Video: Military divorce rate spikes

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/27/2005 12:42:20 AM ET 2005-07-27T04:42:20

At a support group for military spouses at Fort Benning, Ga., wives share the difficulties of being left behind during long deployments. 

"I just miss him being there," says one woman.

"That's the hardest thing," says another. "Like, I can't see the end of it."

With marital problems on the rise since the Iraq war began, the Army is now spending $2 million this year on programs to help its families.

Lt. Col. J. R. Sanderson and his wife Teresa know all too well the pain and stress of wartime separation.

"I need to decompress when I come back," says Lt. Col. Sanderson. "I'm used to living [in] a high-threat environment."

While he fought in both Gulf Wars, she, in effect, became a single parent.

"You've been the person in the house doing everything, and then you have to ease this other person back in with you," says Teresa.

This time around the Sandersons are taking advantage of counseling provided by the Army.

But, increasingly, on posts like Fort Benning, family life is becoming much more difficult. Last year alone, there were more than 10,000 divorces in the U.S. Army. Since the start of the Iraq war two years ago, the divorce rate among enlisted personnel is up 28 percent — and for officers it's up 78 percent. That's about the same rate of divorce as in the Gulf War.

Lt. Col. Peter Frederich is the new family ministries officer at Fort Benning. He says the Army needs to address the stigma many soldiers — especially officers — feel toward seeking help. 

"The tendency could be that officers are slower to get help, and in fact maybe they don't reach out for help until it's too late," says Frederich.

At Fort Benning, the Army is training chaplains and volunteers to deal with issues specific to Middle East deployments — like the stress of constant insurgent attacks.

And these programs are not just for active duty troops. For the first time, the Army National Guard is spending $5 million dollars on counseling.   

"It should not have to cost you your marriage in order to be in the military," says Fort Benning chaplain Maj. Jeffery Hawkins.

It's a critical concern for the heart of an all-volunteer fighting force.

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