Soldier’s family seeks answers

Courtesy photo Army National Guard Sergeant Benjamin Griego was found dead in his quarters July 13 at White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

As Benjamin Griego’s family braces themselves for their first Christmas without him, they are filled with unanswered questions and frustration about his death.

The Army National Guard sergeant and Clovis native was found dead in his quarters July 13 at White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo where he worked as an instructor in a combat preparation course.

Family members said Army officials told them the 26-year-old hanged himself in the early morning hours while his roommate slept in a nearby room.

The death remains under investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and neither an official death certificate nor cause and manner of death have been released.

“There is no criminal component that’s being investigated,” National Guard spokesman Maj. Ken Nava said. “He was a fine soldier and it’s a very unfortunate situation.”

But Griego’s family isn’t convinced the death was a suicide and they want to know what the Army is investigating.

They are frustrated by the lack of answers regarding Griego’s death and the minimal communication they have received from the Army, Griego’s widow, Monica Griego said, and have begun their own investigation into the young father’s death.

“This is my husband’s life. We’ve been writing letters and keeping up with everything and just try to make things as normal as possible for my daughter,” Monica Griego said. “It’s almost like staying in the same place and not moving anywhere.”

Army and National Guard officials said the investigation is a formality.

“U.S. Army CID investigates all not-combat deaths of soldiers to determine exactly what transpired. We investigate all deaths and felony-level crime. That is not to say that a crime has necessarily been committed,” Chief of Public Affairs for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command Chris Grey said.

Benjamin Griego wasn’t depressed, his family said. To the contrary, he was happy and looking to the future. He had plans to buy a new house for his family, was financially stable and was making plans to go fishing with his father after the weekend he died. He had even ordered a pay-per-view boxing match for the next night, his parents said.

“Everything was right with him; spiritually, physically, mentally — everything was good with him,” his mother Judy Griego said. “I spoke to this child six to eight times a day, we had such a tight bond with each other. There was absolutely no depression there.”

What Griego did communicate to his parents was he was having trouble with some members of his unit. He told his mother he had been attacked by members in his unit three times in the weeks leading up to his death and he had a black eye the day before he died.

He was frustrated, tired of the assaults, and was resisting the urge to fight back, his father Jeronimo Griego said.

Around a month before his death, Griego gave a speech to his unit on integrity as punishment for failing to show up for duty. The speech was recorded by unit members and later given to the family.

Family members have spent hours reviewing the DVD recording in which members of the unit called Griego derogatory names in Spanish, evidence of a history of being hazed and targeted by coworkers, Monica Griego said.

Grey, citing an ongoing investigation, would not comment on whether the Army is reviewing the DVD or if Griego ever reported the conflicts to authorities.

Judy Griego said they want the Army to investigate the things the family has discovered and find out what happened to her son.

“We want them to clear his name. He did not commit suicide, we know that. We want to clear his name. Not only is that important to his name and to us, its important to his daughter,” she said.

“We don’t want her growing up thinking that he did this to himself.”