Does The US Military Have a ‘Rogue’ Base?

The base of the soldier alleged to have murdered civilians in Afghanistan is being described as the “most troubled” in America.

The independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes says that Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 45 miles south of Seattle and the largest on the West Coast, has had a record number of suicides, has had several investigations into poor treatment of soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and was the base of a “kill team” convicted of murdering civilians for sport in Afghanistan as well as other present and past soldiers responsible for violent crimes.

The base’s Madigan Army Medical Center is being investigated for allegedly altering the diagnoses of hundreds of soldiers suffering from PTSD to lesser conditions in order to save on disability costs paid by the army.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in a March 11 rampage, has been based at Lewis-McChord for ten years.

Gen. David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Forces Command, said that the base was no better or worse than others.

“Again, those things happen. Everybody knows (the rampage) doesn’t reflect our standards and our values,” he said.

The newspaper agrees that some figures show crime rates consistent with army averages, but the base has been home to high profile cases including the murder of a Mount Rainier national park ranger, a family murder-suicide of a wife and 6-year-old son and a soldier who allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill his wife and his superior officer and threatened to blow up the state capitol.

Last year Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a Lewis-McChord soldier, was convicted in the killing of Afghan civilians with three other soldiers who had been deemed fit for combat at Lewis-McChord. The four had posed in trophy-style shots next to bodies.

In court, Gibbs compared yanking out an Afghan victim’s tooth to “like keeping the antlers off the deer that you shoot.”

Retired General James Dubik told the newspaper that “these are major incidents and they are indicative of some kind of serious problem that exists on (base).”

Dubik said that America has asked “too much of too few Americans for too long” and the combat stress resulting from multiple tours is a “natural consequence of having to go to that well too often.”

But he also stressed that the base’s problems should not be automatically linked to Bales’ rampage.

“It’s like a thunderstorm …You can’t say one thing causes a thunderstorm. A set of things have to come together to create a thunderstorm,” he said.

A soldier formally at the base, Kevin Baker, told Star and Stripes that blaming the base for Bale’s actions is “really just doing containment for the military.”

“The entire military is in crisis. There’s more suicides among soldiers nationwide in the last six years than there have been (soldiers) killed in combat. There needs to be an investigation and overhaul of the entire military culture in this country,” Baker said.

Baker co-founded a veterans’ and active service members’ anti-war group called March Forward. He believes the Army has ignored combat-related stress and over-deployment problems among soldiers.

Jorge Gonzalez, an Iraq veteran who runs Coffee Strong, a nonprofit Internet cafe near the base whose motto is “Pro-GI; Anti-War,” said that the latest incident in Afghanistan was not a surprise to him.

He said that soldiers are exposed to almost unbearable stress, then often denied assistance with mental issues.

Bales’ defense team is reportedly building their case on PTSD.

Gonzalez told the BBC that soldiers “wouldn’t be able to function and perform their mission if they were to genuinely compensate and allow the proper healing to take place.”

“People come in [to the cafe] with high levels of anxiety,” he says. “You can almost see it in their face in terms of the way they are looking over their shoulders and constantly looking out of the window and are just kind of generally suspicious and just distrustful.”

“This is what happens when you have 10 years of war,” he said. “It kind of fits in with all the other problems at [Lewis-McChord].”

But Seattle-based mental health therapist and PTSD counselor Reid Stell told the BBC that he was not optimistic that the latest Afghan rampage would lead to change:

“This is what it takes,” he says. “A big headline-grabbing event, but will it be the bad apple argument.”

And according to the New York Times, the court-martial of Bales will likely take several years.

Related stories:

Afghan Killings By US Soldier: Another My Lai?

