Home US & World News NEWS & COMMENT: Massacre suspect smeared as family, friends, & colleagues express incredulity

NEWS & COMMENT: Massacre suspect smeared as family, friends, & colleagues express incredulity

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The attorney engaged in the defense of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, John Henry Browne, has told CNN that the assertion by an unnamed U.S. official that Bales "just snapped" partly as a result of "domestic issues" is "totally bogus," Reuters reported Sunday.[1]  --  Robert Bales and his wife Karilyn have a "very strong marriage and, frankly, we're all taking offense," Browne said.  --  "'Sergeant Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father, and dedicated member of the armed services,' Browne's statement on Saturday said," Bill Rigby and Peter Henderson reported.  --  On Sunday the New York Daily News reported that a "U.S. military legal expert," also anonymous "because of the sensitivity of the case," said that Bales "should be officially charged with a week, and will be tried in the U.S."[2]  --  Matthew Lysiak, Tina Moore, and Rich Schapiro described Bales as a "former stock trader" who was "driven to enlist by the 9/11 attacks."  --  A former platoon leader, Capt. Chris Alexander, said he had "always admired" Bales, and called him "elite soldier who has saved many American lives.  'He is not some psychopath.'”  --  A neighbor told AP that "I just can't believe Bob's the guy who did this," ABC News reported.[3]  --  Another neighbor said:  "I can't believe it was him."  --  Browne, his attorney, said that Bales has "never said anything antagonistic about Muslims.  He's in general very mild-mannered."  --  The Associated Press reported that a man who grew up down the street from Bales in Norwood, Ohio, near Cincinnati, called him "our Bobby.  He was the local hero," where he was recalled as a boy who "respected older residents, admonished troublemakers, and loved children, even helping another boy in the area who had special needs."[4]  --  Since Friday night Sgt. Bales has been in solitary confinement at Ft. Leavenworth.  --  In a comment on the case, Jesse Ellison of Newsweek's The Daily Beast suggested the media's rush to judgment about Bales is premature, gratuitous, and unfair.[5]  --  COMMENT:  In the face of all this attributed testimony in support of Bales, virtually every military source in the case is speaking anonymously.  --  Which makes it all the more remarkable that mainstream sources are blacking out an Afghan journalists' report of a probe team of Afghan legislators who spent two days interviewing witnesses and victims at the site of the massacre and said that the evidence points to "up to 20 American troops" being involved in the massacre, and an assertion by RAWA News that the investigators found evidence that two Afghan women were "sexually assaulted" during the incident (which would offer a motivation for the burning of bodies -- an element of the case that would seem to be extremely out of character for Robert Bales)....



By Bill Rigby and Peter Henderson

March 18, 2012


TACOMA -- A lawyer representing the U.S. soldier implicated in the massacre of 16 villagers in Afghanistan said on Saturday he and other members of the defense team would spend several days with him in the week ahead.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is in solitary confinement at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he arrived late on Friday.

Bales, 38 and a four-tour combat veteran, is suspected of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan on Sunday and gunning down the 16 civilians, including nine children and three women, in a massacre that sent American-Afghan relations into a tailspin.

Bales, whose military unit is based south of Tacoma, Washington, had been held in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday.  He has not yet been charged.

Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said in a statement he was being joined in the defense effort by Emma Scanlan, also a civilian, and a military defense counsel, Major Thomas Hurley.

"Public reports that Sergeant Bales' supervisors, family, and friends describe him as a level-headed, experienced soldier are consistent with information gathered by the defense team," Browne's statement said.

"It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bale's medical and personnel records and interviewing witnesses."

An unnamed U.S. official had told the *New York Times* the killings were a result of "a combination of stress, alcohol, and domestic issues -- he just snapped."

But Browne has refuted that, saying on CNN that marital problems were "totally bogus."  He said his client had a "very strong marriage and, frankly, we're all taking offense at that."


