WASHINGTON – The divorce rate among soldiers and Marines increased last year as military marriages suffered continuing stress from America's two ongoing wars. There were an estimated 10,200 failed marriages in the active duty Army and 3,077 among Marines, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press for the budget year ended Sept. 30.
That's a divorce rate of 3.5 percent among more than 287,000 married troops in the Army, up from 3.3 percent in the previous fiscal year, according to Defense Department figures.
"With increasing demands placed on Army families and soldiers — including frequent deployments and relocations — intimate relationships are tested," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.
The new data shows 3.7 percent of more than 84,000 married Marines divorced in fiscal year 2008, up from 3.3 percent in 2007. The Marine Corps called the increase statistically small and said officials would need to examine them farther.
"That said, Marine Corps leadership is keenly aware of the burden military families carry in a time of war," said Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman. "Our leaders, from the commandant on down, are paying serious attention to the strain."
Some veteran and family groups question whether Pentagon figures are too low, saying they do not take into account many who divorce after leaving the service. The groups are unable to offer other estimates.
"Divorce rates are up — no doubt about it — a kind of predictable ripple effect of this pace of operations," Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said in a recent interview. "And that's not even taking into account the number of marriages that are strained" but still holding together.
But defense officials say they are holding divorces down below what they might otherwise be with a myriad of efforts in recent years to support couples enduring unprecedented separations and other hardships because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The long and repeated deployments required of many troops have been widely blamed for unprecedented stresses on military couples. Spouses at home must manage families and households without their partner. The strain also has contributed to higher suicide rates and more mental health problems among troops.
The Marines and soldiers have been the bulk of the land force fighting the two wars.
The divorce rate stayed at 3.5 percent this year for the Air Force and went down slightly to 3 percent from 3.2 percent for the Navy.
Women in the military usually suffer higher rates of failed marriages than men and that trend held true again last year. Army women divorced at a rate of 8.5 percent compared to 2.9 percent for men. Female Marines divorced at a rate of 9.2 percent, compared to 3.3 percent of the married men.
There is no comparable system for tracking civilian divorces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the divorce rate for the general population was 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2005 — the most recent statistics immediately available; that was the lowest rate since 1970.
The per capita divorce rate is different from a second method of calculation — the percentage of marriages that eventually will end in divorce or separation. The CDC said that year that 43 percent of all first marriages end in divorce within 10 years.
The military numbers also do not speak to troubled but intact marriages. In mental health surveys taken in Iraq, some 15 percent of troops have said they intended to divorce when they got home.
All the services have started programs to help couples weather wartime stresses.
"Military families continue to stand behind their soldiers and help those in need," Boyce said, noting that 58 percent of soldiers in today's Army are married. "America is now in the third-longest war in its history. This is the first extended conflict since the Revolution fought with an all-volunteer Army."
Military programs aimed at helping couples include the Army chaplains' Strong Bonds, which helps single-soldiers choose mates wisely and build lifelong relationships; a couples course, and a family course that trains couples with children to stay close and parent well.
Officials also have worked to improve the quality of life for families by funding various programs and services such as health care, better schools, youth services and child care.
The Marines have offered workshops to teach couples to manage conflict, solve problems and communicate better. The Navy started a similar program, using weekend retreats for couples.
Troops also get mental-health training in a program called Battlemind that teaches about common problems to expect at home as they readjust to domestic life.