Afghan Suspect’s Lawyer: Trauma, Brain Injury, 4 Deployments

Hate Slurry Follows Afghan Murders on Right-Wing Websites

Image source: Wikipedia


Wild Thang
Wilde Thange4 years ago

And then there is the covered up atrocities from Vietnam recently revealed in the Nick Turses's book "Kill Anything That Moves" based on a unearthed military investigation of numerous incidents like Mai Li with its rapes and killing. War is a rape of one country by another for pleasure and profits of few and collateral damage to the entire planet and our human race

Terri Lynn Sullivan

Kelly R....I know what you are saying about the rogue leaders that put our young women and no less horrendous men in harms way for nothing but oil/profit/greed are ones commanding no respect...VERY GOOD POINT.....But I also pit the ignorance of people chanting "thank you girls and boys for risking your lives for us" in that same disrespectful category.....Ignorance is bliss but seriously, ignorance itself is tyranny. The information is out there in books, by travel to other continents to learn to think outside the box...the narrow minded box of American supremacy. I feel it heartless to say I could "respect" those innocent girls and boys thinking they are "fighting for our country"....pity, yes. But I feel those of us who would not say they command "respect" so much as prayers, to be educated on fact war really does not "serve our nation", and to be kept safe from this political and financial corruption to begin with are ones that truly support them.

Lynn C.
Lynn C5 years ago

@Robert F. Excellent comment! Thank you.

Charli S.
Charlotte S6 years ago

The big problem is that the former administration had to "go to war with the army they had not the army they wished they had." Now perhaps if they have put thinking caps on their little heads they could have seen what was going to happen. A too small army spread too thin and being used too much. Human beings were never meant to continually be exposed to the horrors of combat and the constant stress of not knowing who is your friend or enemy. But as long as we get the oil...and they make money that's all that counts. I hope Bush and his crew enjoy what they have inflicted on our nation and I hope that history judges them all.

kelly rahach
kelly r6 years ago

It is war that is rogue.

The men and woman that fight it, you have all my respect. The leaders that start it, none of it.

Diane - you hit the root of the problem with this particular man. They won't let you into the military with a pot smoking conviction, but a guy with domestic violence, financial and fraud issues? Hey, give him a weapon and send him out to kill, repeatedly.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Marc R., "It makes sense that there would be such a place. Obama is going to need those types to keep us in line when he declares martial law on us."......that had to be one of the stupidest comments I've ever read in Care.2! Such a place is a joint base which, because of budget cuts, was formerly Ft. Lewis (U.S. Army) and McChord AFB (Air Force). They happened to have an almost "community" border, and one didn't realize when driving by, they were leaving McChord and entering Ft. Lewis, so they were technically combined and facilities made more efficient and not overlapping. It cut costs. Now, the property is the same size, but not TWO commissaries, TWO blah, blah, blah. Both bases have been here since long before I was born, and I bet that was long before you and I know it was long before Obama.

Anne C., not sure if his "friends" list means that much, but it does give a bit of a clue as to where he is coming from.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Now, having said that (about how vets and soldiers with PTSD are treated), remember that the man in this discussion seems to have had some issues BEFORE ever enlisting in the military. He had two accusations of domestic violence, a few of fraud when working as a stock broker and he was in serious financial trouble. Maybe all of this, added TO the stress of seeing what he was subjected to, being re-deploye for the 4th time, all made him snap. I'm not excusing what he did, nor blaming the military, but maybe they should have done more before re-deploying him to make sure he was mentally stable enough to BE re-deployed.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

I do not think JBLM is any more "rogue" than any other military base, but the treatment of vets at any V.A. hospital or even allowing them to get there TO be treated for PTSD is deplorable. My son is a vet (Desert Storm) and he has been diagnosed with PTSD, and is getting benefits (barely enough to exist on) and flat out stated on paperwork he is UNFIT TO BE EMPLOYED........NOT EMPLOYABLE! He told me many times about his nightmares, flashbacks and he wasn't even engaged in hand-to-hand combat such as Sgt in this topic.....he drove a fuel truck. He said everytime he goes to the V.A., the call in the local cops "in case he gets violent" or "raises a ruckus". He's followed from the moment he enters the property until he signs out. He feels like he's on a sexual predator list, or worse, actually. Now, if he hasn't snapped before, how much longer, if he's treated like this, will it be?

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

PTSD is being poo-pooed as non-existent as was Agent Orange in Viet Nam era. The military is terrified that the truth will get out and they will be sued from here to Mars. How many years did it take (killing time hoping more would die before the claims had to be paid out) for Agent Orange to become a "fact"?

Charles P.
Charles P6 years ago

Two head wonds, four tours in a war zone and they wonder why people snap? This killing can belaid directly at the feetof Herrs Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. They, along with the neo-cons that wanted this war should all be hunted down, prosecuted and jailed for the rest of their lousy lives.