Original article written by Michael M. Phillips for The Wall Street Journal
Maybe the couple that fights together stays together.
The 293rd Military Police Company is a rarity in American love and American war. Among the 150 soldiers deployed to this restive Afghan city are three married couples.
The couples’ first few months in the combat zone have revealed the tensions of married warfare: The shared experience of purpose, fear and trauma brings each couple closer together, while the constant worry makes them wish they were apart. Like their civilian counterparts, they struggle to balance life and work, trying to fit in a few moments of comfort and affection among a grueling schedule of patrols, ambushes and convoys.
There are the Glynns, Sheree and Rob, corporals on their second combat tour. He survived a scrape with death, and she glimpsed widowhood. They’ve been drawn together by danger and loss.
There’s Thomas and Bergan Flannigan, young lieutenants who believe that their roles as commanders require them to maintain a façade of marital indifference. They feel watched from above and below.
And there’s Seth and Jessica Bivens, 19-year-old privates first class, new to the Army and each other. Freshly in love, they chafe at the limits that the war imposes on their relationship, and their superiors feel obliged to remind them that marriage comes second to mission.
Not long ago commanders would have balked at putting spouses this close together. First Sgt. Danny Knell, the company’s top enlisted man, says that in 21 years of Army service, he has never before seen three couples in one company.
But the military is increasingly worried about the stress that repeated combat deployments have created in military marriages. The Pentagon said last month that 3.6% of married active-duty military men and women went through divorce in the year ended Sept. 30, compared to 2.6% a year prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
So commanders are trying to be more flexible with service couples. In October, the Army adopted new rules making it easier for couples to deploy simultaneously. Army regulations leave it to local commanders to decide whether to put married couples together. Today, the Pentagon counts 284 couples deployed overseas together.
The Army’s concern is that a husband and wife serving together would distract from the mission, says Sgt. Knell, a 45-year-old from Vanceburg, Ky., whose job it is to look after the welfare of the 293rd’s enlisted soldiers and enforce the rules. Those opposed to allowing openly gay soldiers to serve often make a similar argument—that homosexuals would damage unit cohesion and morale. To work around any worries about the effect of the couples on the group, the 293rd, based in Fort Stewart, Ga., separates spouses among its four platoons, units of some 40 soldiers stationed at different outposts and bases around Kandahar. No husband is more than an hour away from his wife, but along routes that must be traveled in armored convoys.
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by: Sam Leccima & Shani Leccima