Soldier Marriages - 2/06
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Fri Feb 24 16:38:55 EST 2006
- ARMY HELPS COUPLES STRESSED BY IRAQ DUTY
- RETURNING SOLDIERS GRAPPLE WITH THE DEATH OF THEIR MARRIAGES
I'm only sharing a two of dozens of different stories from around the
country on the new Marriage Education efforts to strengthen marriage in the
military. Very encouraging results. While ALL the sessions at the
conference -- training institutes and mini trainings, keynotes -- will help
in work with these soldier marriages, there are a few that are specifically
targeted. - diane
> Resilient Attachment, Faith, and Meaning
> Glen Bloomstrom, MDiv, Peter Frederich, MDiv
> Learn how the Army is using a resilient attachment, faith, and meaning model
> to strengthen couple connections before, during and following deployment to
> prevent divorce & PTSD.
> Active Military Life Skills - MINI
> Kelly Simpson, MA
> Learn key tools to help singles and couples deal with communication, anger,
> money and relationship stress pre, during, and post-deployment.
- ARMY HELPS COUPLES STRESSED BY IRAQ DUTY
By Carol Ann Alaimo
Arizona Daily Star
FEB 21, 2006
In Iraq, where nights are long for a happily married soldier, Command Sgt.
Maj. Douglas Sandstrom yearned for the day he could put the war behind him
and get home to his beloved wife and kids.
After a year away, he'd pictured a return to wedded bliss. Instead, he felt
"alienated and unimportant."
His wife of 20-plus years, always an independent woman, had become, by
necessity, the matriarch-in-charge.
During his absence, she learned to run the household like clockwork without
him. When their two sons, one a teen, the other a first-grader, needed
guidance or advice, they'd automatically turn to their mother ― not their
"I felt like a guest in my own house," said Sandstrom, 44, who went to Iraq
with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, in Kentucky. He
returned from war in 2004, later transferring to Fort Huachuca, southeast of
"It kind of hurt a little," he said of the family atmosphere upon his
return. "I didn't feel like it was my home."
Left to fester, such feelings could infect a marriage.
But the Sandstroms weren't about to let that happen, and the Army came to
their aid with a program aimed at helping couples bond anew after
The Southern Arizona couple is among thousands nationwide taking advantage
of marriage-strengthening retreats the service has been offering as an
antidote to a 2004 spike in soldier divorce rates.
So far, the approach appears to be doing some good in the Army, America's
largest service. Though it's hard to pinpoint cause and effect, divorce
rates fell substantially last year, from 4.1 percent of married soldiers in
2004 to 3.3 percent in 2005. In 2000, before the war on terrorism began, the
Army divorce rate was 2.2 percent.
Divorce rates in the Air Force and Marines were relatively unchanged in 2005
compared with the year prior. But the Navy's rate also improved, dropping
from 3.7 percent to 2.9 percent.
All the services offer some form of marriage support. Such programs have a
practical benefit for the armed forces: Happily wed troops tend to have
better attitudes and fewer on-the-job problems. And they're more likely to
stay in the service, military officials say.
At Fort Huachuca, about 400 Army family members took part last year in long
weekend getaways at resort locales ranging from Sea World in San Diego to
the Hilton El Conquistador in Oro Valley.
Couples can bring their children. The youngsters get supervised activities
during the day while their parents attend marriage workshops on topics such
as "Enhancing Your Love Maps" or "Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration."
After the sessions, spouses and kids hang out, see the sights and practice
their enhanced relationship skills. They learn to listen more, blame less
and talk things over instead of stewing.
"It helped re-glue the family," Douglas Sandstrom said of the two retreats
in which his family took part. The Illinois native said he hoped telling his
story would encourage other soldiers and spouses to take advantage of such
Wife Sara Sandstrom, also 44, said being married to a soldier is "a little
like riding a roller coaster" ― a cycle of wrenching separations,
"honeymoon" reunions and bumpy readjustments.