"Sergeant Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father, and dedicated member of the armed services," Browne's statement on Saturday said.

Bales' wife, Karilyn, and two young children have been moved into military lodging at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside of Tacoma, Browne said earlier in the week.

Karilyn Bales works for a local business communications firm, a firm employee confirmed on Saturday.

Jill Heron, director of marketing and client relations for the firm, known as AMAXRA Inc., told Reuters  Karilyn Bales is "a valued employee who works remotely" and remained employed by the company in Redmond, Washington.

Heron, visibly upset and nervous at her home in rural Carnation, outside Seattle, said she couldn't comment further.

Robert Bales, who completed a two-year associate college degree in 1992, joined the Army in 2001, the Army said in a statement late on Friday when it formally identified him for the first time since Sunday's incident.

His home of record was listed as Jensen Beach, Florida, although Browne has said Bales grew up in the Midwest.

His military training included education in sniper skills, military leadership, and a course called "combat life savers."

The Army statement said Bales had spent a total of 37 months in three deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.


Bales has had at least one previous minor run-in with the law, records show.  In 2002, he was charged with criminal assault, according to Pierce County, Washington, records.

The court deferred the charge for six-months after Bales completed 20 hours of anger management, had no other law violations for six months and paid a $300 fine, the Tacoma *News Tribune* said, citing court records.

The court dismissed the charge in February 2003.  Reuters could not verify the disposition of the charge.

The *News Tribune* also reported Bales was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in October 2008 in Sumner.

He received a deferred 12-month sentence, and paid a fine of $250, which led to a dismissal of the charges.  Reuters could not verify the report.

Records show the Baleses own two properties, both of which are underwater, meaning the mortgage balances are greater than the value of the properties.

Their main home near Lake Tapps, a white house with four bedrooms about 45 minutes east of Tacoma, was recently listed for sale at $229,000, according to the online real estate service Zillow.com.  But Zillow, citing public transaction records, shows they paid for $280,000 for it in 2005.

Another realty website, for John L. Scott Real Estate, promotes the property as a "short sale," which occurs when a bank is willing to allow a homeowner to sell at a price below what is owed on the mortgage, accepting the loss on the remaining balance.

A smaller second property in the city of Auburn, about 10 miles to the north of their Lake Tapps home, was purchased by Karilyn Bales, then Karilyn Primeau, in 1999 for $99,500.  While the property is assessed at $148,000, property records show it was remortgaged for the amount of $178,500 in 2006.

That property is in poor condition and has a "Do not occupy" notice from city authorities, posted in November 2010 due to "lack of sanitary facilities, lack of water to building."

Three sets of neighbors said on Saturday it has been vacant for a couple of years.

Edith Bouvette, 52, a massage therapist, recalled the couple living there before they had children, describing Robert Bales as helpful and Karilyn Bales as "happy, bubbly."

"What I really remember is him in his uniform, his pants tucked inside of his boots," Bouvette said of Robert Bales.  "He was crisp, clean, military, and very polite military.  When you talked to him it was 'Yes, Ma'am -- just a really, really nice guy, and it's just a terrible shame."

"I blame part of this on the military," Bouvette said.  "They never should have sent him back for that fourth tour."

(Additional reporting by Laura Myers; writing By Dan Burns; editing by Xavier Briand and Todd Eastham)



By Matthew Lysiak, Tina Moore, and Rich Schapiro

New York Daily News

March 18, 2012


The Army soldier suspected in the bloody Afghanistan massacre that left 16 people dead -- including nine kids -- should be officially charged with a week, and will be tried in the U.S., a U.S. military legal expert said Sunday.

The legal expert, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, also said that U.S. officials were discussing the best way to compensate the relatives of the victims and those wounded.

More details have surfaced about Staff Sgt. Robert Bales since his identity was released last week.

Records and a family blog say that a lost promotion and money woes plagued the 38-year-old, and he wanted out of his job at a Washington State military base in the months before he allegedly massacred 16 Afghan civilians.

