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Guard looks to cut divorce

National Guard officials in North Dakota and Minnesota want to help civilian soldiers avoid becoming a part of a growing divorce rate in the nation's military.

National Guard officials in North Dakota and Minnesota want to help civilian soldiers avoid becoming a part of a growing divorce rate in the nation's military.

The National Guard has scheduled a series of workshops this summer to improve or possibly save the marriages of soldiers who have returned from active duty.

The two-day program helps soldiers and their spouses cope with adjustments that accompany long-term separations, said David Johnson, a Bismarck-based chaplain with the North Dakota National Guard.

"There can be a whole host of issues that returning soldiers and their families have to deal with," said Bruce Krogstad, a Lutheran minister in Moorhead and an Air National Guard soldier.

He spent two months earlier this year counseling wounded troops at the Landstuhl U.S. Army Hospital near Ramstein, Germany.


Krogstad organized a local support group in March for returning soldiers.

Some members of the group shared problems about readjusting to married life, he said.

"It can be quite a change to go from a war zone and then be thrust back into a family system," Krogstad said.

North Dakota and Minnesota National Guard officials said they haven't seen an increase in divorces among their civilian soldiers, though some report having marital problems since returning home.

The National Guard doesn't keep statistics on divorce among its soldiers, officials said.

"If a soldier went to war with cracks in their marriage, the war certainly didn't do anything to heal those," said John Morris, a chaplain with the Minnesota National Guard.

Divorces among the Army's enlisted personnel nearly doubled between 2001 and 2004, while the total troop strength remained steady. Divorces jumped from 5,658 to 10,477, according to the Defense Department's American Forces Information Service.

The Defense Department believes the Army's growing divorce rate is a trend throughout the military.


There's no comparable system for tracking the national divorce rate, though the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 43 percent of first marriages end in divorce or separation within 15 years.

The region's returning soldiers need to adjust to significant changes when they return home. In their absence, spouses took on more responsibilities, a shift that can cause power struggles, said Jane Johnson, a social worker contracted to help North Dakota National Guard members who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Couples also are concerned about communication problems, Johnson said.

"I think there are soldiers that don't want to talk about their experiences," she said.

Some soldiers have reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares, problems sleeping and hypervigilence, Johnson said.

"All of that adds to stress on a marriage," she said.

North Dakota's National Guard has contacted its soldiers and has encouraged them to attend a marriage enrichment workshop July 16 and 17 in Fargo or the weekend of Sept. 10 in Medora, Johnson said.

The Minnesota Guard has scheduled five workshops this summer in Maplewood, Morris said.


Since terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 3,067 North Dakota Guard members have been called to active duty, the state's largest deployment since World War I, Guard spokesman Rob Keller said.

The Minnesota Guard has deployed 6,000 soldiers in that time frame. About 1,600 are now serving in eight countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, said spokesman Kevin Olson.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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