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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Robert Bales: How The U.S. Military Lost Him (PTSD, Brain Injury, 4 Deployments)

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Staff Sgt Robert Bales Enlisted in the U.S. Army out of Patriotism soon after the 9-11 Attack on the World Trade Center. After 4 Deployments & a Brain Injury he's now being treated like Trash.


Staff Sergeant Robert Bales began a series of journeys a decade ago, by plane and car and Humvee and on foot. He started out and has ended up, at least for now, in the Midwest: he is from Ohio, and, on Friday, was flown to Kansas, to the prison at Fort Leavenworth.

Bales had gone to Iraq three times; in 2007, in Najaf, in the middle of a battle, his unit was sent to protect a helicopter that had crashed down: “It was like a match lit up. It looked like a toy with a candle lit underneath it,” he said at the time, according to an Army news release.

In 2010, he was driving in a Humvee when it rolled over, and his head was banged up. He flew to Afghanistan in December—his lawyer, John Henry Browne, told the Times that he didn’t want to go:

The family was counting on him not being redeployed…He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over.

Military officials had kept Bales’s name secret since last Sunday, when he left his base and walked by himself for about a mile until he came to a village house, and went inside. When he walked out of that house he went to another, and then another.

Bales has two children of his own, a girl and boy ages three and four. In the three houses he allegedly shot and killed nine children, four of them under the age of six, and seven grown-ups, too.
Bales is thirty-eight. His namelessness was never going to last long, or be useful.

(It still hasn’t been released officially: Bales’s name was leaked, and first reported by Fox News.) The explanation was that his wife and children needed to be kept safe, but they were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Washington, and sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord days ago.

(Reporters who walked up to their house found a front porch “cluttered with empty boxes and a snow sled, while toys, a barbecue grill and a weathered hot tub sat in the fenced backyard,” according to the Times.) Transporting Bales hastily from Afghanistan to Kuwait only made both of those countries angry, in Kuwait’s case because the press figured it out before the government there did.

Without a name, Bales had been a phantom of suppositions. Browne had begun to make some of them solid, as had military officials who spoke to the press.

Browne told reporters that Bales had lost part of a foot in Iraq; that was in addition to the head injury. He also said that Bales saw a friend’s leg blown off last week.

Military officials told the Times that Bales had been drinking the night of the murders, and that he was having trouble with his wife.

Browne said that the drinking story was “very offensive,” according to the Post, and that Bales had a “very strong marriage.” Browne has hardly said a sentence that wouldn’t fit in a a closing statement in a defense built around post-traumatic stress disorder or diminished capacity—the loving husband and father broken by the war. But not all explanations can double as absolutions.

One shouldn’t stigmatize veterans by implying that this is normal behavior; but one doesn’t want to isolate them, or leave them stranded on a difficult path, by cheerfully failing to recognize real pain.

The decision to pack Bales on a plane and out of Afghanistan may lead to other journeys.

Will the villagers who saw him that night, like the woman who saw another woman taken by her hair and slammed against a wall, be brought to the trial to testify? (The answer may turn on Bales’s right to confront his accusers.)

The dead left behind in the villages had names and stories and maybe strong marriages, too.

We saw some of their faces in images in which mourners lifted up quilts to show their bodies. Now we are getting snapshots of Bales; neither set should banish the other.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' Neighbors Described Afghan Massacre Suspect As 'Good Guy'

Shock echoed down the street in Lake Tapp, Wash., where Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, named as the suspect who allegedly went on a rampage, murdering 16 Afghan civilians, was remembered as a family man and "good guy."

"I just can't believe Bob's the guy who did this," neighbor Paul Wohlberg told the Associated Press. "A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Neighbors painted a picture of the career soldier as a family man who spoke little about his deployments.

Kassie Holland, a neighbor, told the Associated Press that she would see Bales playing with his daughter Quincy, 4, and son Bobby, 3.

"My reaction is that I'm shocked," she said. "I can't believe it was him. There were no signs... He always had a good attitude about being in the service. He was never really angry about it. When I heard him talk, he said, it seemed like, yeah, that's my job. That's what I do. He never expressed a lot of emotion toward it."

Bales' platoon leader in Iraq described him to the Washington Post as an exemplary soldier who "saved many a life."

"Bales is still, hands down, one of the best soldiers I ever worked with," Army Capt. Chris Alexander , 28, told the newspaper.

Bales, 38, remains locked up today in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being housed in a private cell away from other inmates.

Charges are expected soon against the career soldier, who was flown out of Afghanistan and arrived at the Army prison Friday night.

Bales is accused of breaking into several Afghan homes in the middle of the night last Sunday and killing 16 civilians, mostly women and children. He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Pentagon officials said that Bales' being brought back to the U.S. does not necessarily mean that his military court proceedings will be held in the U.S., holding out the possibility that they could be held in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is demanding that Bales be tried in Afghanistan.

Details of Bales' military record have also emerged and they depict a soldier who has seen intense combat and lost part of a foot.

Bales, who enlisted shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, was first deployed in November 2003 when his unit spent a year in Mosul, Iraq.

In June 2006 he and his unit were sent back to Iraq and their year-long deployment was given a three month extension until September 2007. During that time, he saw duty in Mosul in the north, Bagdad when the city was pressed by militants, and then to Baquba where his unit took major casualties.

His final Iraq deployment was from September 2009 to September 2010 in Diyala province, which was also a hotbed of insurgent activity.

In December 2011, he was ordered to Afghanistan.

Bales' alleged murderous rage is in stark contrast to what he said after a fierce battle in Zarqa, Iraq, in 2007.

"I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us," he told Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

"I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that," Bales said at the time.

John Henry Browne, Bales' lawyer in Seattle, told The Associated Press Thursday that the soldier had witnessed his friend's leg blown off the day before the massacre.

Bales reportedly spent his entire 11-year career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and lived not too far from the base. Originally from the Midwest, he was deployed with the Second Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in December.

Browne said that he was highly decorated and had once been nominated for a Bronze Star though he did not receive it. He also lost part of a foot because of a combat injury.

"He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered," Browne told the AP.

Bales reportedly left Camp Belambay, where he was stationed to protect Special Operation Forces creating local militias, in the middle of the night wearing night-vision goggles, according to a source. The shooting occurred at 3 a.m. in three houses in two villages in the Panjway district of southern Kandahar province.

In the first village, more than a mile south of the base, he allegedly killed four people in the first house. In the second house, he allegedly killed 11 family members -- four girls, four boys and three adults.

According to a member of the Afghan investigation team and ABC News' interviews, he then walked back to another village past his base and killed one more person. He reportedly returned to the base on his own and turned himself in calmly.

An official told ABC News that the soldier had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past, either from hitting his head on the hatch of a vehicle or in a car accident. He reportedly went through the advanced TBI treatment at Fort Lewis and was deemed to be fine.

He also underwent mental health screening necessary to become a sniper and passed in 2008. He had routine behavioral health screening after that and was cleared, the official said.

When the soldier returned from his last deployment in Iraq he had difficulty reintegrating, including marital problems, the source told ABC News. But officials concluded that he had worked through those issues before deploying to Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Browne said that Bales' marriage was "fabulous."

Afghan political leaders have called for the shooter to be tried publicly in Afghan courts, but U.S. military officials say the case will be handled in U.S. military courts. A U.S. military official says Afghan officials were made aware of the transfer before it occurred.

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Sources: ABC News, AP, Daily Mail, New Yorker Magazine, USA Today, Youtube, Google Maps

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