Photo: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division August 23, 2011 at an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
In the past two months, the military community has been reeling from a surplus of terrible news. From the bloody riots that followed the burning of the Koran in Bagram and the retaliatory killings of seven coalition servicemembers to the inexplicable killings of 16 innocent civilians by a Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Army, the news has been terrible.
I have never met Staff Sgt. Bales. In the midst of the horror of seeing the pictures of dead children younger than my own granddaughter, I also thought of his children. Watching the grieving of the family members of those civilians murdered in their beds in the middle of the night, I thought of his family too. Nothing can ever excuse what he did. Nothing. And whether we will ever learn the truth of why he may have done this, I do not know.
Mrs. Bales is a member of a very small community. We share the experiences of the sleepless nights, the grinding worry, the highs and lows of multiple deployments. When I think of her children, I think of the children of my friends, the little ones who ask “where’s daddy” every morning; the sullen anger of the teenager who realizes that his dad will miss yet another year; the acting out in defiance of a tween who still cries at night because her daddy’s not home.
The Bales family, who has been sequestered on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is living through something none of us can imagine. I, with many others, was relieved that SSG Bales’ name was not released until his family had been informed and brought to a safe place. The nightmare that they are living is something I don’t think any of us can ever imagine.
Staff Sgt. Bales’ actions cannot and should not ever be excused. Many of us hope that, while we may not ever know the real reason for what he did, we might be able to see the other factors that led to this breaking down of a man. Whether or not SSgt. Bales is one of the over 200 soldiers whose PTSD diagnosis was overturned by the head of the Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis McChord will come out during pretrial or trial. The media has seized on many “facts” with, I would assume, the usual percentage of truth, falsehoods and misinformation. While I may have an opinion, I will wait to hear what truth might trickle through the legal maneuvering.
Not all the same
While we mourn the deaths of those sleeping villagers, our community asks that America not paint all of our returning veterans with the same brush. There are tens of thousands of honorable men and women who have served, who may have been wounded, and who have come home and continued their lives. They continue to be members of communities of faith, scout leaders, cops, firemen, doctors, lawyers and guys at the corner gas station.
Many of them may have been diagnosed with PTSD and no one around them will ever see it or know it, and they should not be treated as being damaged. The old stereotype that I remember after Vietnam, a crazed gunman, a hermit in the woods or a powder keg waiting to explode may be even further revived. We dread knowing that, having served their country, these veterans might be treated differently, be shunned and treated as “damaged goods” with ramifications up to and including not being able to find jobs or housing because of this stereotyping.
Together with millions around the world, the grief, shock and sadness of this action has run through my community. But we also mourn for his family, his wife and his children whose lives have been turned upside down; and we wait to hear why.
AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock