Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank (February 7, 2006)

Army Wives Lifetime

Army Wives, a Lifetime television series based on the non-fiction book written by Tanya Biank.

In Their Name:
Colette, Kimberley & Kristen MacDonald, Fort Bragg (Feb. 17, 1970)
Michael James & Jackie Burden, Fayetteville, NC (December 7, 1995)
Captain Frank ‘Marty’ Theer, U.S. Air Force (December 17, 2000)
Lt. Col. Rennie Cory, U.S. Army, Fort Bragg (April 7, 2001)
Pfc. Gary Shane Kalinofski, U.S. Army, Fort Drum (March 4, 2002)
Army Spouse Teresa Nieves, North Carolina (June 11, 2002)
Army Spouse Jennifer Wright, North Carolina (June 29, 2002)
Army Spouse Marilyn Styles-Griffin, North Carolina (July 9, 2002)
Army Spouse & Veteran Andrea Floyd, North Carolina (July 19, 2002)
Major David Shannon, U.S. Army, Fort Bragg (July 23, 2002)
Sgt. Erin Edwards, U.S. Army, Fort Hood (July 22, 2004)
Sgt. Ronna Valentine, U.S. Army, Fort Bragg (May 21, 2005)

Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives or Army Wives by Tanya Biank was an excellent read. I first heard about the book when I was researching the 2002 Fort Bragg murders of Teresa Nieves, Jennifer Wright, Marilyn Griffin, Andrea Floyd and Major David Shannon. I ordered it from Amazon and threw it in a pile with all my other military crime books until I saw a Forbidden: Dying for Love episode about the murder of Army spouse Jennifer Wright. The show didn’t mention it but I knew Jennifer’s murder was one of five homicides at Fort Bragg that occurred within a two month period in 2002. I learned more about Jennifer Wright from Investigation Discovery than what’s available on-line. And at the time, the national media was quick to speculate whether war & violence, frequent deployments or anti-malaria drugs were to blame. But after the Army investigated itself, it determined that the high operational tempo after September 11, 2001 placed a great strain on already troubled marriages.

In other words, some form of domestic abuse, financial issues, and adultery in some cases were to blame for stained marriages. I researched the five murders and the motives were similar in four of the cases. Arguments were a pre-cursor to the murders and three out of four of the spouses wanted to leave the relationship. Was rejection the trigger? Domestic violence experts agree leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time. In Major Shannon’s case, it appears that the motive was greed, pure and simple, as greed is one of the most common motives for female killers. Major Shannon’s wife Joan stood to gain a large amount of money from his Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) if he died. This time the Army was most likely correct but unfortunately things haven’t changed to this day. There have been many more victims of domestic violence in the military since 2002 and this book inspired me to honor each and every one of them.

The author Tanya Biank grew up in a military family and covered military issues at Fort Bragg as a reporter for the Fayetteville Observer. Tanya was able to give us a realistic perspective of what was going on at Fort Bragg during the time period right before and after September 11, 2001. Tanya was the one writing about the rash of homicides for the local newspaper during the summer of 2002. As a result of Tanya’s reporting, the main stream media picked up the story and it went national and international. Fort Bragg was forced to answer to a frenzied pack of media outlets and in typical fashion, the Army investigated itself and found themselves not responsible. Although Tanya reported in the book that Congress authorized $5 million for domestic violence programs in the military that year. And on December 2, 2002, President Bush signed into law an act that makes domestic violence protective orders enforceable on military installations.

Tanya was the perfect person to write about Fort Bragg. She had a great understanding of the various perspectives and this was revealed in the book. She talked about how September 11th changed things for both the service member and the families. I found myself feeling thankful for the education about Fort Bragg’s missions and how they fit into the big picture. They train hard for a reason. They are some of the first on the front lines and some of the families have no idea where they are going or how long they will be gone. Unexpectedly, I experienced a myriad of emotions as I read along. Emotions about 9/11, emotions about what was happening at my own squadron, and emotions around the notifications of death. My Commander and a Chaplain informed me of my father’s unexpected death. And my colleagues helped me get home safely. I realized this was standard protocol while reading this book.

I couldn’t put the book down once I started, despite the emotions and memories it triggered. Tanya Biank did a great job of enticing the reader to learn more about the individual and the family, and just when you least expected, the unexpected would happen. It reminded me of my own life and how hard it was to put mission before self year after year when all one was doing was stuffing down the pain. But like those in the book, we don’t seek counseling because it’s considered a career ender. We don’t trust the system so most of us just keep our troubles to ourselves. And for those who want to maintain a security clearance, we know they are going to ask the question about mental health treatment. I understand why the question has to be asked because it’s important to identify someone with suicidal tendencies or anger problems but it prevents the rest of us from asking for the help we need, until it’s too late.

Tanya talked about the unusually high crime rates in Fayetteville and she said its civilians who commit most of the crime. She admitted Fort Bragg was under the shadow of the the murders of Colette, Kimberley & Kristen MacDonald in 1970 because former Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, despite being found guilty, swears he’s innocent. As recently as December 2018, MacDonald was denied a new trial by a federal appeals court and he continues to be the subject of both media and true crime programming. Tanya also talked about the racially motivated murders of Michael James & Jackie Burden in 1995. Army privates James Burmeister and Malcolm Wright were found guilty of the crime. This too made national news and the Army was forced to weed out any perceived Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and skinheads. The media speculated the Army was full of them; turns out this random attack by Fort Bragg soldiers was an isolated incident.

After researching the five Fort Bragg murders in 2002 on-line, I realized that Tanya’s book was the most comprehensive discussion of the incidents. The book gave us an inside look at the people involved and the way it unfolded real-time. Tanya shared that the military likes to keep their problems under wrap because of the way the media speculates. I can see why they would be annoyed with how scandals are reported. Once the information is out there, it’s hard to fight off the perception. But the bottom line is the acts of a few don’t represent the whole. Unfortunately, I could write book after book about clusters of domestic violence related homicides in the military since 2002. This book made me realize how long the military has known about the problems and that throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix it. We need real solutions that save lives.

Editor’s Note: Tanya Biank’s book Under the Sabers inspired the creation of Army Wives on Lifetime television. After reading the book, I can understand why the series was created in 2007. I included links to the show below if you are interested in watching the series. It was cancelled after seven seasons. 

Related Links:
Tanya Biank (Official Website)
Under the Sabers | Tanya Biank | Macmillan
Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives
Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives
Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives Kindle Edition
Under the Sabers by Tanya Biank (Kirkus Review)
Season 1 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2007)
Season 2 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2008)
Season 3 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2009)
Season 4 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2010)
Season 5 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2011)
Season 6 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2012)
Season 7 | Army Wives | Lifetime Television | Amazon (2013)
‘Army Wives’ Deployed as Lifetime Series
Lifetime embraces ‘Wives’ amid show cuts
A Sneak Peek at “Army Wives”
Home front key to “Army Wives”
‘Army Wives’ Still Holding Down The Fort
Lifetime’s popular ‘Army Wives’ has a local ties
Lifetime Cancels ‘Army Wives’ | The Wrap
‘Army Wives’ cancelled by Lifetime | Entertainment Weekly
‘Army Wives’ canceled by Lifetime; retrospective special planned
Lifetime’s ‘Army Wives’ Cancelled After Seven Seasons, Will Wrap Run With Special
Fort Meade: Military spouse writes book about servicewomen
Army Wive: Where is the Cast Now?
Army Wives | ABC | Season 1-7

Fort Bragg Army Sgt. Ronna Valentine Found Fatally Shot by Army Spouse James Valentine in Murder-Suicide at North Carolina Home (May 21, 2005)

US Army Seal

Army Sgt. Ronna R. Valentine, 28, was found shot to death in her Fayetteville, North Carolina home hours after she returned stateside from Iraq on May 21, 2005. The Fayetteville Police Department said Sgt. Ronna Valentine was shot by her Army spouse, James Valentine, 42, who then turned the gun on himself. Reports indicate police received a call from a man who said he just shot his wife and was about to turn the gun on himself. When officers arrived at the apartment, they found the couple dead inside. Sgt. Ronna Valentine’s home of record was listed as Brandenburg, Kentucky and she was an equipment records and parts specialist for the 327th Signal Battalion of the 35th Signal Brigade at Fort Bragg. Sgt. Ronna Valentine enlisted in the Army in 1997 and deployed to Iraq in November 2004; she was home on leave when the murder-suicide occurred.

Related Links:
Fort Bragg Soldier From Kentucky Killed In Murder-Suicide
Slain Fort Bragg Soldier’s Battalion To Hold Memorial Service
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death and Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)

Marilyn Griffin Found Stabbed to Death in House Fire; Fort Bragg Army Sgt. Cedric Griffin Pleaded Guilty to Murder of Estranged Wife, Sentenced to Life in Prison (July 9, 2002)

Prevent Domestic Violence

In March 2005, Fort Bragg Army Sergeant Cedric Ramon Griffin, 28, pleaded guilty to murdering his wife Marilyn Griffin and setting her home on fire on July 9, 2002 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Sgt. Griffin was charged by the Cumberland County Superior Court with the first-degree murder of his estranged wife Marilyn Griffin, first-degree arson, and the attempted murder of Marilyn’s two daughters. Marilyn died as a result of approximately 50 stab wounds to the chest, neck, back and abdomen; the preliminary autopsy results indicated Marilyn died prior to the fire. Marilyn’s daughters, ages 6 and 2, woke up during the fire, escaped, and went to a neighbor’s house for help. According to law enforcement officials, the motive appeared to be “domestic related” and Sgt. Griffin turned violent after Marilyn threatened to reveal his infidelity to his commander. The couple were married for eight years and Marilyn was murdered two months after she left Sgt. Griffin. She moved into her new home only a week before she died. Sgt. Cedric Griffin faced the death sentence in North Carolina if he was convicted of stabbing his wife to death but according to the Army Wives book, former Army Sgt. Cedric Griffin pleaded guilty to murdering Marilyn Griffin and is serving a life sentence in the Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This domestic violence related homicide was one of five murders that occurred in a six week period at Fort Bragg in 2002. Rigoberto Nieves fatally shot his wife Teresa after an argument on June 11, 2002; William Wright admitted to strangling his wife Jennifer on June 29, 2002; Brandon Floyd fatally shot his wife Andrea on July 19, 2002; and military spouse Joan Shannon manipulated her daughter Elizabeth to shoot her step-father Major David Shannon on July 23, 2002 while he slept.

Related Links:
Preliminary Autopsy: Woman In Trailer Fire Died Of Multiple Stab Wounds
Army sergeant may face death penalty
Wives’ slayings shock Army at Fort Bragg
Series of Slayings Shakes Fort Bragg
Murders shake US military
A Base Rocked by Violence
A War at Home | People
Blood on the Home Front | Time
Death in the Ranks at Fort Bragg
4 Wives Slain in 6 Weeks at Ft. Bragg
Fort Bragg’s Deadly Summer | Vanity Fair (December 2002)
Spate of domestic killings hits U.S. military base
US army stunned by spate of murders at special forces’ base
Rash of Wife Killings at Ft. Bragg Leaves the Base Wondering Why
How GI Heroes Turned Homes into Killing Fields
After Combat Overseas, Many War Veterans Killing Others At Home, Then Themselves
Spouse slayings, suicides raise alarm at Fort Bragg
4 slain wives had tried to leave
4 Army wives who were slain sought divorce
Soldiers kill wives after serving in Afghanistan
Army fights domestic violence in soldiers’ homes at Fort Bragg
Army Wifes’ Slayings Spurs Review
Army re-evaluating counseling program after four wives killed
Army Behavior Experts to Probe Fort Bragg Killings
Army base to take a look at its counseling program
Third Bragg soldier took malaria drug
Deaths highlight military problem
Army: Drug Not Tied to Base Slayings
Army – No link between killings, anti-malaria drug
War Torn | Part 1 | The New York Times (January 12, 2008)
Death on the Home Front (2009)
A Decade after Murder-Suicides, D-Day for “the Agent Orange of our Generation”
Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage (Book)
30 Domestic Abuse Cases in the Military That Ended in the Murder of Female Partners (2017)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death and Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)

Fort Drum Army Pfc. Gary Kalinofski Died of a Non-Hostile Gunshot Wound at Camp Magrath While on a Peacekeeping Mission in Kosovo (March 4, 2002)

US Army Seal

Army Pfc. Gary S. Kalinofski, 21, died of a gunshot wound at Camp Magrath near Pristina, Kosovo on March 4, 2002. The military casualty announcement confirmed the gunshot wound was not a result of engagement with hostile forces. Pfc. Kalinofski’s home of record was listed as Fayetteville, North Carolina. Pfc. Kalinofski served in Kosovo since November 2001 in a peacekeeping mission role on behalf of A Company, Task Force 1-32nd Infantry Regiment at Fort Drum, New York. According to the book Army Wives by Tanya Biank, the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) ruled that Pfc. Gary Kalinofski died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Gary was survived by his parents; his dad also served in the Army and was in Kosovo at the time Gary took his own life. The Army Wives author shared that Gary’s parents were interviewed by Army CID but they didn’t have any insight or knowledge to help Army CID understand why Gary chose to die by suicide.

Editor’s Note: There was no Department of Defense press release for the announcement of the death of Army casualty Pfc. Gary S. Kalinofski in Kosovo.

Related Links:
U.S. Soldier Shot In Kosovo
U.S. peacekeeper diesfrom gunshot wound
U.S. Peacekeeper Dies in Kosovo
U.S. soldier dies of wounds in Kosovo
KFOR unveils memorial to those who died serving as Kosovo peacekeepers

Army SSG John Diamond Convicted of Murder of Air Force Capt. Frank Theer; Military Court Sentenced to Life in Prison, No Parole (August 28, 2001)

Michele Theer photo

John Diamond, US Army

Army SSG John Diamond, 28, was accused of fatally shooting Air Force Capt. Frank ‘Marty’ Theer in Fayetteville, North Carolina on December 17, 2000. Capt. Theer and his wife Michelle were on their way to a Christmas party when Michelle claimed she needed to stop at her place of employment. After waiting for awhile, Capt. Theer exited his vehicle to check on Michelle. As he ascended the stairs at the office building, he was shot multiple times and died at the scene. The Fayetteville Police Department launched a homicide investigation and would learn that Michelle Theer was having an affair a married Fort Bragg Army Ranger named John Diamond. It was later theorized that psychologist and Air Force Reservist Michelle Theer was the mastermind behind the murder of her husband. She was accused of setting Capt. Theer up when she lured him to her office; she was also accused of manipulating SSG Diamond to commit the murder. The prosecutor’s theorized the motive for the homicide of Capt. Theer was the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance money.

During the investigation, the police got a tip that a gun matching the murder weapon was in the custody of SSG Diamond which connected him to the crime. Conveniently, SSG Diamond admitted to having a gun that fit the description of the one used in the murder but he claimed his vehicle had been broken into and the gun was stolen. SSG Diamond was arrested by the US Army for having an unregistered weapon on a federal installation while they investigated his role in the murder. They would learn that despite his marriage status, he was in love with Michelle Theer and would do anything for her. The military courts charged SSG Diamond with first degree murder and on August 28, 2001, a six-member military panel at Fort Bragg found him guilty; Staff Sgt. John Diamond was sentenced to life in federal prison. Michelle Theer disappeared by the time the civilian authorities caught up with her but she was eventually located in Florida living under an assumed identity. Michelle Theer was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder on December 3, 2004 and sentenced to life in prison, no parole.

Investigation Discovery:

In 2000, Michelle Theer was an Air Force wife in the military town of Fayetteville until a fatal shooting made her a widow. The investigation into her husband’s death led police to the door of an Army Ranger – taking orders from very unlikely accomplices. -Fayetteville, Sins and Secrets (S2,E3)

Sexy psychologist and doting Air Force wife Michelle begins a swinging affair with Army Sgt. Diamond while her husband, Captain Marty Theer, is away. But all’s fair in love and war, and Marty’s return will remind them that love is a battlefield. -Sergeant Swinger, Scorned: Love Kills (S4,E1)

Oxygen:

A frantic, distraught woman runs into a video rental store screaming that her husband has been shot. -Michelle Theer & John Diamond, Killer Couples

Killer Couples: S8 E5 Preview – Michelle Theer and John Diamond | Oxygen

Killer Couples: S8 E5 After the Verdict – Michelle Theer and John Diamond | Oxygen

Psychologist Debbie Layton-Tholl talks about her experience meeting with Michelle Theer. -Michelle Theer & John Diamond, Killer Couples

A lonely military wife and psychologist go searching for sex on the Internet with deadly results. -Michelle Theer & John Diamond, Killer Couples (S8,E5)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $3.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict. Download the ID Go app or purchase ID True Crime Files & binge away.

Related Links:
Website: Free John Diamond
Staff Sgt. John Diamond | The JAG Hunter
Wife of Slain Soldier Charged with Murder
Makeover Madness | People Magazine Investigates
Conviction of pilot’s wife in killing upheld
United States v. Staff Sergeant John M. Diamond (2007)
Investigator: Did Michelle manipulate for murder?
Witness: Did Michelle manipulate for murder?
John Diamond vs United States of America (2010)
Convicted killer wants prison to stop censoring his racy letters
Sinclair Takes His Legal Battle Online
Michelle Theer case featured on ‘Killer Couples’
Psychologist Michelle Theer, Her Internet Affair With John Diamond, and the Murder of Air Force Captain Marty Theer
On the Firing Line | Military Corruption
Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage | Tanya Biank
Cyber Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Defense | Robert Shimonski
Murder Along the Cape Fear: A North Carolina Town in the Twentieth Century | David Morgan
The Officer’s Wife: A True Story of Unspeakable Betrayal and Cold-Blooded Murder | Michael Fleeman
Fayetteville | Sins and Secrets | Investigation Discovery (S2,E3)
Fayetteville | Sins and Secrets | Investigation Discovery (website)
Fayetteville | Sins and Secrets | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
Sergeant Swinger | Scorned: Love Kills | Investigation Discovery (S4,E1)
Sergeant Swinger | Scorned: Love Kills | Investigation Discovery (website)
Sergeant Swinger | Scorned: Love Kills | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
Killer Couples: S8 E5 Sneak Peek – My Husband Has Been Shot! | Oxygen
Killer Couples: S8 E5 Preview – Michelle Theer and John Diamond | Oxygen
Killer Couples: S8 E5 After the Verdict – Michelle Theer and John Diamond | Oxygen
Killer Couples: S8 E5 Bonus Clip – Michelle Was Villified by the Media | Oxygen
Michelle Theer & John Diamond | Killer Couples | Oxygen (S8,E5)
Michelle Theer & John Diamond | Killer Couples | Oxygen (Amazon)
Air Force Capt. Frank Theer Murdered by Unidentified Gunman; Wife Michelle & Army SSG John Diamond Sentenced to Life in Prison (December 17, 2000)
Former Air Force Reservist Michelle Theer Convicted of Murder of Husband Frank Theer; Sentenced to Life in Prison, No Parole (December 3, 2004)
Sins and Secrets Premiered ‘Fayetteville’ on Investigation Discovery: Michelle Theer & John Diamond Left a Permanent Mark on Community (January 26, 2012)
Scorned, Love Kills Premiered ‘Sergeant Swinger’ on ID: Air Force Captain’s Murder Reveals Wife’s Evil Intent, Adultery & Greed (October 4, 2014)
Killer Couples Premiered ‘Michelle Theer & John Diamond’ on Oxygen: Affair Leads to Murder of Air Force Capt. Marty Theer (September 3, 2016)
Scorned, Love Kills: 6 Active Duty Military Homicide Cases Featured on Investigation Discovery