In The News
Mount Rainier Tragic Murder Highlights Military’s Dirty Little Secret
Now that thousands of service members are coming home from Iraq, the joy of their homecoming and the media reports celebrating the end of the war often overshadow the lingering impact of combat stress and the military’s dirty little secret.
That is, until tragedy strikes. Like it did earlier this week when Benjamin Barnes, a 24-year old Iraq war veteran allegedly killed Margaret Anderson, a 34-year old Mount Rainier national park ranger, mother of two-young children and wife of another park ranger, on New Year’s Day. On January 3 they identified his dead body found face down in the snow in a remote area of the park.
Barnes had served in the Iraq war in 2007 and 2008 and according to news reports Barnes' former girlfriend and mother of his child reported in an affidavit filed in a custody dispute earlier this year that he has serious mental health issues and possible post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his combat service in Iraq. She also said Barnes was suicidal, easily irritated, angry, and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home.
Barnes is just further proof that service men and women who return from their military tours have been in violent, life-threatening situations and have seen things we can’t imagine. These experiences often leave emotional scars, and unfortunately, women have paid the highest price.
In fact, evidence shows that violence against women is a pervasive problem in the military. It’s the thing about our service members that people don’t want to talk about. But the issue came into the blaring light in the summer of 2002 when four military wives were murdered, allegedly by their husbands or exes, within a six-week period at Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base. In that summer, it was statistically more dangerous to be an army wife than a Fort Bragg soldier.
What’s more the rate of domestic violence in the military is two to five times higher than in the civilian population. The military euphemistically calls it the "spousal aggression" issue, but we know what it is: domestic violence. It’s ugly and unacceptable. And it’s a big problem for military wives and girlfriends.
When I was traveling the country interviewing military wives for my book, The Mocha Manual to a Military Life--A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends and Female Servicemembers (Amistad/HarperCollins), I was struck by how much domestic violence occurs among military couples and how many wives did not report the abuse for fear of retribution or because they believed the military would do little to nothing about it.
There’s a saying among military circles that, “if the military wanted you have a spouse, they would have issued you one.” That expression echoes the underlying sentiment that the military is there to protect the service member, not necessarily the spouse.
A military wife interviewed in my book, shared this gripping experience: “Every day he came home from work, he was agitated about something but he never said what it was. He complained about the meals, the house not being clean enough, my clothes not fitting well, the kids being too noisy. It went on and on, with him calling me names, yelling in my face and constantly putting me down. One night he threw an entire meal on the floor and told me I had better clean it up and make another meal in exactly one hour… When I pretended to be asleep for fear of his finding an excuse to start up again, he’d roll me over and do whatever he wanted, and fall asleep.”
In my travels and interviews, we heard of some military supervisors who, when they first began to see a family breaking up, they make sure the spouse is immediately cut off from important services, like access to legal and financial support in order to protect the interests of the service member.
While we welcome troops home, let’s not forget their families or leave them alone to deal with their emotional scars.
If you are a military wife dealing with domestic violence, The Department of Defense has established the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) to specifically address violence in military families. You can access it through the Family Readinesss Center for Family Support Center (FSC). You can also call Military OneSource in confidence at 1-800-342-9647 (www.militaryonesource.com) to locate a victim advocate in your area. Or call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Get more resources, tips and personal stories in chapter eleven of The Mocha Manual to Military Life.