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Star-Spangled Baggage: How America's Wars Came Home With the Troops

Society & Culture  (tags: abuse, activists, americans, children, crime, culture, death, dishonesty, education, government, internet, law, media, murder, police, politics, rights, safety, society )

- 1522 days ago -
We might need to take a look at the violence and give it a second thought. Why shootings on military bases? Why are the police so violent?

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Kit B (276)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 6:37 am
Photo Credit: AP - description: Staff Sgt. John Robertson waits in a parking lot outside of the Fort Hood military base for updates on April 2, 2014.

After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America’s biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded. When he did so, he also pulled America’s fading wars out of the closet. This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political “extremist.” He seems to have been merely one of America’s injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands.

Some 2.6 million men and women have been dispatched, often repeatedly, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to a recent survey of veterans of those wars conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third say that their mental health is worse than it was before they left, and nearly half say the same of their physical condition. Almost half say they give way to sudden outbursts of anger. Only 12% of the surveyed veterans claim they are now “better” mentally or physically than they were before they went to war.

The media coverage that followed Lopez’s rampage was, of course, 24/7 and there was much discussion of PTSD, the all-purpose (if little understood) label now used to explain just about anything unpleasant that happens to or is caused by current or former military men and women. Amid the barrage of coverage, however, something was missing: evidence that has been in plain sight for years of how the violence of America’s distant wars comes back to haunt the "homeland” as the troops return. In that context, Lopez’s killings, while on a scale not often matched, are one more marker on a bloody trail of death that leads from Iraq and Afghanistan into the American heartland, to bases and backyards nationwide. It’s a story with a body count that should not be ignored.

War Comes Home

During the last 12 years, many veterans who had grown “worse” while at war could be found on and around bases here at home, waiting to be deployed again, and sometimes doing serious damage to themselves and others. The organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has campaigned for years for a soldier’s “right to heal” between deployments. Next month it will release its own report on a common practice at Fort Hood of sending damaged and heavily medicated soldiers back to combat zones against both doctors’ orders and official base regulations. Such soldiers can’t be expected to survive in great shape.

Immediately after the Lopez rampage, President Obama spoke of those soldiers who have served multiple tours in the wars and “need to feel safe” on their home base. But what the president called “that sense of safety... broken once again” at Fort Hood has, in fact, already been shattered again and again on bases and in towns across post-9/11 America -- ever since misused, misled, and mistreated soldiers began bringing war home with them.

Since 2002, soldiers and veterans have been committing murder individually and in groups, killing wives, girlfriends, children, fellow soldiers, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and -- in appalling numbers -- themselves. Most of these killings haven’t been on a mass scale, but they add up, even if no one is doing the math. To date, they have never been fully counted.

The first veterans of the war in Afghanistan returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002. In quick succession, four of them murdered their wives, after which three of the killers took their own lives. When a New York Times reporter asked a Special Forces officer to comment on these events, he replied: “S.F.’s don’t like to talk about emotional stuff. We are Type A people who just blow things like that off, like yesterday’s news.”

Indeed, much of the media and much of the country has done just that. While individual murders committed by “our nation’s heroes” on the “home front” have been reported by media close to the scene, most such killings never make the national news, and many become invisible even locally when reported only as routine murders with no mention of the apparently insignificant fact that the killer was a veteran. Only when these crimes cluster around a military base do diligent local reporters seem to put the pieces of the bigger picture together.

By 2005, Fort Bragg had already counted its tenth such “domestic violence” fatality, while on the West coast, the Seattle Weekly had tallied the death toll among active-duty troops and veterans in western Washington state at seven homicides and three suicides. “Five wives, a girlfriend, and one child were slain; four other children lost one or both parents to death or imprisonment. Three servicemen committed suicide -- two of them after killing their wife or girlfriend. Four soldiers were sent to prison. One awaited trial.”

