Military divorce rates at 16-year high

Tyler Johnson is a husband, father and a University of Minnesota student-athlete. On top of those responsibilities, he has been in the Marine Corps since 2002, serving two tours in Iraq. Johnson, 24, deployed to Baghdad in March, 2004. At the time, his daughter Anika was 5 months old, and he had only been married to his wife Danielle, 25, for a year. Despite his time in Iraq, Johnson said his marriage stayed strong despite Marine divorce rates that are at a 16-year high, according to Pentagon numbers. Divorce rates for soldiers are also at a high point during the same time. âÄúWhen we found out [about deployment], the war had just started, so it was a âÄònobody really knew what to expectâÄô type of thing,âÄù Tyler Johnson said. Tyler spent seven months in Baghdad, where his squad stayed at one of Saddam HusseinâÄôs palaces, and even though he was halfway around the world, he said he was still able to work on his marriage. âÄúIt was definitely the communication part, that I could call back more often,âÄù Tyler Johnson said. His wife got to talk to him a lot during his first tour, she said, mostly because he was stationed in an established area of Iraq. What also may have helped is that they got married before they knew he was going overseas. Many soldiers get married after they find out about their deployment, said Maj. Colin Fleming, the director of Army Family Programs for the Minnesota National Guard. âÄúItâÄôs a feeling that I canâÄôt even begin to describe, but itâÄôs akin to, âÄòIâÄôm going somewhere and I might die,âÄôâÄù Fleming said. âÄúSo if IâÄôm at a point in my life where IâÄôm not married yet, maybe it feels like, âÄòOh I need to be married. I need to at least accomplish that if IâÄôm going to go get killed.âÄôâÄù Tyler Johnson said the military exaggerates statistics to scare people out of getting married. âÄúThey would always say, âÄòIf you get married in your first term, you had a 95 percent chance of getting divorced,âÄôâÄù he said. âÄúI think it was just bologna.âÄù Whether or not the scare tactics are working, the numbers are going up. Compared to last year, the number of divorced soldiers this year went up more than 5 percent. The number of divorced Marines alone this year went up 11 percent, according to the Pentagon. A continuing trend of higher military female than male divorces continued in 2008. During the year, more than 7 percent of military females divorced, records show. That number is nearly two-and-a-half times that of military males. Fleming attributes that to the stresses of the job. These numbers, however, are not comparable to civilian data. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention measures a per capita divorce rate, which was 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2005, according to the last reported data; however, 43 percent of first-time marriages end within the first 10 years, the CDC estimated. Despite the continuing trend of increasing divorce in the military, there are programs set up to reverse these statistics. Programs like the Citizen to Warrior Campaign, established at the UniversityâÄôs Humphrey Center, train teachers, clergy and other people to provide support to veterans, campaign organizer Dennis Donovan said. âÄúThere was a concern that average people are not aware of the challenges our soldiers are facing, as well as their families,âÄù Donovan said. âÄúWe train our men and women for six months to become warriors. They practice being a warrior for 16 months, and then, 300 hours after their mission, they come home,âÄù he said a colleague told him. ThatâÄôs why the campaign, like the Army Family Programs, mixes citizen participation and outreach to veterans to help soldiers reintegrate into a civilian lifestyle, Donovan said. They didnâÄôt seek out these programs, but the Johnsons said they didnâÄôt need to. They are doing just fine; however, they still joke with each other: âÄúSometimes I want him to deploy again,âÄù Danielle Johnson said. âÄúYeah, sometimes, I feel like itâÄôs time for another deployment, thatâÄôs for sure,âÄù Tyler Johnson said. âÄúIs it time yet?âÄù -Gabe Erickson is a University journalism student who freelanced the story. Managing editor Mike Rose welcomes comments at [email protected]