One of the Army vet’s Seattle-area homes was condemned.  He was struggling to make payments on another house, and a year ago, he failed to score a promotion to first-class sergeant.


“It is very disappointed after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family, and friends,” Bales’ wife, Karilyn, wrote last year on her blog.  “I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives.”

She wrote the best-case scenario would be an Army assignment in a more comfortable location like Germany, Italy, or Hawaii.  “We are hoping that if we are proactive and ask to go to a location that the Army will allow us to have some control over where we go next,” Karilyn Bales wrote.

Instead, the highly decorated, twice-injured officer was sent to Afghanistan -- his fourth tour of duty in a war zone.

A former stock trader, Bales was driven to enlist by the 9/11 attacks.

“I’ve always admired him for that -- he had a good thing going, and he dropped it to serve his country,” said his former platoon leader, Capt. Chris Alexander.

Alexander described Bales, who is being held in military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as an elite soldier who has saved many American lives.  “He is not some psychopath,” he said.  Bales’ neighbors in an Army town outside Tacoma, Wash., said he talked about his service matter-of-factly.

But his bravado came out in a 2009 interview for a base newspaper in Iraq.  The father of two said that he and his comrades proved “the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy.”  In a statement Saturday, Bales’s defense team said his family is “stunned in the face of this tragedy” and is fully supporting him.


Investigative unit


By Luis Martinez, Alyssa Newcomb, and Olivia Katrandjian

ABC News
March 18, 2012


Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, named as the suspect who allegedly went on a rampage, killing 16 Afghan civilians, was remembered by his neighbors in Lake Tapp, Wash., as a family man and "good guy," but news of a criminal record has surfaced and his wife's blog posts reveal a man frustrated with not being promoted.

Between the 38-year-old's deployments, he had scattered trouble at home, including a criminal record that includes a misdemeanor arrest for assaulting a girlfriend in 2002 that led to 20 hours of court-ordered anger management, and a report of a drunk driving arrest in 2005 for which he wasn't charged.

His record also includes a hit-and-run in 2008.  Witnesses saw a bleeding man in a military-style uniform with a shaved head running into the woods, where the police found him.  Bales said he fell asleep at the wheel, and paid about $1,000 in fines and restitution, according to the Associated Press.  The case was dismissed.

Bales' wife, Karilyn Bales, a public relations and marketing manager, wrote on her blog in March of last year that her husband was very disappointed about not getting promoted to E-7, sergeant first class.

"Bob didn't get a promotion and is very disappointed, after all the sacrifices he has made for his love of country.  But I am also relieved.  We can finally move on to the next phase of our lives," she wrote.

The Bales's house was recently listed for sale, and his wife wrote that they hope to move closer to family in the Midwest.


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

"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."

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 remains locked up today in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., 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 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 stood 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 3:00 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 Bales to be tried publicly in Afghan courts, but U.S. military officials said the case will be handled in U.S. military courts.  A U.S. military official said Afghan officials were made aware of Bales' transfer out of Afghanistan before it occurred.

--The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Local news


By Donna Gordon Blankship and Dan Sewell

Associated Press
March 18, 2012


LAKE TAPPS, Washington --
A diverging portrait of the Army sergeant accused of killing sixteen Afghan villagers is emerging as records and interviews reveal a man appreciated by friends and family who won military commendations, yet one who faced professional disappointment, financial trouble and brushes with the law.

The more complex picture included details on how Robert Bales was bypassed for promotion, struggled to pay for his house, and eyed a way out of his job at a Washington State military base months before he was accused of the horrific nighttime slaughter in two Afghanistan villages.

While Bales, 38, sat in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.'s military prison Saturday, classmates, and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, remembered him as a "happy-go-lucky" high school football player who took care of a special needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.

But court records and interviews show that the 10-year veteran -- with a string of commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- had joined the Army after a Florida investment job went sour, had a Seattle-area home condemned, struggled to make payments on another, and failed to get a promotion or a transfer a year ago.

His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, court records show.  He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed, the records show.

Military officials say that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, Bales crept away on March 11 to two slumbering villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire.  Nine of the 16 killed were children and 11 belonged to one family.

"This is some crazy stuff if it's true," Steve Berling, a high school classmate, said of the revelations about the father of two known as "Bobby" in his hometown of Norwood, Ohio.

Bales hasn't been charged yet in the shootings, which have endangered complicated relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threatened to upend U.S. policy over the decade-old war.

Charges against Bales are expected to be filed within a week and if the case goes to court the trial will be held in the United States, a U.S. military legal expert said Sunday.  The legal expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, also said that U.S. officials were discussing the best way to compensate the relatives of the victims and those wounded.

His former platoon leader said Saturday that Bales was a model soldier inspired by 9/11 to serve, who saved lives in firefights on his second of three Iraq deployments.

"He's one of the best guys I ever worked with," said Army Capt. Chris Alexander, who led Bales on a 15-month deployment in Iraq.

"He is not some psychopath.  He's an outstanding soldier who has given a lot for this country."

But pressing family troubles were hinted at by his wife, Kari, on multiple blogs posted with names like The Bales Family Adventures and BabyBales.  A year ago, she wrote that Bales was hoping for a promotion or a transfer after nine years stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Wash.

"We are hoping to have as much control as possible" over the future, Kari Bales wrote last March 25.  "Who knows where we will end up.  I just hope that we are able to rent our house so that we can keep it.  I think we are both still in shock."

After Bales lost out on a promotion to E7 -- a sergeant first-class -- the family hoped to go to either Germany, Italy, or Hawaii for an "adventure," she said.  They hoped to move by last summer; instead the Army redeployed his unit -- the 2nd Infantry Division of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, named after armored Stryker vehicles -- to Afghanistan.

It would be Bales' fourth tour in a war zone.  He joined the military two months after 9/11 and spent more than three years in Iraq during three separate assignments since 2003.  His attorney said he was injured twice in Iraq -- once losing part of his foot -- but his 20 or so commendations do not include the Purple Heart, given to soldiers wounded in combat.

Alexander said Bales wasn't injured while he oversaw him during their deployment -- Bales' second in Iraq.  He called Bales a "very solid" noncommissioned officer who didn't have more difficulty than his fellow soldiers with battlefield stress.  Bales shot at a man aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at his platoon's vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, sending the grenade flying over the vehicle.

"There's no doubt he saved lives that day," Alexander said.  The charges he killed civilians is "100 percent out of character for him," he said.

Bales always loved the military and war history, even as a teenager, said Berling, who played football with him in the early 1990s on a team that included Marc Edwards, a future NFL player and Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots.

"I remember him and the teacher just going back and forth on something like talking about the details of the Battle of Bunker Hill," he said.  "He knew history, all the wars."

Bales exulted in the role once he finally achieved it.  Plunged into battle in Iraq, he told an interviewer for a Fort Lewis base newspaper in 2009 that he and his comrades proved "the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy."

Bales joined the Army, Berling said, after studying business at Ohio State University -- he attended three years but didn't graduate -- and handled investments before the market downturn pushed him out of the business.  Florida records show that Bales was a director at an inactive company called Spartina Investments Inc. in Doral, Fla.; his brother, Mark Bales, and a Mark Edwards were also listed as directors.

"I guess he didn't like it when people lost money," Berling said.

He was struggling to keep payments on his own home in Lake Tapps, a rural reservoir community about 35 miles south of Seattle; his wife asked to put the house on the market three days before the shootings, real estate Philip Rodocker said.

"She told him she was behind in our payments," Rodocker told the *New York Times*.  "She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances."

