Death in the Ranks at Fort Bragg: They Valiantly Fought for Their Country, but Then Some of Them Became Coldblooded Killers When They Reached Home. What Set off Four U.S. Soldiers?

Article excerpt

Byline: T. Trent Gegax and John Barry

When 32-year-old Jennifer Wright went missing in late June, her husband, William, told neighbors he knew what had happened: she'd run off with a friend. An Army Special Forces master sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., he'd recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and his marriage was showing signs of strain. William Wright claimed it wasn't the first time Jennifer had up and left, eventually to return. Jennifer Wright's family was skeptical. She was a doting mother, and they didn't believe she'd leave her three sons.

They were right. On July 19 Wright reportedly confessed to strangling Jennifer weeks before. He took police to a wooded area, where he'd allegedly buried her.

The murder was grisly, but in the tight-knit military community in and around Fort Bragg, it is becoming depressingly familiar. Jennifer Wright was just one of four Fort Bragg wives allegedly slain by their soldier husbands in the past six weeks. Inevitably, the murders raised uncomfortable questions about the stress of combat and the possible effects of extreme training. For years advocacy groups have complained that the Pentagon hasn't done enough to help soldiers and their spouses deal with the enormous difficulties of military life--the long separations, fear of death, low pay and infidelities. Whatever the reason, the Army must now face a troublesome fact: a startling number of soldiers lauded as heroes for their service overseas are having a far harder time returning to life at home.

The Bragg slayings are a gruesome case in point. On the night of June 11, two days after returning from Afghanistan, Sgt. 1/C Rigoberto Nieves got into an argument with his wife, Teresa, pulled a .40-caliber pistol, shot her and then turned the gun on himself. On July 9 Sgt. Cedric Ramon Griffin, of the 37th Engineer Battalion, allegedly stabbed his estranged wife, Marilyn, at least 50 times. On July 19 Sgt. 1/C Brandon Floyd, a member of the elite Delta Force who had also served in Afghanistan, fatally shot his wife and then himself.

Statistics show that domestic violence in the military occurs at twice the civilian rate. But the armed forces are overwhelmingly made up of young men, often from unstable, low-income families--the social group most likely to commit violent acts. Among comparable civilians, the rate of domestic abuse is close to that of soldiers. Even so, the number of violent crimes in the ranks is a problem the Army hasn't fully confronted. …