Couples Retreat, Afghanistan Style

Worried about the deterioration of soldiers' marriages — divorce has been on the rise in their ranks since 9/11 — the military is increasingly allowing couples to serve together. The Wall Street Journal meets three such couples in Afghanistan.

All three serve in the same military police company in Kandahar, a rarity and one sign of the relative flexibility the Pentagon is showing to try to keep marriages and the mental health of its soldiers stable. Previously, says The Journal, couples serving together were seen in the same context as gay soldiers: that they "would damage unit cohesion and morale." The compromise is to allow couples proximity but to avoid direct working relationships.

Interestingly, while two of the husbands are quoted sounding protective — one wishing his wife wouldn't leave a desk job for the field, saying, "I know she can do her job, but there's that fear factor that something could happen," another wishing that his wife were "at home getting a flat tire" — that protectiveness doesn't fall strictly along gender lines:

Jessica feels the same way. She'd rather she were in Afghanistan alone, and Seth were safe at home. "I know what happens every day when I roll out on mission," she says. "It's only common sense that he's going through the same thing."

And although it couldn't be called easy at any point, the profiles indicate that "going through the same thing" forms a sort of support group, one that naturally pre-empts the particular alienation many military spouses experience after deployment — the sense that it they will never be able to understand what it was like. That goes for men and women:

Bergan has wanted to be in the Army since she was a little girl. And she wanted to marry someone who understood that life. "A lot of marriages don't last because they're trying to explain things to their spouse and their spouse just doesn't get it," she says. "They get frustrated and argue about it."

That understanding seems tied to mutual respect. Though the profiles are brief, the marriages detailed seem refreshingly equal, even when there's a difference in status. ("Though they share the same rank, Thomas's job as executive officer gives him the right to order his wife around. "Does she call you 'sir?'" Capt. Thurman teases him."). The story doesn't mention competitiveness; on the contrary, this husband sounds downright proud of his wife's skills:

Seth admits that Jessica is his equal with a rifle, and his better with a pistol. He says she destroyed the clutch on his 1995 Ford Mustang, but is "amazing" at steering a 14-ton armored vehicle through Kandahar. Her comrades jokingly address her as "Mrs. Bivens" or "Bivens, female."

Next goal: Openly gay service men — married. A girl can dream.

In Love and War [WSJ]

Earlier: Women In The Military: Underutilized During, Neglected After