When her husband returned from Iraq, "it was tough for him to redefine
himself in the home, and it was tough for me to let him," she said.
Accustomed to doing everything herself, she found it often seemed easier to
continue doing so.
"He comes back, and I'm doing my thing with the kids, getting them out the
door for school, getting ready for work. And Doug was like, 'Well, what do I
Feelings of not belonging anymore are common in soldiers returning from war,
even in the absence of more serious problems such as combat stress, said
Fort Huachuca chaplain Maj. Glen McFarland, a Mesa native and
"It's very surprising to some soldiers how much of a change takes place when
they go away," said McFarland, who runs family retreats for the local Army
post. "The soldiers are different, and the families they left behind are
For spouses, "there's the psychological impact of lying in bed at night
alone. You do that often enough and you kind of become another person," the
And soldiers at war may find their emotional landscapes changed by "lying
there night after night listening to mortar rounds."
McFarland, 52, sounds like a man speaking from experience ― and he is. He
spent a year overseas in Bosnia when his children were teens.
"I missed my daughter's first date and all of my son's senior year in high
school. My wife was the one who had to decide whether he was allowed to stay
out all night on prom night because 'all the other kids were doing it,' " he
Besides helping married soldiers stay hitched, the Army offers courses for
single soldiers aimed at helping them choose marriage partners wisely ― a
roundabout way of dampening divorce in the ranks.
Fort Huachuca, for example, offers a course called "How Not to Marry a
Jerk." (The secret: Get to know someone first instead of jumping into bed
and making sex the basis of a relationship, McFarland said.)
Getting soldiers to seek help can be tricky in a macho environment where
troops tend to fear negative career impact if they're seen as weak or unable
Sandstrom, who acts as a liaison between leadership and enlisted personnel
at Fort Huachuca, sees those attitudes changing.
"We've done a lot to overcome the stigma. Soldiers are starting to figure
out that it's smart to get help," he said.
When marriages go awry, he said, "the smart people do something about it.
They don't wait to be one of the statistics."
- RETURNING SOLDIERS GRAPPLE WITH THE DEATH OF THEIR MARRIAGES
February 18, 2006
Rocky Mountain News
COLORADO SPRINGS - She stood in the garage, hand over her mouth, as the
soldiers filed into the house and began carting boxes from her parents'
neatly tended two-story home.
She may have been crying; from where we stood, it was difficult to tell. Yet
when her husband, only two days back home from the war in Iraq, emerged with
a large silver television cradled in his arms, she covered her eyes, broke
away from her father and sprinted to a friend's waiting car. They sped away.
Perhaps she knew her husband, Tony Dively, was finally ready to inspect his
bright yellow Volkswagen parked in the drive just outside the front door.
He had, over the past year, sent her thousands of dollars for the car and
its upkeep - payments, new tires and brakes, but also tinted windows and a
new racing hood.
He knew something was wrong because the large cardboard box now propped in
the bed of my pickup contained the hood.
Tony Dively, though only 22, was one of the toughest, hard-as-nails,
no-nonsense sergeants in all of 1st Platoon, Lightning Troop. He had killed
and seen other men die, and never blinked.
Yet on this day, he walked over, put his hand on the roof of this beloved
yellow car, looked it up and down, and nearly cried.
It wasn't the first time he'd been left while he was away at war. The last
time, though, his then girlfriend, who'd been his high school sweetheart,
had at least taken care of his car.
The troops are home from suffering the horrors of war - the maiming, the
killing, the dying. Several soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
returned to Fort Carson after a year's deployment in Iraq to experience the
death of their marriages as well.
Troopers with whom we have spent the past week know of six such cases for
sure, and they believe the total is at least twice that.
Four soldiers from the 3rd ACR's Thunder Squadron agreed early in the week
to share their stories.
One - at the last moment unwilling to further anger his estranged wife -
asked that I not write of his pending divorce.
This story is incomplete without both sides, of course, but in each case,
the wives declined repeated requests to comment, either by telephone or
through their estranged husbands.
