Editor's Note from Brian Ross: In the third year of a joint project with the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation, six leading graduate school journalism students were again selected to spend the summer working with the ABC News investigative unit.
This year's project involved an examination of whether, as happened in the wake of the Vietnam War, Iraqi war veterans were turning to drugs as a result of the trauma and pain of war.
The U.S. military maintains the percentage of soldiers abusing drugs is extremely small and has not increased as a result of Iraq.
The students' assignment was to get the unofficial side of the story from soldiers, young men of their own generation.
Today's report is the fourth in a series of five reports.
Growing numbers of Fort Bragg soldiers are buying illegal drugs, often from crime-ridden neighborhoods located minutes off post, according to soldiers and security guards familiar with the drug scene.
But it's not something Army or civilian officials want to talk about. Base commanders, Army substance abuse counselors and the local police chief all refused repeated interview requests by ABC News to discuss potential drug abuse issues among Fort Bragg soldiers.
Soldiers, however, were much more forthcoming in a series of interviews conducted for our special project.
"There are a lot of spots within a five-mile radius of Fort Bragg where people can get drugs," said an active duty soldier who has served at Fort Bragg for 11 years and spoke on the condition his name not be used for fear he would be punished. "You can get anything you want: opium, hash, crack and cocaine," he said.
Fort Bragg and Fayetteville
Fort Bragg, N.C., is home to the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Operations Command. In all, 48,000 soldiers are stationed there, making it one of the largest military installations in the country.
The base is also a major civilian employer in nearby Fayetteville. Ten thousand Fayetteville residents work at Fort Bragg, and more than two-thirds of Fort Bragg soldiers live off base in the Fayetteville area.
"Fayetteville is Fort Bragg," commented former Fayetteville police detective Hunter Glass. "It is a community built around the military."
Glass said for decades Fayetteville law enforcement agencies have battled the city's active drug scene. Last year, 677 people were arrested in Fayetteville for drug-related crimes, according to police statistics.
"Fayetteville is the halfway point between Miami and New York and is located off major interstate I-95," said Glass, now a consultant to military and government agencies on street gangs in the military. "This places us in a great location for narcotics trafficking and stopping off."
Neighborhoods Near Base Supply Drugs
Police officers and several active duty soldiers told ABC News that certain Fayetteville neighborhoods, including Bonnie Doone, Massey Hill and Murchison Road are popular areas for soldiers to buy drugs.
Local law enforcement officials said Bonnie Doone in particular has a long history of drug activity, crime and prostitution. Bragg Boulevard, a major road leading to the base, cuts through this neighborhood of contrasts. In some parts, homes have neatly cut yards and American flags hanging from their porches. But just blocks away, street lights are scarce, and homes are boarded up.
Sherman Dunaway is a Bonnie Doone resident and supervisor for Safeway Security. Dunaway told ABC News that crack cocaine and marijuana are easily found in the community. Dunaway said he lives near a dope house where soldiers are frequent visitors.
"Most of the traffic I see has military decals on their cars," he said.
Several Fort Bragg soldiers, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that drugs are easily available in Fayetteville. The soldiers attribute substance abuse to the stress that comes from long and multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You feel like you have to take stuff to help you not remember seeing guys blown up or to get through the pain of it all," said a 20-year Fort Bragg soldier who is currently seeking substance abuse treatment off post.
"The military's aware that with war comes stress," said Glass, who has close ties to Fort Bragg. "And so with stress, people begin to do silly things, drugs being one of those," he said.
According to Army statistics, an average of 800 Fort Bragg soldiers a year tested positive for drug use from 2003 to 2006. In 2006, 325 Fort Bragg soldiers were kicked out of the Army for drug use, according to those same statistics.
Wall of Silence
Because of the close ties between Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, however, few were willing to speak openly about soldiers and illegal drug use. Civilians employed by the base told ABC News they felt they would jeopardize their jobs if they said anything about drug use at Fort Bragg. Other residents worried they would be seen as unsupportive of the military.
Fort Bragg officials declined comment on drug abuse issues among soldiers. Officials also refused to provide statistics on the numbers of Fort Bragg soldiers arrested for drug use on and off post.
The chief of the Fayetteville police department also declined to talk on-camera about soldiers and drugs. Off-camera, Chief Tom Bergamine told ABC News that he has seen no indication of drug use among soldiers, although he acknowledged that many neighborhoods close to the base are plagued by drugs. The police department said it does not keep track of the number of soldiers arrested for drug-related crimes in Fayetteville.
Treatment for Substance Abuse
Fort Bragg's WOMACK Army Medical Center does offer programs to help soldiers dealing with substance abuse. The facility serves soldiers and their families in Fayetteville and the surrounding areas. Fort Bragg officials, however, turned down an ABC News request to tour the substance abuse facility at WOMACK and interview counselors there.
A soldier recovering from addiction to prescription drugs, heroin and marijuana who wished to remain anonymous said he goes off post to receive methadone to treat his substance abuse addiction. He said he has turned to civilian counselors because he is afraid of his commanding officer finding out about his drug problem and because methadone treatment is not allowed by the military.
Fayetteville social worker Cynthia Harris, one of few sources in Fayetteville willing to go on the record, said many of her military patients choose to go off post for mental health care because there is more confidentiality.
"I have heard many soldiers say if they admit they have a substance abuse problem, they will lose their security clearance, which means they will lose their jobs," said Harris.
Others in Fayetteville see drug abuse as part of a larger, national problem. Michael Fletcher is pastor of Manna Church, where 70 percent of the congregation's 4,500 members are soldiers, veterans or have civilian jobs at Fort Bragg. He said he is not aware of any substance abuse issues unique to soldiers among those he counsels at his church.
But Fletcher added, "I know of people that have been in the military. They've had substance abuse problems, but...that's like saying they worked for IBM and had substance abuse problems," he said. "I mean it's a problem on high school campuses, college campuses...it's a problem at Fort Bragg."
This post has been updated