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Army fights soldiers' domestic violence

Sunday, July 28, 2002

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A soldier's life is filled with challenges and difficulties, from basic training to the battleground. But it's rare that those stresses have the deadly consequences that have shaken the Army at Fort Bragg.

Since June 11, two Fort Bragg soldiers have killed their wives and themselves. Two other soldiers are charged with murdering their wives.

In three of the killings, the men involved were Special Operations soldiers recently returned from duty in Afghanistan. The fourth soldier hadn't been deployed.

In the two years leading up to these killings, there had been no domestic violence deaths at Bragg, said Col. Tad Davis, the post's garrison commander.

He said anxiety over the war in Afghanistan probably is no more cause for a deadly outcome than deployment anywhere else, especially if a soldier's marriage is already troubled.

"We've got thousands of soldiers deployed in 30 countries around the world," Davis said. "In many cases, those situations are as stressful as Afghanistan."

But it's not just assignment to Afghanistan, said one expert. Stress and anger management sessions have increased at the post since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, said Henry Berry, manager of family advocacy programs at the post.

"Change brings about a degree of stress," Berry said. "The military community requires its members to adapt to ongoing change within life and work."

Defense Department spokesman Jim Turner said Saturday he was not aware of any similar pattern at any other U.S. military installation.

More than 50,000 soldiers are stationed at the base, including elite Special Operations troops and paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Before Sept. 11, as many as 5,000 of the post's soldiers were on deployment on any given day. Since then, Bragg has sent that many or more additional troops into the field, although officials wouldn't release exact numbers.

The husbands of the four slain women all were senior noncommissioned officers. Domestic violence usually occurs in the ranks of younger soldiers who have young children and little money, said Dennis Orthner, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Orthner has studied military families for 25 years and agrees with the military that the most stressful times for soldiers are just before, during and just after deployment.

"When the soldier is gone they often have an unrealistic expectation of what it's going to be like when they come home. The wife has had a period of time where she's been independent," he said. "When they come back, there is a time of tension and they have to restructure how they operate."

All four killing occurred off the base.

The first occurred June 11. Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves -- a soldier in the 3rd Special Forces Group who had been home from Afghanistan just two days -- shot his wife, Teresa, and himself in their bedroom, Fayetteville police said. Officials say Nieves had requested leave to resolve personal problems.

On June 29, sheriff's investigators said, Jennifer Wright was strangled, about a month after her husband, also with the 3rd Special Forces, returned from Afghanistan.

Master Sgt. William Wright, who had moved out of the house and was living in barracks, reported his wife missing July 1. On July 19, he led investigators to her body and was charged with murder.

On the same day that Wright was arrested, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd shot his wife, Andrea, and himself in their home in Stedman, authorities said.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that Floyd was a member of Delta Force, the secretive anti-terrorism unit based at Fort Bragg, but post officials wouldn't confirm it. He had returned from Afghanistan in January, officials said.

In the fourth case, Sgt. Cedric Ramon Griffin is charged with stabbing his estranged wife, Marilyn, at least 50 times and setting her home on fire on July 9. Griffin, assigned to the 37th Engineer Battalion, had not been deployed to Afghanistan.

Jennifer Wright had said her husband seemed full of rage since he returned from Afghanistan, and she was becoming afraid of him, said her mother, Wilma Watson, of Mason, Ohio.

Wright had been to Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Haiti before going to Afghanistan, Watson said.

"And she told me, 'Every time he goes off to war, he's like a different person when he comes back,"' she said of her daughter.

The four slayings are among 14 domestic violence killings in all of North Carolina since May 4, when the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence began keeping a count.


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