'I just want to hug her'
Mike Matthewson, 23, was the driver for the troop commander in both Kuwait
and Iraq. News photographer Todd Heisler and I survived the first roadside
bombing Matthewson experienced. He estimates that over the course of the
year he survived at least seven more.
His wife first told him of her plans to leave him when we were in Kuwait. He
was beside himself then. We checked on him daily.
They had been married five years, having met as teenagers while working at a
Wal-Mart in Washington state.
"I had a crush on her for a long time," Mike Matthewson said, huddled in a
Colorado Springs bar with yet another soldier whose wife had left him.
"Her stepsister knew and hooked us up. I was so shy, really shy."
She did everything - paid the bills, shopped and took care of him. Tori, a
friend of his wife who is in the bar with him this night, took him and the
other soldier shopping earlier. They did not know how to do it.
"This is the most awkward period I have ever been in," Mike Matthewson said.
He thought things were getting better. Shortly after we were hit by the IED
early last April, command allowed him to return home on leave.
"We rekindled our marriage," he said of that time.
But it wasn't long after he returned to southern Baghdad that she told him
she wanted out.
He begged her not to do it. And then, only months ago, he made the mistake
that he now believes cost him his marriage.
He tapped into an Internet singles meeting site. He did it out of curiosity.
But there was this one girl. He wrote her back. She turned out to be a good
friend of his wife.
"I think I was set up," Mike Matthewson says now. "I didn't write anything
improper, either. But now, my wife says that was something she cannot
When he returned to Fort Carson on Monday, she was not there. She did,
however, park his car outside the Events Center, leaving the keys inside a
"I had to drive myself home. Of everything that has happened, that really
hurt me the most."
He has started seeing a psychologist. He has been told to stay away from his
"I wanted to fix the marriage," Mike Matthewson said. "Instead, I came home
and am drinking myself into a hole.
"I found out from friends she was living with another guy. Another soldier.
That is so hard to take, but I am trying to keep it civil. I think she had
her mind made up when I was in Kuwait that she was leaving me.
"I still love her to death. If she would take me back, I would work on my
marriage. I was with her almost a third of my life. But I know I should stay
"Still, I just want to hug her. I still love her. But I know I can't be
"It's the worst."
'I wanted to go have fun'
Staff Sgt. Gary Baty learned that his marriage was over shortly before their
fourth anniversary last June, and less than four months into his second
deployment to Iraq.
The news arrived, too, in the midst of his deep grief over the roadside
bombing death two weeks earlier of Staff Sgt. Justin Vasquez, his roommate
and longtime friend.
"Don't you understand my best friend just died?" That is all he remembers
saying to his wife before hanging up the telephone.
They had known each other for nine years, since high school, marrying
shortly after Gary Baty first arrived at Fort Carson.
When he first deployed to Iraq, in 2003, she was pregnant with their only
child, Justin, now 2, who was born during his mid-term leave that year.
The trouble, he believes, started after the 3rd ACR rotated home in early
"I wanted to go have fun, do all the things I missed. I admit that. I was
readjusting to life outside the war, trying to get back to normal. And she
had to stay at home.
"We fought, but I thought things were going in the right direction after a
couple of months," Gary Baty said.
They picked out a house they would build in Fountain. They selected the
carpet, tile and other features of the home together.
"I figured it was a bonding thing, that it drew us closer. Obviously, I was
It would be only 11 months before the Cav would deploy once again to Iraq.
He knew early last spring that there was trouble.
"I kind of got the hint, the way she was distancing herself. I'd call and
she would always be out. When we did speak, I could feel the distancing.
We've known each other a long time. You kind of pick up on that."
And then the call came.
"I thought it might be because of what happened to (his friend) Justin. She
knew him, too. I thought maybe she just freaked out, that maybe she was
trying to distance herself from that kind of reality."
When he came home on leave last August, he spent the two weeks in their
recently completed home alone.
"All of her stuff was there; she just wasn't. And then I found out she was
living with a guy, another soldier. I just got drunk and had as much fun as
I could for those two weeks."
