Marriage Under Fire: Military Couples
If maintaining a healthy marriage takes work in the best of times, what happens when a husband and wife both head off into combat? Today more than 44,000 "dual military" couples find themselves in this almost unimaginably difficult situation. But despite long deployments, high casualty rates, and the stress of combat, divorce rates for couples in active duty hover at about 3 percent -- a far lower rate than for civilian first marriages (half of which end within the first five years). Somehow these brave twosomes are working through the obstacles and thriving. To find out how they do it, we asked four couples to talk honestly about the unique challenges of life in a war zone. What they told us is surprising, tender, and sometimes terrifying.
Nina and Robert
Army Reserve Sergeant Nina Ramon, 25
Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Robert Ramon, 36
Married 3 Years
The cottage where Nina Ramon and her husband, Robert, spent their honeymoon wasn't exactly what they had in mind when they tied the knot just before being posted to Afghanistan: a tiny wooden hut at the edge of Bagram Air Base's main runway. "In the middle of the night mice would come into our shack, crawling over my feet and legs, and I'd scream," recalls Nina. Between the rodents and the 24/7 roar of transport planes and fighter jets, their quarters were "hardly a first-class hotel," agrees Robert.
Robert was on his second deployment to Afghanistan and had served in Bosnia. The Afghanistan mission was Nina's first overseas tour. Eventually the couple managed to make the shack feel like home with curtains, shelves -- and mousetraps baited with peanut butter.
Now back home from a yearlong deployment, the two have volunteered to train military public-relations units that will be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to do the work they did there. While they were in the war zone Nina and Robert accompanied the media, including CNN, Fox News, and The New York Times, into the field. Because their work was dangerous they were never sent on the same mission, which could last as long as three weeks. Both came under fire two or three times and Robert remembers one trip during which his group was attacked at night and he juggled taking photographs with a night-vision lens and returning enemy fire with his M16.
Back at Bagram Air Base, about 30 miles north of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, life could be dangerous as well. During a 2007 visit by then Vice President Dick Cheney, a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at the front gate, killing himself and 23 other Afghans and injuring 20 more. "It was an hour before each of us knew the other wasn't dead," says Robert. "Both of us were really worried."
Nina and Robert agree that experiencing life-and-death situations only strengthened their bond. "I feel so lucky that we were together," says Robert. "After my first deployment no one back home understood what I'd been through. Now, when we hear a loud noise, like a car backfiring, we both jump -- and we both know why."