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Marriage in the military.


AS couples reminisce about joining hands, exchanging rings and promising to love, honor and cherish one another "until death do us part," many can only say sorrowfully, "We failed."

There's no guarantee that the words of the songs played at wedding receptions will ring true for any couple after the honeymoon's over. And the challenge to couples increases when they face long separations.

Chaplain (Maj.) Derrick Riggs, a protestant chaplain and religious-support resource manager at Fort Myer, Va., returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq in November 2007, where he served with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade. "A lot of marriages were tested there," he said.

"Marriage will succeed or fail based on everything you do before a deployment," Riggs added. "If you have a strained marriage, the deployment will have a greater adverse impact. Absence will only make the heart grow fonder if you have a strong marriage to begin with."

"I don't think younger Soldiers have solid expectations of marriage, but, rather, are driven by emotion," added Maj. Chris Downey, operations officer for the 82nd Abn. Div.'s 82nd Combat Aviation Bde. "They're seeking immediate companionship before and after deployment."

Downey and his wife, Trish, have been married for 15 of his 17 years in the Army--from the time he was an enlisted Soldier, through advanced military training, to his commissioning, and two recent combat tours to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I'm worried about my family when I'm deployed, but when I'm deployed, the mission has to be my main focus," he said.

That's why Soldiers depend so much on the support available to them through family readiness groups and others [see related story]. It's that support, and the support of other spouses that helps military families cope, Downey said.

Deployment, while not easy on a family that includes a son and daughter, ages 10 and 13, respectively, didn't cause any marital problems, Trish said. "I had no feelings of resentment when he deployed. I was proud of him. And our marriage was very strong when he left.

"What makes it strong is his commitment to his family," she said. "And I know his family comes first when it can come first."


Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Rabot of the Italy-based 173rd Abn. Bde. Combat Team has been married to Joy for 20 years. He echoes Downey's sentiments.

"When I'm deployed, I focus on the mission, but when there's time to relax a bit, I write my wife all about the things I've been doing or going through during the deployment.

"The first year or two of marriage is very hard," said Rabot, who was 19 when he married his then 21-year-old wife. Besides frequently having to leave her, due to training exercises and deployments, living from paycheck to paycheck was initially challenging, too, he said.

His suggestions for a successful marriage? "Be honest with each other, explore each other's inner feelings and know what your spouse wants, physically and emotionally," Rabot said.


"Marriage isn't for kids, and being in the Army just makes it harder," added Chief Warrant Officer 3 Roy Melebeck, commander of Headquarters and HQS Company, 173rd ABCT Rear Detachment. "Too many Soldiers marry as 18- to 22-year-old kids. Wait. The Army means long deployments, long hours when you're not deployed. I married as a kid, at 19. My marriage made it because my wife, who was 26, was the adult for a while."

How the spouse who's left behind handles long separations also has a lot to do with the success or failure of a marriage, Riggs said.

Spec. Chase Windell, another member of the 173rd ABCT, deployed to Afghanistan soon after his wife, Samantha, joined him in Bamberg, Germany. The couple's son was two months old at the time they arrived.

"The first few months after my husband deployed were miserable," Samantha said. "I wanted to stay home the whole time."

Instead, she got involved, spending time with other women whose husbands had also deployed, participating in Yoga classes, shopping, supervising their respective children's playtime and taking trips together. Samantha also volunteers as her family readiness group's treasurer. Her advice to spouses of deployed Soldiers is: "Get out there and get involved."

Some spouses have a difficult time doing that.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Ladisic, a scout with the 194th Armored Bde.'s A Troop, 5th Squadron, 15th Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Knox, Ky., had been married for seven years when he filed for divorce in September 2007, upon returning from Iraq, his second deployment in three and a half years.

"That was it," Ladisic said of the state of his marriage after being in Iraq from January 2005 to February 2006. "My wife and I had grown so far apart."

On his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, Ladisic was a platoon sergeant in an 82nd Abn. Div. combat platoon. "My wife had friends whose husbands were deployed with me. They called home when they told their wives they would. But sometimes I couldn't call because, as a platoon sergeant, I had duties that came up unexpectedly.

"The war had just started, and we couldn't call home for four or five days sometimes," he said. His wife called him a liar.

Nonetheless, he attributes the split largely to his own "immaturity" and the facts that he suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its subsequent "anger outbursts" and anxiety attacks. He could no longer tolerate the longstanding fights he and his wife had in front of their young daughter, nor his wife's attention to what he thought were insignificant things.

"I didn't have any patience for little things," Ladisic said. For a while he pretended to take those little things seriously. "But I just couldn't keep pretending that they were important."


Ladisic said matter of factly, "We got married too young." He was 18, she, 21.

"It's hard to fight a war and your wife at the same time," Ladisic said. "When people asked me, 'How's your marriage?' I'd always say, 'great' or 'terrible.' It was never really good. Marriage shouldn't be like that."

Although the couple sought counseling, it didn't help. "We both agreed to things in the counselor's office that didn't stick for long when we were back home," he said. The couple's divorce was final in February 2008.


He still loves his ex-wife, he said. "She's a great mom, a perfect housekeeper, and she's gorgeous, but I just couldn't let our 6-year-old daughter see us fighting all the time.

"I think divorce is one of the biggest problems in the military today," said Ladisic, who's now taking medication for PTSD and undergoes counseling twice monthly for the ailment. "Many couples get married too young. They haven't yet had the chance to develop coping skills. Every other year they can expect to be separated from their families for 18 months. That's not what a 20-year-old woman expects when she marries.

And as long as America is fighting the war on terror, frequent deployments will continue, officials said.

Chaplain (Maj.) Michael King, a marriage and family chaplain at Fort Knox, said deployment at his post is increasing dramatically. The installation, formerly primarily a training post, has gained three U.S. Forces Command units that are deployable.

"Our population is now composed of 40 percent or more of deployable Soldiers," among them members of the 233rd Transportation Co. who have deployed six times over the past five years for six months each time, and the 19th Engineer Battalion, which recently returned from Iraq.

Based on his experience with Soldiers and families, "Most problems have more to do with lack of communication than with deployment," King said.

"How you talk to your spouse is very important. Too many times a marriage is all about 'me,'" he said. "One of the people in the marriage thinks everything has to be done his or her way. That's when arguments begin."

Ladisic's advice to prospective couples? "Have patience. Don't rush into marriage. If it's meant to be, it's still going to happen if you wait. Know yourself before you enter into a lifelong commitment."

"The most important thing you can do to keep a marriage healthy is to communicate," Downey added. "If you're going to deploy, talk about some of the stressors before, during and after deployment."

Soldiers who are deployed should try to call as much as possible, he added, even if the calls are short.

"Just knowing Chris was thinking of me meant a lot to me and the kids," Trish said.

"I think marriage in the military is a significant challenge for the Army," Downey added. "But officials are doing a very good job at understanding that the family is a combat multiplier--an important part of the puzzle--and is providing programs to support the family."

The current Reset pilot program, as an example, is one of the Army's newest attempts to ease a Soldier's transition back to his family and his community by minimizing or eliminating training requirements for 120 days after a Soldier returns from deployment, Downey said.


Besides communication, honesty, unselfishness and support, candlelight dinners and flowers--for no special occasion at all--can't hurt, said Melebeck.

Information about Spc. Chase Windell and his wife, Samantha, was provided by John Fleshman of the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, Italy, Public Affairs Office.

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Article Details
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Author:Hasenauer, Heike
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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