FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The killings of four soldiers' wives at Fort Bragg in just six weeks have forced the Army to take a hard look at the culture of its elite soldiers that considers revealing any hint of domestic problems to be a sign of weakness.
In each case, the husband was the suspect and there was marital discord. Three of the men, including two who took their own lives, had returned from Afghanistan as part of the Special Forces.
One Special Forces veteran fears there will always be a potential for domestic violence among special operations soldiers because the unwillingness to seek help is deeply ingrained.
Special operations soldiers "aren't allowed to have problems. You take care of it yourself," says Eric Haney, 50, an early member of the ultra-secret Delta Force who recently wrote a book about life inside the anti-terrorism unit.
The Defense Department has sent a 16-member team to Fort Bragg to examine "a broad array of behavioral health-related issues that could have led to the slayings." The Pentagon also announced this past week that soldiers in Afghanistan would undergo mental screening before returning home.
Speculation about the causes of the killings has run the gamut from the stress of combat to psychotic side-effects from the anti-malaria drug Lariam, which is given to soldiers in Afghanistan.
But not all of the soldiers involved in the killings at Fort Bragg saw combat, and thousands of other soldiers at other bases have taken Lariam and not killed their wives.
Studies of the violence rate in military families are inconclusive. Some put the rate at two to five times that of the civilian population, while others found the two rates closer to equal when the racial and age makeup of military families is considered.
Fort Bragg's killings began June 11, when a Special Forces soldier shot his wife and then himself two days after he returned from Afghanistan. Later that month, police allege, another Special Forces soldier killed his wife; weeks later, he led authorities to her body.
On July 19, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd, reportedly a member of Delta Force, shot his wife Andrea and then himself. A fourth soldier, a member of the 18th Airborne Corps who had not been to Afghanistan, is charged with stabbing his wife to death in July.
What is most disturbing to Crystal Black, a Cumberland County counselor who holds weekly meetings at the base, is that none of the families was even on her radar screen. None had any reported history of domestic turmoil.
"We need to come up with some kind of program or something to get rid of the myth" that soldiers don't need help like other people, Black says.
Andrea Floyd's mother, Penny Flitcraft, says she's not surprised that domestic problems are kept hushed up.
"These are superhumans, you have to remember," she says. "They don't have to have help — supposedly."
Flitcraft, who is now caring for her three orphaned grandchildren at Alliance, Ohio, says it's "like an unspoken rule that you do not exhibit any inability to be in control of every aspect of your life."
She feels equally sad for her son-in-law. "He was overtrained and underhelped," she said through sobs.
One soldier's wife, Janice Burton, says she's tired of seeing the Special Forces beaten up in public. She wishes people could see the men who came to her family's aid when her husband, Staff Sgt. John Burton, was injured in a motorcycle wreck last summer.
"His room was filled every day to overflow with people coming to check on him, to see if he's OK," she says. "I went home to take a shower one day, and there were a bunch of guys mowing my yard, cutting my bushes and cleaning my gutters.
"They take care of their soldiers. They take care of their family."
That may be part of the problem, says Black.
"They're very good at taking care of the problems and helping out families," says Black. "But there are some problems that they may not have the training to know that they need to be handled by somebody else."
The team sent to investigate the problem at Bragg may offer some recommendations, but Haney, the 20-year veteran, says it's all just window-dressing if some fundamental changes aren't made.
"I don't believe they're going to do a blessed thing other than go through the motions," he says.
"They'll go overboard with it for six months, and there'll be mandatory classes for every returning special operations soldier on not killing your wife.
"I mean, it's just the military way of doing things."