ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 13, 2009) -- Courted and captivated, a young Cecil County girl, caught up in a whirlwind relationship, married an Army Soldier who seemed to be everything she wanted. Not all Soldiers, however, embrace the Army values, and before long, a fairy-tale existence gave way to a brutal reality.
Her name is Amanda and this is her story.
Amanda's father was a career Army officer. She grew up a typical 'Army brat' moving from installation to installation throughout the United States and Germany.
Amanda said the transitory lifestyle made it difficult to develop strong relationships or emotional attachments to people or places. Although she adjusted to the lifestyle, in retrospect, she said it inhibited her in ways she didn't realize until later.
"The installations where we lived seemed to be designed to promote conformity and a strict adherence to military values," Amanda said. "Personal privacy seemed to be a foreign concept.
"My home life was characterized by a strong patriarchal authority, and frequent absences of my father. I eventually came to perceive these traits as normal," she said.
When she was 15 years old, Amanda's family moved from Germany to Cecil County. For the first time in her life, she was exposed to a lifestyle not under the shadow of the military. The transition was not easy.
"I was having difficulty adjusting to civilian culture after having spent my childhood living on or around military installations," Amanda said. "I struggled to connect with my non-military peers. After graduation, and a time of uncertainty and confusion, I met a guy who I thought would be my knight in shining armor. I will refer to him as DV."
Amanda said the relationship moved swiftly. The young man overwhelmed her with declarations of love and his desire to spend the rest of his life with her. He wanted to get married and raise a family right away, she said.
"The only problem was that he had recently enlisted in the military and was scheduled to move out within a few months," she said. "He insisted upon us getting married before he flew to Germany. We had only been dating for three months but I didn't want to let him down by saying no. I also felt a strong connection to life in the military, despite the frequent moves and threats of loss in times of war."
Amanda agreed to DV's proposal and the couple married in the summer of 2005. She became pregnant soon after but lost the baby in her second trimester.
"I was absolutely devastated by the loss. I was neither physically nor emotionally prepared to try for another child but DV insisted we try again right away. I gave birth to our son less than a year later," she said.
Amanda became a young wife and mother living far from home under a military system that she had only experienced as a "military brat." This new perspective stunned her. Her parental responsibilities and her inability to make friends led to feelings of isolation.
Insistent that she not socialize with other wives, her husband began spending less time with his family and more time with his friends. Soon, a darker side of him began emerging, starting with verbal abuse that eventually escalated.
"Within the first few months, I realized that DV was far from the knight in shining armor I believed him to be," Amanda said. "Along with isolation from family and friends, I experienced threats, intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, destruction of property, coercion and harassment. His behavior became unpredictable and dangerous. Over time I started to think I was the problem, and I consciously tried to change my behavior so as not to upset him."
Amanda kept quiet for the sake of her son and enjoyed a short reprieve when DV deployed to Afghanistan with his military police unit. When he returned, however, he picked up where he'd left off.
"His abusive behavior got worse when he came back from Afghanistan," she said. "The physical abuse resumed to the point where I felt I was not in a marriage but on a roller coaster from hell. He spent the bulk of his paychecks on video games and alcohol which left little to no food for me and my son."
DV's most severe attack on Amanda occurred in the summer of 2007 while they still were in Germany. During a heated argument, she sensed his anger approaching a dangerous level and she tried to leave their military housing apartment.
"I could feel the tension building. I instinctively knew that I had to remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible. This only made him angrier. He grabbed me by my arm, threw me against the wall and started choking me," she said.
Amanda was left with multiple bruises and abrasions and badly shaken by the attack. DV left and Amanda called a friend to come get her and her son. Hours later, she contacted DV's first sergeant. She then began receiving conflicting reports from other sources as to her husband's whereabouts.
The first sergeant said he'd call her back but never did. The military police then showed up at the door, took her statement and photographed her bruises. Amanda went to the emergency room to be examined and before she left there, she learned that DV had been apprehended and then released after a couple of hours. Amanda said that was all the disciplinary action he received. Because DV was assigned to the same MP unit that picked him up, Amanda suspects preferential treatment.
"That was his only punishment for this behavior," she said. "Due to concerns for our physical safety, the military police quickly arranged for my son and I to return to the states. This was the last time they advocated on my behalf. I've spent the last two years fighting not only for full custody of my son but for the military to hold DV accountable for his acts of violence. The abuse I suffered at his hands would be a felony under civilian law."
Amanda eventually returned to Cecil County with her son and has since been awarded full custody. She still is seeking to have charges brought against DV "on principle" and because she wants his actions on record should he show back up in her life again. DV is still on active duty, currently serving with his unit in Iraq.
"I am struggling to raise my son with absolutely no physical, emotional or financial support from his father. My heart breaks every time he cries out for his daddy. DV has moved on with his life as if nothing occurred. My life and my son's life, however, are forever altered. Because of this, I feel like it is my duty to speak out on behalf of myself, my son, and all other victims of domestic violence," Amanda said.
She has found assistance through the Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program.
"Amanda's experience is a clear example of the dynamics involved in domestic violence situations," said Aida Rivera, ACS Family Advocacy Program manager. "Abusers charm victims, their Families and the system into a false sense of security. They target victims' insecurities, they say the right things, they isolate them and then they strike. Most of the time these abusers are good Soldiers, but behind closed doors it's a totally different story."
Rivera said that the Department of Defense has a strict policy on domestic violence: Zero Tolerance. She said that they have established guidelines for the implementation of a victim advocacy component designed to advocate on behalf of victims of domestic abuse. Advocacy services include safety planning, command, legal and court advocacy, emergency shelter placement, options counseling, information and referral, and other services as needed.
"Victims have rights," she said. "They first and foremost have the right to live free from harm and the threat of harm. Victim advocates are there to ensure these rights are observed and that command is on board to assist at victims' requests where needed."
It takes time for victims of abuse to step out and seek help. This is mainly due to the psychological aspects of the abuse and the fact that despite the battering, they love and need to believe in their abusers, Rivera said.
"No one goes into a relationship or marriage expecting their home, the place where they are supposed to feel the safest, to be a battle zone." "When it becomes that, victims need to know that they are not alone.
"If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, help is available," Rivera said. "Contact the ACS Family Advocacy Program at 410-278-7478/2435, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE."