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Padre
06-13-2010, 13:56
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Fort Bragg’s commander has barred the wife of an 82nd Airborne Division combat officer from most involvement on the home front after a report said she’s been undercutting morale.
The decision by Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick comes after an investigation found Col. Brian Drinkwine’s wife, Leslie Drinkwine, harassed soldiers and their families, The Fayetteville Observer reported Friday.
Drinkwine leads 3,500 men in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, which has been in Afghanistan since August.
Leslie Drinkwine had been a leader of the unit’s family support group, but investigators said her flare-ups with other spouses has been demoralizing. The colonel has said his wife speaks for him.
“It was just a dysfunctional situation,” Helmick said. “That is not a good thing to have when you have soldiers deployed fighting.”
A follow-up investigation has reached the highest levels of Army leadership in Afghanistan to find out whether disputes between Drinkwine’s wife and spouses of the colonel’s subordinates damaged military careers.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, referred a recommendation from Helmick for further investigation to Lt. Gen. William Webster, who is in charge of Army forces in the Middle East, a McChrystal spokesman said.
Brian Drinkwine denied unfair treatment of junior officers after their wives clashed.
Both he and Leslie Drinkwine declined comment to the newspaper, which obtained a copy of Helmick’s investigative file through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The probe into the war of words among military wives found that problems in the 4th Brigade’s Family Readiness Group date back to October 2008.
That’s when Leslie Drinkwine confronted the spouses of some of her husband’s subordinates at the 82nd Airborne Division’s annual silent auction and accused them of disloyalty, the report said.
The next day, she sent an e-mail to several support group leaders, both officers’ wives and paid staff members, characterizing her dispute with other women at the auction as “an ambush from hidden domestic insurgents.”
Leslie Drinkwine, who teaches marketing courses at Campbell University, told investigator Col. Chris Spillman she regretted the remark.
Not long afterward, Leslie Drinkwine visited the wife of Lt. Col. Mike Wawrzyniak while her husband was at work and Brian Drinkwine sat outside in his car.
Leslie Drinkwine yelled at Pam Wawrzyniak for about half an hour, reducing her to tears, the report says. Eventually, the colonel came into the house, tried unsuccessfully to calm his wife, and they left, Pam Wawrzyniak told the investigator.
The support group’s top paid staff member resigned in December 2008, citing a hostile work environment that made it impossible for her to do her job.
One former battalion commander, two current battalion commanders and the brigade’s rear commander said Leslie Drinkwine told them “that either their careers, or the careers of others, could be adversely impacted by her.”
In March 2009, before the brigade deployed, all six battalion commanders serving under Brian Drinkwine’s command went to his office together to talk to him about his wife. Brian Drinkwine dismissed their complaints and told them that the relationship between his wife and their wives was a senior-to-subordinate relationship. Drinkwine repeated that his wife speaks for him.
“Although he made the statement within the context of FRG-related business, this and [Leslie Drinkwine’s] repeated reiteration of this statement to commanders and spouses clearly contributed to the perception that, by extension as the brigade commander’s wife and within the context of FRG activities, she held a level of authority that resembled command authority,” Spillman wrote in his report.
One of Drinkwine’s battalion commanders, Lt. Col. Frank Jenio, said Leslie Drinkwine threatened to have him fired during a heated phone conversation last year.
Jenio, who was in charge of 800 troops operating just outside Kandahar, said the need to deal with challenges involving the unit’s family support group nearly every other day took away time he could have been using to focus on the war.
Spillman recommended that Brian Drinkwine be required to inform each of his battalion commanders in writing that his wife does not speak for him concerning the 4th Brigade or the support group.