The Army sergeant who slaughtered 16 Afghan villagers, including women and children, will be standing accused alone at the defendant’s table. But there should be another defendant sitting next to him: the US Army.
This is a married man with two children ages 3 and 4. At first there were reported marital problems but now his attorney says those reports are false. Still, this was his 4th tour of duty, having spent 3 in Iraq. So, the Army subjects him to the death and insanity that was the Iraq War and they reward him by assigning him to a godforsaken, desolate Afghan outpost supporting special ops teams like the Army Green Berets and the Navy SEALs. The day before he went on his rampage a buddy of his had his leg blown off by a roadside bomb the day before.
This sergeant is 38 years old and has served 11 years in the Army. No one forced him to re-up when he finished his first enlistment period but no one forced the Army to keep sending him again and again into harm’s way, a family man with two young kids. He’s been in Afghanistan since last December. He suffered a concussion from a roadside bomb explosion and lost part of a foot due to another battle injury. Yet the Army claims that after exhaustive psychological and physical testing they gave him the OK to return to active duty. They even sent him through sniper school for good measure.
It’s alleged that he went on a drinking binge, something snapped, and he took his rifle, walked off base, and shot up two villages, and then calmly walked back onto base and gave himself up. He alleges the Army broke its promise to him that he would not be re-deployed after his 3rd Iraq tour of duty.
I have to think that with his marriage possibly breaking up, he was thinking that stuck there in an Afghan outpost with “friendly” Afghans shooting Americans, and the Taliban shooting Americans, his chances of making it home alive were growing less and less. He might have been thinking about his missing foot, and the Bronze Star that the Army denied him. And sitting in his quarters there, pulling on whatever he might have been drinking, he simply thought, “Fuck it. Fuck this shit and if I’m about to lose everything, I’m going to make sure it’s me who does it and there’s no going back.” So he picks up his rifle and walks off base.
This is what the Army is doing to today’s enlisted soldier. With a volunteer army, they are restricted to getting what walks in the door, which is usually the poor kids without a future. Many of these kids have lower expectations from life because some of them weren’t exactly the sharpest pencils in school and all of them can’t find a job in civilian life. The military is their only shot at a semblance of some type of life. But I would bet the recruiter never tells them that when they sign up for 6 years, it’s no longer one tour of duty in a foreign undeclared war zone. It’s being forced back again and again and again until you’ve seen so many buddies blown up or blowing their own heads off, they wonder when they’ll be next. They’re fully aware of buddies who after being shipped back home can’t make it in civilian life and the VA offers no help to them at all. So it’s a choice between dying in combat or dying inside back home. Either way, there’s no hope.
And that has to be what the sergeant was feeling: there’s no hope. In Vietnam, no matter how bad things got in that jungle, every soldier knew it was a one-time gig unless they chose to go back for another round. In Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers are stuck on a merry-go-round they can’t get off because the only brass ring that gets you sent home is either inside a body bag or grasped inside the hand of the arm that was blown off by a roadside bomb.
Nothing will excuse the horror and death the sergeant rained down on the 16 people and their families in those two villages. But to ease his pain, he committed a crime so horrendous with consequences so immense and possibly final, that he can shut down numb himself to all he has lost, and all events about to befall him.
And the Army officially states this was the act of a lone soldier who was under extreme stress and alcohol may have played a role as well. After forcing a young man to spend years away from his wife, children, and home for years because the Army needs live bodies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army feels it has no culpability in the genesis of this massacre. I’m sure the Navy, who has deployed sailors to a landlocked country, feels the same way.
The US Army’s current ad slogan is “Army Strong”. US Marines were ordered to disarm themselves before attending a meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. If the Marines, the toughest sons of bitches there are in the regular military can’t be trusted to carry weapons in the presence of their boss, how strong is today’s Army really?