The house was not officially put on the market until Monday; on Tuesday, Rodocker said, Bales' wife called and asked to take the house off the market, talking of a family emergency.

Bales and his wife bought the Lake Tapps home in 2005, according to records, for $280,000; it was listed this week at $229,000.  Overflowing boxes were piled on the front porch, and a U.S. flag leaned against the siding.

The sale may have been a sign of financial troubles.  Bales and his wife also own a home in Auburn, about 10 miles north, according to county records, but abandoned it about two years ago, homeowners' association president Bob Baggett said.  Now signs posted on the front door and window by the city warn against occupying the house.

"It was ramshackle," Baggett said.  "They were not dependable.  When they left there were vehicles parts left on the front yard . . . we'd given up on the owners."

New details about the sergeant rippled across the country on Saturday.

"It's our Bobby.  He was the local hero," said Michael Blevins, who grew up down the street from him in Norwood, Ohio.  The youngest of five boys respected older residents, admonished troublemakers and loved children, even helping another boy in the area who had special needs.

In Washington State, court records showed a 2002 arrest for assault on a girlfriend.  Bales pleaded not guilty and was required to undergo 20 hours of anger management counseling, after which the case was dismissed.

A separate hit-and-run charge was dismissed in Sumner, Wash.'s municipal court three years ago, according to records.  It isn't clear from court documents what Bales hit; witnesses saw a man in a military-style uniform, with a shaved head and bleeding, running away.

When deputies found him in the woods, Bales told them he fell asleep at the wheel.  He paid about $1,000 in fines and restitution and the case was dismissed in October 2009.

Dan Conway, a military attorney who represented one of four Lewis-McChord soldiers convicted in the deliberate killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010, said whether legal scrapes affect a soldier's career depends in part on whether they prompt the Army to issue administrative penalties.  The punishments are typically recorded in official personnel files.

Over the past decade, Conway said, the military has sometimes been lax in administering such punishments.  As a result, soldiers who might be bad apples sometimes remain in service longer than they otherwise might have.

"It's something you want to note," Conway said.  "The best predictor of future violence is past violence."

Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said he didn't know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the shootings, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant.

He also said Friday he didn't know if his client had been drinking the night of the massacre.

Browne didn't return telephone calls on Saturday.  His legal team has said Browne will be meeting with Bales at Fort Leavenworth next week.

--Sewell reported from Norwood, Ohio.  Also contributing were Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, Manuel Valdes in Auburn, Wash., Haven Daley in Lake Tapps, Wash., Jennifer Kay in Miami and AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington.


U.S. news


By Jesse Ellison

** A U.S. soldier’s alleged massacre offers a tragic glimpse into the lives of multiple-deployment military families, plagued by violence, suicide, and financial disarray. Plus, new details on Robert Bales and his deployments. **

The Daily Beast [Newsweek]
March 18, 2012


Last week, as American officials scrambled to repair diplomatic relations with Afghanistan following the horrific mass murder of 16 Afghan citizens by a U.S. soldier, the search for answers as to why the massacre occurred had already begun.

“He just snapped,” a high-ranking official told the *New York Times* on Thursday.  “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol, and domestic issues.”

It feels like an insufficient explanation for such a shockingly senseless act.  The soldier, a father of two young children, allegedly targeted women and children in his rampage and, after killing them, set some of their bodies on fire.  But for some -- including the family of the suspect -- the explanation wasn’t just inadequate, it was unfair.  “I know for a fact that there is no issue with his marriage,” the suspect’s attorney, John Henry Browne, told reporters.  “It’s a very strong marriage, and frankly we’re all taking offense at that.”

When the suspect’s name was leaked on Friday -- he is, reportedly, 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State -- a fuller picture began to emerge.  Bales and his wife, Karilyn, appear to have been under financial duress.  Their house, about twenty minutes from the base, was reportedly put up for sale the day after the shootings, listed at $50,000 less than the purchase price.  Karilyn’s blog, meanwhile, talked of disappointment at her husband’s being deployed to Afghanistan after being injured twice during his three tours in Iraq.

