Violence Against Women on Military Bases Challenged

by Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Report

"In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation" - The Fayetteville Observer

The October 14, 2008 editorial in the Fayetteville, NC Observer "Our View: Military Domestic Violence Needs More Aggressive Prevention," focused on the murder of four military women in North Carolina and contained a startling comment: "In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation." The Observer is the newspaper that serves Fort Bragg, one of the military's largest bases.

The editorial was in response to the vigil held on October 8 at the gates of Fort Bragg to commemorate the murder of four US military women in North Carolina in the past nine months, and to call for action to prevent more murders by members of the US military.

In a nine-month period from December 2007 to September 2008, four US military women were killed by military men near the Army's Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps's Camp Lejeune, two military mega-bases in North Carolina.

Three of the women were in the Army. The latest murder victim was 29-year-old US Army Sgt. Christina Smith, who was killed September 30, 2008. Her husband, Fort Bragg Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. Also arrested was 18-year-old Mathew Kvapil, a private first class at Fort Bragg.

Spc. Megan Touma was seven months pregnant when her body was found inside a Fayetteville hotel room on June 21, 2008. A married male soldier, whom she knew in Germany, has been arrested.

The estranged Marine husband of Army Second Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, has been arrested for her death and the burning of her body.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007, and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter.

In 2002, four military spouses were murdered at Fort Bragg by their Special Forces husbands after they returned from Afghanistan. The Observer editorial was remarkable in its clarity on the causes and connections of domestic and state-sponsored violence:

"It's an old argument. We train men, and now women, to wage war, then we are baffled when they do that to each other. It is driven in times of war by a national culture that can extol violence, conflating it with patriotism. And don't overlook the general population raised on a steady diet of malevolence disguised as entertainment. In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation. We are certain, nevertheless, that the demonstrators (at the gates of Fort Bragg) were on to something that we as a community need to address. This may become an epidemic that threatens us all. It is a problem we, as a community, military and civilian, can't ignore. It is also a problem that we have not, so far, effectively solved."

On the morning of the commemoration, the father of Second Lt. Holley (James) Wimunc sent a message to the Quaker House, one of the sponsors of the October 8 vigil. Mr. James thanked the individuals and organizations for the tribute to Holley and the other murdered women, and wrote, "There will be no end to our grief. They say time heals, it hasn't started to heal for us. We visit the cemetery and mourn daily for Holley and anguish over the senseless way in which she was taken from us. Holley's children Tre and Kendell, 7 and 3 years old, respectively, will never really know their mom. Years from now, they will spend time looking through the things we've saved from their mother's life and wonder 'what might have been.' We appreciate that you offer hope and help to others. It is our wish and prayer that not another family will have to go through this."

Another survivor of military domestic violence joined the vigil. Christine Horne flew from Coconut Grove, Florida, to commemorate the deaths of four military women and to mourn her own mother's death. Thirty-four years ago in 1974, when she was 9-years-old and her brother was 5, their Special Forces father murdered their mother in their home just off Fort Bragg by stabbing her over 50 times. In a military court martial, her father received a life sentence for the murder, but was released after 12 years in prison.

The Observer editorial acknowledged, "The Army has made a good-faith effort to provide programs and services to prevent domestic violence and save lives. But it's not enough. The effort must be redoubled, the violence studied more carefully, and the intervention waged even more aggressively ... the recent spate of murders underscores the fact that domestic violence remains a significant problem here. Whatever preventive action is being taken at Fort Bragg, it isn't enough."

Because the preventive action being taken by the military is not enough, 40 women and men from around North Carolina and the nation stood at the Fort Bragg entrance gate to commemorate the deaths and call for action to prevent any others. We were greeted by many honks of agreement from cars going onto the base and several military spouses came out to join us. Sadly, no one from military command authority nor from the prevention of domestic violence offices at Fort Bragg made the effort to come to the gates to talk about ending the epidemic of violence.

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserves colonel with 29 years of military service. She also was a US diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. She resigned from the US diplomatic corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Bush administration's decision to invade and occupy Iraq. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience," profiles of government insiders who have spoken and acted on their concerns of their governments' policies.

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