To wed or not to wed - that is the question for many American couples. With almost 40 percent of American adults finding marriage irrelevant, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, the importance of this institution for couples has recently been called into question.
According to Maj. Monica Bland in the Office of the Assistant Security of Defense of Public Affairs, 55.8 percent of active duty personnel are married. With enlisted soldiers, 53.1 percent are married, and with active duty officers, the number jumps to 70.1 percent, compared to 55 percent for the U.S. adult population (aged 18 and older) being married in 2008.
Sgt. Ricardo Sandoval, whose recent Permanent Change of Station, or PCS, took him from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, believes in marriage.
Sandoval met his wife, Lezlie, in 2005 and married in 2008.
"We decided to get married because we knew that getting married was going to keep us closer rather than far apart," he said.
Uncertain of when Sandoval would deploy, the two quickly got married; Lezlie gave up a huge wedding ceremony for a modest affair.
"The actual marriage is more important to me than the wedding part," she said.
Lezlie's religious upbringing encouraged her to marry instead of living together.
Religion also influenced Yamilly Asencio's decision to marry her husband, Spc. Mariano Hurtado, who is stationed at JBLM. The two married in Sept. 2007 and have a two-year-old, Liseli Hurtado.
"My mom has taught me with religion that you always get married," she said.
For Asencio, marriage is a very important part of a committed relationship. "I think marriage is a must. I think that if you're not committed to someone you shouldn't be with them." She believes that marriage also makes for a good family environment. "I think you should get married first and then have kids. If (a couple is) committed they should just get married," she said.
For Sgt. Sandoval, the Army provides the security of a steady paycheck and vacation time that is important to help create a stable environment for a marriage. There are challenges to making a marriage work in the Army, including finding time to spend with a family, the stress of being apart during deployment, and reconnecting when the soldier returns.
As an Army wife, Lezlie says being married to the military comes with its own benefits and challenges.
"A lot of the time we have to deal with our soldier always training for weeks at a time ... When they are not training they are working all day and they come home exhausted. It takes a lot to be married in the military. Military marriage takes a lot of patience, understanding, maturity, and you make a lot of sacrifices," she said. But the benefits to being married to a soldier include being able to serve the country, too. "Us military wives serve our country in many other ways," she said. "I take care of him; he takes care of his soldiers and country."
Asencio was glad to have medical benefits provided to spouses of military members, especially during her pregnancy.
Being married during her husband's deployment helped her keep their relationship strong during the difficult time.
"If I were his girlfriend, I don't think I would have gone along with all that. I would have just broken up with him," she said.
But because her soldier was her husband, she was more committed to dealing with the challenges of deployment including her husband being away and unable to make phone calls or communicate.
But some soldiers are denied these benefits of marriage. With the recent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," gay servicemembers will be able to be openly gay and serve in the military, but will still be not treated equally.
"Given current law, particularly the Defense of Marriage Act, there are a number of benefits that cannot legally be extended today to gay and lesbian servicemembers and their same-sex partners, even those who were lawfully married in states that permit same-sex marriage," Bland said.
While Sgt. Sandoval values marriage, he does add that it isn't necessary for everyone in the military. "Some people just don't feel as if it's something important in their life," he said, adding, "some people want to get married to the love of their life, and some of them just want the (Basic Allowance for Housing)."