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Monday, November 27, 2006

Increased Deployment Tempo Strains Military Family Ties

From yesterday's Washington Post front page:

This week, U.S. troops will have been fighting in Iraq longer than they did in World War II, with no relief in sight. Soldiers from 1st Brigade preparing at Fort Stewart for their third Iraq tour have been spending as much time in Iraq as at home. The rotations -- a year in Iraq followed by a year at home -- dictate soldiers' most intimate decisions: They mandate when troops can marry and have children. They sever relationships that cannot sustain the stress of absence or danger. And they lead some couples to pray for the war to end.

After the memorial service [for each of the division's 317 soldiers who have died in Iraq], Lt. Col. Doug Crissman gathered his 1st Brigade soldiers and sent them on leave with a warning not to get hurt, go to jail or go AWOL. "You're all a little bit nervous. Hell, I'm nervous," said Crissman, of Burke, Va., who commands the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. "The Army is asking us to do some tough stuff."

Then his voice softened as he nudged his troops to be attentive to their families. "I need you to think about this visit a little differently," he said. "Spend time with them. . . . Tell them you love them."

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.


From courtship to parenting to divorce, the time away at war is having a profound impact on the families of active-duty soldiers, according to interviews with dozens of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division and their relatives. The division spearheaded the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and returned for a second, year-long tour in January 2005.

For 1st Brigade soldiers such as Frohnhoefer, having children poses a wrenching choice: Leave your wife alone in pregnancy and birth, or miss your newborn's first year.

Frohnhoefer and several others in his brigade opted to start pregnancies soon after returning in January, creating a mini baby boom. Frohnhoefer's second daughter, Haley, was born three weeks ago. Another soldier in the unit had a baby last week.

"We take a lot of pictures," said Frohnhoefer, 28, of Queens, N.Y., as his wife, Audrey, quieted Haley with a pacifier. His biggest fear, he said, is "my kids not knowing me if something were to happen to me."

Unattached troops have their own trials:

For single soldiers, finding a spouse is difficult. Spec. Christian Brown, 25, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., is afraid that when he leaves next month he will lose the girlfriend he met earlier this year. "She doesn't know if she can handle me being gone," he said, adding that he no longer plans to reenlist.

Other soldiers are arranging hasty marriages before they leave -- for added benefits and to provide for their spouses if they die -- a trend officers discourage because they say it makes soldiers more vulnerable to divorce.

Capt. Neil Johnson, 25, of Crystal River, Fla., said that he wed in November 2004 but that the uncertainty and fear surrounding his Army job led to his divorce in June. "If I had been in Florida, I'd probably still be married," he said. Army divorce rates surged after 2001 and remain elevated, although they fell somewhat last year. Johnson sees more divorces coming. "It seems normal," he said. "No one is surprised."

The problems they face are hard for the rest of us to understand:

Anxiety, depression and psychological trauma from repeated exposure to combat add to the stress, affecting 15 percent to 20 percent of soldiers, said Maj. Christopher H. Warner, a 3rd Infantry Division psychiatrist. Those factors contribute to drinking, drug use and domestic violence among a small percentage of soldiers, officers said.

While some GIs grow more resilient to combat stress, others get worse, Warner said. One soldier attacked by gunfire and bombs repeatedly at Iraqi bridges found himself afraid to drive through underpasses at home. Some soldiers under treatment for combat stress return to war but are screened to see if they pose a risk, Warner said.

Still, the bulk of psychological problems for soldiers relate to home-front issues such as separation and infidelity, he said.

Many soldiers doubt civilians can understand the pressures they face, and they see a widening gap between Army life and what some call "the outside world." "There are times you feel like, 'Why is it us?' " Audrey said. Civilians, she said, "don't have a concept of what we go through."

Please read the rest.

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