Military Divorces Edge Up Again

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The divorce rate in the armed forces increased slightly again in the past year as military marriages continued to bear the stress of the nation's ninth year at war.

In the 2009 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were an estimated 27,312 divorces among the nearly 765,000 married members of the active-duty Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, according to figures provided by the Pentagon on Friday.

That's a divorce rate of about 3.6 percent, compared with 3.4 percent a year earlier. Marriages among reservists failed at a rate of 2.8 percent compared to 2.7 the previous year, according to figures from the Defense Manpower Data Center.

"The changes from 2008 to 2009 are relatively small," said Air Force Maj. April Cunningham, a Defense Department spokeswoman. She said the increase is held down by a myriad of programs offered by the service branches to help couples.

"All military services have a variety of programs focused on strengthening and/or enriching family bonds among couples," she said. "We believe these programs are instrumental in mitigating the stresses deployment places on marriages."

Still, the figures show a slow but steady upward trend in recent years.

Friday's reported 3.6 percent rate is a full percentage point above the 2.6 percent reported in 2001, just as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America propelled the United States into the war in Afghanistan.

"The force is under tremendous stress, and that stress finds its way into marriages," said Joe Davis, spokesman for the organization Veterans of Foreign Wars.

There's no comparable annual system for tracking the national or civilian divorce rate, though the Centers for Disease Control said in 2005 that 43 percent of all first marriages end in divorce within 10 years.

"Every marriage has controllable and uncontrollable factors," Davis said. "But when you interject eight years of war, preparing for war, being at war, coming home and having to think about going back to war again — and when you have children — it just has a tremendous impact on the family unit."

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