In January 2008, the New York Times tried for the first time to tally a nationwide count of such crimes. It found “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.” It listed headlines drawn from smaller local newspapers: Lakewood, Washington, “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife”; Pierre, South Dakota, “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress”; Colorado Springs, Colorado, “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

The Times found that about a third of the murder victims were wives, girlfriends, children, or other relatives of the killer, but significantly, a quarter of the victims were fellow soldiers. The rest were acquaintances or strangers. At that time, three quarters of the homicidal soldiers were still in the military. The number of killings then represented a nearly 90% increase in homicides committed by active duty personnel and veterans in the six years since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Yet after tracing this “cross-country trail of death and heartbreak,” the Times noted that its research had probably uncovered only “the minimum number of such cases.” One month later, it found “more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans.”

More cases were already on the way. After the Fourth Brigade Combat team of Fort Carson, Colorado, returned from Iraq later in 2008, nine of its members were charged with homicide, while “charges of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Three of the murder victims were wives or girlfriends; four were fellow soldiers (all men); and two were strangers, chosen at random.

Back at Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in a nine-month span between December 2007 and September 2008. By that time, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright had identified at least 15 highly suspicious deaths of women soldiers in the war zones that had been officially termed “non-combat related” or “suicide.” She raised a question that has never been answered: “Is there an Army cover-up of rape and murder of women soldiers?” The murders that took place near (but not on) Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, all investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, raised another question: Were some soldiers bringing home not only the generic violence of war, but also specific crimes they had rehearsed abroad?

Stuck in Combat Mode

While this sort of post-combat-zone combat at home has rarely made it into the national news, the killings haven’t stopped. They have, in fact, continued, month by month, year after year, generally reported only by local media. Many of the murders suggest that the killers still felt as if they were on some kind of private mission in “enemy territory,” and that they themselves were men who had, in distant combat zones, gotten the hang of killing -- and the habit. For example, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Army veteran, went to a party in Seattle in 2012 and got into a gunfight that left four people wounded. He then fled to Mount Rainier National Park where he shot and killed a park ranger (the mother of two small children) and fired on others before escaping into snow-covered mountains where he drowned in a stream.

Barnes, an Iraq veteran, had reportedly experienced a rough transition to stateside life, having been discharged from the Army in 2009 for misconduct after being arrested for drunk driving and carrying a weapon. (He also threatened his wife with a knife.) He was one of more than 20,000 troubled Army and Marine veterans the military discarded between 2008 and 2012 with “other-than-honorable” discharges and no benefits, health care, or help.

Faced with the expensive prospect of providing long-term care for these most fragile of veterans, the military chose instead to dump them. Barnes was booted out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, which by 2010 had surpassed Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Carson in violence and suicide to become the military’s “most troubled” home base.

Some homicidal soldiers work together, perhaps recreating at home that famous fraternal feeling of the military “band of brothers.” In 2012, in Laredo, Texas, federal agents posing as leaders of a Mexican drug cartel arrested Lieutenant Kevin Corley and Sergeant Samuel Walker -- both from Fort Carson’s notorious Fourth Brigade Combat team -- and two other soldiers in their private hit squad who had offered their services to kill members of rival cartels. “Wet work,” soldiers call it, and they’re trained to do it so well that real Mexican drug cartels have indeed been hiring ambitious vets from Fort Bliss, Texas, and probably other bases in the borderlands, to take out selected Mexican and American targets at $5,000 a pop.

Such soldiers seem never to get out of combat mode. Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, well known for his work with troubled veterans of the Vietnam War, points out that the skills drilled into the combat soldier -- cunning, deceit, strength, quickness, stealth, a repertoire of killing techniques, and the suppression of compassion and guilt -- equip him perfectly for a life of crime. “I’ll put it as bluntly as I can,” Shay writes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, “Combat service per se smooths the way into criminal careers afterward in civilian life.” During the last decade, when the Pentagon relaxed standards to fill the ranks, some enterprising members of at least 53 different American gangs jumpstarted their criminal careers by enlisting, training, and serving in war zones to perfect their specialized skill sets.

Some veterans have gone on to become domestic terrorists, like Desert Storm veteran Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, or mass murderers like Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran and uber-racist who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. Page had first been introduced to the ideology of white supremacy at age 20, three years after he joined the Army, when he fell in with a neo-Nazi hate group at Fort Bragg. That was in 1995, the year three paratroopers from Fort Bragg murdered two black local residents, a man and a woman, to earn their neo-Nazi spider-web tattoos.

An unknown number of such killers just walk away, like Army Private (and former West Point cadet) Isaac Aguigui, who was finally convicted last month in a Georgia criminal court of murdering his pregnant wife, Sergeant Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui, an Army linguist, three years ago. Although Deirdre Aguigui’s handcuffed body had revealed multiple blows and signs of struggle, the military medical examiner failed to “detect an anatomic cause of death” -- a failure convenient for both the Army, which didn’t have to investigate further, and Isaac Aguigui, who collected a half-million dollars in military death benefits and life insurance to finance a war of his own.

In 2012, Georgia authorities charged Aguigui and three combat veterans from Fort Stewart with the execution-style murders of former Private Michael Roark, 19, and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17. The trial in a civilian criminal court revealed that Aguigui (who was never deployed) had assembled his own private militia of troubled combat vets called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), and was plotting to take over Fort Stewart by seizing the munitions control point. Among his other plans for his force were killing unnamed officials with car bombs, blowing up a fountain in Savannah, poisoning the apple crop in Aguigui’s home state of Washington, and joining other unspecified private militia groups around the country in a plot to assassinate President Obama and take control of the United States government. Last year, the Georgia court convicted Aguigui in the case of the FEAR executions and sentenced him to life. Only then did a civilian medical examiner determine that he had first murdered his wife.

The Rule of Law

The routine drills of basic training and the catastrophic events of war damage many soldiers in ways that appear darkly ironic when they return home to traumatize or kill their partners, their children, their fellow soldiers, or random strangers in a town or on a base. But again to get the stories we must rely upon scrupulous local journalists. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reports that, since 2003, in the area around Fort Hood in central Texas, nearly 10% of those involved in shooting incidents with the police were military veterans or active-duty service members. In four separate confrontations since last December, the police shot and killed two recently returned veterans and wounded a third, while one police officer was killed. A fourth veteran survived a shootout unscathed.

Such tragic encounters prompted state and city officials in Texas to develop a special Veterans Tactical Response Program to train police in handling troubled military types. Some of the standard techniques Texas police use to intimidate and overcome suspects -- shouting, throwing “flashbangs” (grenades), or even firing warning shots -- backfire when the suspect is a veteran in crisis, armed, and highly trained in reflexive fire. The average civilian lawman is no match for an angry combat grunt from, as the president put it at Fort Hood, “the greatest Army that the world has ever known.” On the other hand, a brain-injured vet who needs time to respond to orders or reply to questions may get manhandled, flattened, tasered, bludgeoned, or worse by overly aggressive police officers before he has time to say a word.

Here’s another ironic twist. For the past decade, military recruiters have made a big selling point of the “veterans preference” policy in the hiring practices of civilian police departments. The prospect of a lifetime career in law enforcement after a single tour of military duty tempts many wavering teenagers to sign on the line. But the vets who are finally discharged from service and don the uniform of a civilian police department are no longer the boys who went away.

In Texas today, 37% of the police in Austin, the state capitol, are ex-military, and in smaller cities and towns in the vicinity of Fort Hood, that figure rises above the 50% mark. Everybody knows that veterans need jobs, and in theory they might be very good at handling troubled soldiers in crisis, but they come to the job already trained for and very good at war. When they meet the next Ivan Lopez, they make a potentially combustible combo.

Most of America’s military men and women don’t want to be “stigmatized” by association with the violent soldiers mentioned here. Neither do the ex-military personnel who now, as members of civilian police forces, do periodic battle with violent vets in Texas and across the country. The new Washington Post-Kaiser survey reveals that most veterans are proud of their military service, if not altogether happy with their homecoming. Almost half of them think that American civilians, like the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t genuinely “respect” them, and more than half feel disconnected from American life. They believe they have better moral and ethical values than their fellow citizens, a virtue trumpeted by the Pentagon and presidents alike. Sixty percent say they are more patriotic than civilians. Seventy percent say that civilians fail absolutely to understand them. And almost 90% of veterans say that in a heartbeat they would re-up to fight again.

