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Too Young to Marry, Too Young to Die

In her high school cheerleader photo, Danielle Nemetz, is surrounded by red pompoms. Her bare feet are propped up behind her in the green grass, emblazoned with the year of her graduation 2014.

Danielle didn’t graduate. Instead she married her soldier boyfriend and moved to Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington.

"They thought if they left McKinleyville they might get a new start," Danielle’s cousin told a the Eureka Times-Standard in California.

Tarrah-Nemetz-400

She was too young to marry. And at 19, she was too young to die.

Danielle’s husband, Skylar Nemetz, 20, a specialist in the 7th Infantry Division, told police that he alledgedly shot his wife in the back of the head with an AR-15 rifle October 16 when he found out another man had bought alcohol for her.

Nemetz told authorities it was “a stupid thing to do.”

The couple hadn’t had any previous incidents with the police. There wasn’t any evidence of domestic violence. The neighbors told reporters they were shocked—like neighbors always do. Danielle’s hometown held a candlelight vigil at the football field.

Can anything be done for too-young marrieds?

And what do we say in the military community? We shake our heads at the tragic waste of it all. Because it is tragic. And it is a waste.  Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased.

We hear things said about ‘poor impulse control’ and ‘immaturity.’ We write it off to couples who simply marry too young.

It’s the same reaction we had last summer when the body of Marine Corps wife Erin Corwin age 20 was found at the bottom of a mine shaft, allegedly killed by her neighbor who feared he was the father of her unborn baby.

We dismiss those tragedies as if they were somehow to be expected. That worries me always, not only because I was a too-young married at age 21.  I worry because any time Americans hold a secret belief that nothing can be done about a social problem, we have a lot of trouble getting them to care enough to do anything.

We don’t want to waste our effort.

But things can be done about too young marriages. Are we doing them?  Or are we ignoring them?

When we meet military couples who married too young (I’ve met them as young as 16), we all give them the same look. I’ve witnessed it over and over. We all get a look that says it is only a matter of time before they divorce. Or worse.

We let our incredulity wash over them and they notice. I’ve had young wives tell me how that look makes them feel so hopeless—like they shouldn’t bother to try.

That’s wrong. We know that military members marry younger than their civilian counterparts, partly due to the increased housing allowance military members receive with dependents, partly due to the kind of commitment-accepting people willing to join the military.We know that age at first marriage is one of the strongest predictors of divorce within ten years.

Yet we also know that young marriage is a shared characteristic of long married military couples.  Today I was supposed to publish an article from our readers about how to make your young marriage last forever.

I think when we meet these young couples who were too young to marry—when we meet them, not the helping professionals or the unit commanders, but us-- we leave them too much alone. We leave them to the military apps and websites and Facebook. We leave them to the worst kind of survival of the fittest.

Instead we need to see ourselves in them a little more. Whether this young couple stays together or eventually breaks up with dignity, we need to treat them as a couple not as a mistake. We need to invite them to events as a couple. Embrace them as a couple--if they will let us.

Would that have saved Danielle life? Would it have saved Erin Corbin? I don’t know. But it would have been worth it to try-- and keep trying.

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