U.S. states/territories have an event scheduled. Soldiers and their spouses can contact their State Family Program Office to find out what is being offered in that state.

Chaplains and chaplain assistants are also available to assist Soldiers wanting to talk.

"They have a relationship usually with that unit," Bloomstrom said of battalion and brigade chaplains. "There is a real benefit having them involved, as opposed to someone you don't know."

Scheider mentioned that Soldiers also trust the unit chaplains because of the confidential communication.

There has been a doubling of total Army divorces from the 2000 fiscal year to the 2004 fiscal year an increase of nearly 5,000 divorces over this period. A year before September 11, total active-duty Army divorces were at 5,658 among 255,353 marriages. Divorces rose a year later to 7,049 from 248,180 marriages.

Still, these statistics can be misleading. Bloomstrom explains that if it is a dual military couple, the divorce counts twice. He also said the statistics do not take into account if these soldiers are married and divorcing for a second time. He points out that normally, couples face a 50-50 chance of their marriage surviving. Couples in their second marriage face a 60-70 percent chance of their marriage ending in divorce. Bloomstrom said that the Army needs to focus on its well-being.

"We recruit a Soldier, and retain a family," he said. "We need to listen to the other part of the fighting force which is the family that stays home and supports the Soldiers."

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