Americans on the “home front” were never mobilized by their leaders and they have generally not come to grips with the wars fought in their name. Here, however, is another irony: neither, it turns out, have most of America’s military men and women. Like their civilian counterparts, many of whom are all too ready to deploy those soldiers again to intervene in countries they can’t even find on a map, a significant number of veterans evidently have yet to unpack and examine the wars they brought home in their baggage -- and in too many grim cases, they, their loved ones, their fellow soldiers, and sometimes random strangers are paying the price

By: Ann Jones | Tomsdispatch | Common Dreams |

Ann Jones, a writer and photographer, has reported extensively from Afghanistan since 2002 and is the author of several books. Her most recent book is, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars— the Untold Story (2013, Dispatch Books). Her previous books include: War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

Syd H (48)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 8:31 am

Here is a huge reason why there is conflict at all in the world:¤t_page=1#bookmark

Greed & we are not paying attention, just letting it all happen, thinking we are being represented... :(

Meanwhile, our children, siblings, aunts & uncles, cousins, are being forced into the military due to manipulated economics to play taxpayer-funded security for corporate interests (including Monsanto in Iraq no less). :(

Thanks Kit, I've only been able to read a bit so far in part because it frustrated me so much. :(

But it's stuff we need to be aware of and also make a stand, draw a line in the sand (so to speak).


. (0)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 10:36 am
Noted & posted

JL A (281)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 10:39 am
Practice makes become those with whom you associate most...should anyone be surprised by these findings and patterns when concern about this was first raised more than a decade ago? The data are showing us we are most at risk from home grown terrorists--and this story illuminates one way we have been growing them it seems.

Deb E (63)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 10:50 am
Thanks for keeping this issue in the spotlight, Kit. As we approach the end of this year, the time when we were supposed to not be in any wars anymore, many soldiers have just been given redeployment orders that are for nine months. That isn't within the time frame of the end of this year. And, it does look like the agreement will be reached which will "allow" for troops to remain past the end of the year. The soldiers haven't a clue when they will next be sent into a war zone. This has never been the case for our soldiers in the past. How can anyone expect soldiers, who are repeatedly sent into war zones, to ever get out of "war mode"? It just isn't a hat you put on and take off. When you know that you will repeatedly be put into a war zone, you cannot just be a "normal" person out of it.

The article said, "suppression of compassion and guilt" is drilled into them, and I know first hand how well they drill that into soldiers. It is the only way they can survive in a war zone. How can anyone expect for them to just drop that in between tours? The minute they do try to drop the suppression of those two emotions, everything that happened top them while at war floods back into their minds and then you have classic "PTSD" symptoms. Many cannot live with what they saw or did and they commit suicide because of it.

My son goes back for his 3rd tour soon. I hope that the American public will realize that this war is not over. And we still need to fight to bring our troops home. ALL of them. NOW.

Kit B (276)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 10:52 am

Take a person, toss them in the hell of war, send them home and back, home and back and does anyone really think that person is not going to break? Suicide and murder, or some very angry police dressed in military style gear and put out on the streets as "law and order"? Come on now, what else could we expect?

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 6:43 pm
Scared yet?
You ought to be.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 6:54 pm
And then there's this News Item:

US Special Ops Forces Committing Suicide in Record Numbers
Offbeat (tags: Army, USA )
Ray -
US special forces have been committing suicide at record levels for the last two years, the head of the US Special Operations Command (SOCom) admitted in a speech on Thursday. He blamed the high numbers on the length and difficulty of combat.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 7:07 pm
Here is the URL of "US Special Ops Forces Committing Suicide in Record Numbers"

MORE soldiers die of SUICIDE than in Combat, now...

All our supposed "enemies" have to do, is just harass our troops, and hide, and WAIT.... for our troops to kill THEMSELVES...

Our troops are killing themselves because of MORAL PAIN, they CAN'T LIVE WITH THEMSELVES after what they have done and participated in and seen done.... to men, women, children, unarmed people, civilians..... atrocities and war crimes and senseless killing with no purpose...

This was NOT SO for example during WWII, which was considered a JUST WAR, fought for GOOD REASONS...
In the present US Imperialist wars of INVASION, there is NO GOOD REASON {the "reasons" the govt. gives change all the time, "WMDs", to "Liberate" the people, etc.} - and therefore, being in that country where they are NOT WANTED, it becomes ONLY a matter of staying alive at any cost, and keeping your friends alive, there is NO IDEALISTIC PURPOSE for making a "worthy sacrifice" like in other wars....
which, whether it was true or not, these Ideals were BELIEVED IN....
No such thing, any more.....

Brenda P (125)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 8:25 pm

Gloria picchetti (304)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 2:03 am
I am dying from poverty from the way Bush's wars destroyed our country.

Past Member (0)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 4:38 am
Hard to imagine.

Frances Darcy (133)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 8:34 am
No surprise at the findings

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 1:24 pm
MORAL INJURY: a New Term we must make ourselves aware of:
' ....the swamp of moral confusion and contradiction so familiar to returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is what experts are coming to identify as a Moral Injury: the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation.
In contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which springs from fear, Moral Injury is a violation of what each of us considers right or wrong.

The diagnosis of PTSD has been defined and officially endorsed since 1980 by the mental health community, and those suffering from it have earned broad public sympathy and understanding. Moral Injury is not officially recognized by the Defense Department.
But it is Moral Injury, not PTSD, that is increasingly acknowledged as the signature wound of this generation of veterans: a bruise on the soul, akin to grief or sorrow, with lasting impact on the individuals and on their families.
Moral Injury raises uncomfortable questions about what happens in war, the dark experiences that many veterans have always been reluctant to talk about. Are the young Americans who volunteer for military service prepared for the ethical ambiguity that lies ahead? Can they be hardened against Moral Injury? Should they be?'

David Wood, HuffPost, March 18, 2014
It is my belief that NEARLY ALL Veterans returning from combat are suffering from MORAL INJURY, and that PTSD is not the same thing, altho Veterans can have BOTH. PTSD is from the stress and hardship of combat ITSELF. But, again, MORAL PAIN is from KILLING FOR NO GOOD REASON.
I believe that MORAL PAIN BE SO EXTREME, IT CAN DRIVE SOME VETERANS INSANE - so can PTSD, and they can combine. But, the Military Establishment DOES NOT EVEN WAN TO ACKNOWLEDGE the fact of Moral Injury. [They'd have to STOP FIGHTING IMPERIALIST WARS!]

Barbara K (60)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 1:25 pm
Thank you for the post and all this info, my friend. We truly need to get our kids home from these nasty wars. Bush & Co. should be horse-whipped for taking us into these wars. They are so guilty of war crimes and still unpunished for what they did to all of us, some thru economic problems, to sending away our jobs, to stealing our money to pay for wars, to the deaths of our kids, husbands, fathers, grandsons and mothers and wives, and daughters, and sons, and granddaughters, and on and on and on. Any idiot can start a war. We need to be employing brains and diplomacy, money never won a war, so they need to stop throwing money at these crooked dictators, we need it right here at home. Vote out the warmongers!

Birgit W (160)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 2:09 pm

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 2:22 pm
MORAL INJURY - Now a News Item, please NOTE this one also:

Moral Injury:The Grunts - Damned If They Kill, Damned If They Don't/ HuffPost
Society & Culture (tags: PTSD, Moralinjury, Moralpain, Morality, MoralityofWar, JustWars, Imperialism, Pentagon, DefenseDepartment, ImperialistWars, Afghanistan, Troops, Suicide, USmilitary, WarCrimes, insanity )
BMutiny -
"He was just a kid. But I'm sorry, I'm trying not to get shot and I don't want any of my brothers getting hurt, so when you are put in that kind of situation... it's shittty that you have to, like... shoot him. You know it's wrong. But, you have no choice."

The URL for this C2 News Item:
The term "MORAL INJURY" is a good one to add to our Language....

John Farnham (52)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 2:27 pm
A financial ploy as a new standard operational policy.
Scroll down for Stress
Looking at the effects
One of those 'losses'
Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
The shock when troops realize their real assignment is seldom mentioned. Guarding poppy fields and harassing farmers barely surviving while interdicting cheap opium supplies to Indian hospitals was not in the recruitment brochure. Neither was Depleted Uranium or Water Warfare.

Sheryl G (360)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 5:59 pm
Deb, with a son of my own in the military, my heart reaches out to you. Thanks for posting.

Shirley S (187)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 6:29 pm
When will there EVER be "PEACE ON EARTH & GOOD WILL TO ALL MEN"???????

Lynn C (94)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 10:12 pm
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