The Army Town
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The trauma that sometimes comes with military life takes other forms, too.
As Mary Hartnett reported in a North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC newscast, "Children who live near North Carolina's largest military bases are twice as likely to be murdered by their parents than those who live in other parts of the state. That's according to a new report released this morning by the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute. Those counties include Onslow and Cumberland, home to Fort Bragg and Camp LeJeune."
Sonny Jones of the Fayetteville Online Newsminute reported, "The number of children abused or neglected in Cumberland County rose last fiscal year. … Abuse or neglect was substantiated in cases involving about 2,100 children."
To some in Fayetteville, these recent reports on child abuse felt like piling on. Already, the city faced constant questions about domestic homicides involving Fort Bragg soldiers. In one six-week spate in the summer of 2002, four military wives were murdered, all allegedly by their soldier husbands just back from Afghanistan. Two of the four soldiers also killed themselves.
Military families are often at high risk for spouse and child abuse even before you add stressful deployments to war zones, says Pam McEvoy of the Child Advocacy Center of Fayetteville.
"We have parents that are very young, we have parents that don't have the support system of a family or someone to help them when things get stressful," says McEvoy.
She praises Fort Bragg's leaders for facing the problems head-on. Garrison Commander Al Aycock says the Army already had an array of counseling programs before the spate of domestic killings, but not enough soldiers and their families were using them.
"What we found was there were people that were unaware of some of the programs that were available," says Aycock. "When in fact, we had chaplains, we had Army Community Service, we had Army OneSource. … We have done a campaign to try to make sure people are aware of those. We've sent speakers out to Family Readiness Groups."
Aycock says the Army also got better at packaging the help that it offers its people. For example, by changing the name of a counseling group for soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress.
"Well, when you call it the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome group, how many people are going to volunteer to do that? So we did a simple thing: we changed the name to Soldiers Helping Soldiers," says Aycock. "And we all of a sudden had a huge increase in the number of soldiers who came to that particular group. … We used to have a smaller program that was called Boot Camp for Daddies. It was trying to teach a father how to take care of his child. Well, if you think about it, soldiers don't have a real attractive view of their boot camp. So we changed the name to, you know, Babies 101 for Dads, and then we had an increase in the number of people who came to that."
Getting good attendance at the dads' class could save lives. McEvoy of the Child Advocacy Center says Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities have higher than average rates of shaken baby syndrome.
McEvoy explains, "Babies that are shaken or thrown against the wall or on the floor of that type of thing. And a lot of people just don't know not to shake the baby."
Continue to part 5