He walked into the house for the first time since then on Monday, the day
Lightning Troop returned to Fort Carson. By late evening, it was filled with
soldiers, most of whom also had lost their wives during the deployment. He
will keep the house, so some will stay on as his roommates, along with
Andrew, a Weimaraner he bought his wife for Valentine's Day three years ago.
He is moving on, he said.
"Some guys," Gary Baty said, "they lose their best friend in the war and it
sends them over the edge. Divorce does it for others. I could have been
either of those two guys, but I'm not.
"I just want to go through this life having fun and being with someone who
wants to be there and have fun, too.
"What happened in Iraq put things in perspective. Divorce is rough, but
nobody died. Maybe she will be happy. I know I will, and that can only help
our son. Life's not over."
'My lifeline to the real world'
It is Tuesday night when the doorbell at Baty's house rings. Outside stands
Sharon Alexander, Tony Dively's mother, and her partner, Lori Richards. They
have brought the sergeant a new futon.
Tony Dively has stored much of what he retrieved from his in-laws' home in
Baty's garage. The futon goes upstairs to a guest room.
Sharon Alexander and I chat downstairs.
"Tony's a good kid," his mother said. "He doesn't deserve this and I'm
worried about him. I know my kid's heart is broken. I was hoping she would
be at the return ceremony, saying she'd changed her mind. . . . It didn't
Tony had left his mom in charge of his bank accounts, to disperse money to
his wife whenever she needed it. Sharon Alexander now feels guilty that she
wrote checks for work on her son's car that clearly never was done.
For three days she hovered over her son, taking him to dinner, filling Gary
Baty's refrigerator with groceries.
"The man who came home yesterday," Sharon Alexander said late Tuesday
evening, "is not the boy I raised. I almost don't recognize him. I know it's
"He seems so angry now. Sgt. Vasquez was his mentor. He's told me he closes
his eyes and sees him every day.
"He says he is not angry, that he just doesn't want to talk sometimes, that
he just has to keep moving, that moving will keep him OK."
It is late Thursday night and Tony Dively is outside, smoking a cigarette
when I walk up.
He met his wife two years ago, shortly after returning from his first tour
in Iraq. They married two months before he shipped out again in February
She called him in Iraq last Thanksgiving to say she wanted a divorce.
"I went to my room and cried," Tony Dively said.
"She told me she didn't love me since I came home on leave in June."
Friends back home told him she had taken up with another man, a soldier.
"You know how hard it is not letting guys know you're hurting inside?" Tony
Dively said. "I played it off as though it didn't affect me.
"And I didn't let it affect my actions. I still had a job to do, to protect
my soldiers, my friends. Off mission, listening to music, I'd hear a song we
used to hear in the car and it would . . . "
At the return ceremony, Tony Dively would listen alone to the cheers.
"I prayed that if she knew I was coming home for good that she would be
there, and if she saw me, the love she once had for me would return.
"I was looking at all the faces of the wives, at the signs, and I was
looking for my sign. Not one from my mom, but from her. It wasn't there."
It was almost too difficult, he said, going to her parents' home to get his
belongings. "What killed me was all my stuff was all packed and boxed. It
was obvious that she had done it awhile ago."
Like so many soldiers who are divorcing I have spoken with, Tony Dively says
he would take his wife back without blinking.
Then he says: "Would I really take her back? No.
"I can't be with someone who left me at a time of my greatest need. She was
my lifeline to the real world."
All three men say it seems so strange to be divorcing now, just when their
lives in the Army will be more stable.
All three have received orders to train recruits at Fort Knox, a job that is
expected to last until their enlistments are up.
Said Tony Dively, "I'm going to move on. I'm going to Kentucky and I'm going
to start a new life, treat this as a learning experience."
Sometimes, that's all there is left do.
Bill Johnson's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Call him at
303-892-2763 or e-mail him at johnsonw at RockyMountainNews..com
<mailto:johnsonw at RockyMountainNews.com> .
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