Local News

Gates: Military working to combat domestic violence

Posted October 23, 2008 12:49 p.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2008 7:56 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. military is working to combat domestic violence in its ranks, but the effort will take time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

During a visit to Fort Bragg, Gates was asked about the recent slayings of three female Fort Bragg soldiers. The suspects in two of the crimes were also Fort Bragg soldiers, while the suspect in the third is a Camp Lejeune Marine.

In all three cases, the men were married to or in a romantic relationship with the victims.

"We obviously want to stop all kinds of violence among soldiers and their families," Gates said. "We are taking it very seriously."

The military has committed $900 million this year to identify and treat post-traumatic stress among servicemen and women, and the Army has begun a training program to help people recognize the symptoms of stress that could erupt into violence.

"One of the things were trying to do is remove the stigma of seeking help," he said. "We have a strong culture, so it will take some time."

Gates said morale among troops is "sky high," and he thanked military families and communities like Fayetteville for their support.

"The best part of my day was I met some incredible soldiers," he said, noting he hadn't been to Fort Bragg since he's headed up the Department of Defense. "These people are at the forefront of protecting our country."

Expanding the ranks of the Army and Marine Corps by a combined 92,000 people will help reduce the length and number of deployments troops have had to endure in recent years, he said.

"Our families have not had to deal with this nor have our soldiers – this kind of extended rotations and deployments – since World War II," he said. "Relief is in sight, but it's not here yet."

Earlier Thursday, Gates watched soldiers training on high-tech battle simulators and attended a ceremony in which 41 members of the U.S. armed forces became citizens of the country they already serve.

He praised the new citizens, saying being a true American has nothing to do with being born in the U.S.

"This nation that welcomes you with warmth and with pride is very much in your debt because you have shown your love for this country in the most honorable way possible," he said.

Army Spc. Victor Weber, a native of Brazil, said he has worked a long time to achieve his goal of becoming a U.S. citizen.

"Ever since I arrived in the United States, everyone has treated me great," Weber said. "(There are) great opportunities here. I just wanted to give something back to the country that has taken (to) me so well."

Nearly 43,000 military members have become U.S. citizens since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Gates said. More than 100 of them have died in combat, he said.