But there’s been no telling detail or particularly damning piece of information.  Instead, what’s emerged is a picture of a marriage under the kind of stress that is all too typical for modern military households.

Repeated deployments are a strain on not just soldiers, but their spouses as well, says Keli Lowman, whose husband served two tours in Afghanistan and sustained a traumatic brain injury during a tour in Iraq.  “The yo-yo effect of them coming home and leaving again is detrimental to families,” she says.

When her husband first deployed, she says she was “sent into this turmoil where nothing is as it was before.”  She was left to raise their 3-year-old daughter as a single parent and was suddenly tasked with managing all of the family finances -- no easy job given how much military salaries can fluctuate.  Salaries become tax-free during deployment, she explains, and consequently, “it’s very easy to start living outside of your means.”  Forty-two percent of active-duty responders to a recent *Military Times* survey said that they were worried about their personal finances.

Between the financial strain and the difficulty of long separations, it’s hardly surprising that divorce rates within the military last year were higher than they’d been since 1999.  More troublingly, according to an Army report released in January, domestic violence has risen by more than 30 percent since 2006, and rates of alcohol abuse are at record levels.  There is some evidence that the stigma surrounding mental health is dissipating -- more than 280,000 troops sought out behavioral treatment in 2011 -- but Lowman believes it has yet to disappear altogether.  “We view military -- and they view themselves -- as these macho guys,” Lowman says.  “It is a sign of weakness if you have any altered thoughts.  It’s very hard to say, ‘Maybe I have a problem.’”

Now the outreach director for an organization called Not Alone, which helps provide confidential support for veterans and soldiers impacted by combat stress and posttraumatic stress disorder, Lowman says only one thing surprised her about Bales’s alleged attack.  “Most people in his situation commit suicide,” she says, “not mass murder.”

Indeed, the suicide rate for active-duty soldiers has been higher than that for civilians since 2008, and last year it hit an all-time high.  In 2010 Lowman was contacted by a woman who had discovered that her husband had fallen behind on mortgage payments and their home was going to be foreclosed on.  She called him in Iraq to confront him, and he committed suicide, hoping that the payout from his life-insurance policy would be enough to save the family from losing their home.  The specifics -- financial distress, marital tensions -- are chillingly similar to some of what has been suggested led to Bales’s alleged killing spree.  “How would she have possibly known that this was going to be the result of ‘We’re having financial trouble’?” Lowman says of Bales’s wife.  “How is she feeling now that her life is under so much scrutiny?  There’s worldwide attention on her now.  She has a 3- and 4-year-old to protect.”

It’s always tempting to find something or someone to blame for tragedies like these, but the question of whether it was marital or combat stress that pushed these soldiers over the line is often unanswerable.  The two are inextricably linked.  As Heather Sweeney put it in a column she wrote for the *New York Times*’ website, “It’s impossible to determine if military life was the cause of my marital issues or if it was simply a contributing factor.  I have no idea if my husband and I would have the same struggles if he hadn’t pursued a career in the military.  But even if the military wasn’t the direct cause, it certainly didn’t help.”

Given the way some of these situations have played out, causality hardly seems important.  On Feb. 3, someone calling herself Anna posted in the anonymous forums hosted by Not Alone.  She detailed her husband’s depression following two deployments and the loss of his leg.  “I love my husband very much and it is killing me to see him hurting so much.  I feel so helpless right now,” she wrote.  “I am so afraid of what he might do to himself or someone else.”  She hasn’t posted in the forum since.

--Jesse Ellison is a staff writer and articles editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, covering social justice and women’s issues. A Front Page Award winner, she has discussed gender equality on CNN, WNYC, and at Princeton University. Find her on Tumblr.


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 18:39  

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