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Military Madness: Suicides Spike, ‘Rogue’ Sergeant Bales and Foreclosure Killings

You’ve probably seen the recent headlines indicating that in the first 155 days of 2012, 154 active duty military personnel committed suicide.  One soldier a day committed suicide, roughly 50% more than were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.    And the statistics include only active-duty troops, not veterans who returned to civilian life after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor does the Pentagon’s tally include non-mobilized National Guard or Reserve members.  Good God all-Friday.

Military spokesmen expressed surprise at the spike; according to them, suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, and are higher in number than the military had projected given past rates, according to the AP.  Actuarial charts on military suicides is a concept I hadn’t even considered; the piece mentions the anti-suicide programs and phone hotline the military has set up to help…

While discussing the conventional causes of military suicide: combat stress, PTSD, multiple tours, over-use of ‘prescription’ drugs, two things popped out at me.  One item in the list of assumed contributing factors was ‘financial stress’; the other was the apparent fact that a considerable number of suicides were among those who had never deployed. WTH?  More about that perplexing fact later.

Leaving aside the other nastiness of the spike in sexual assaults (the AP didn’t want to say ‘rape’ apparently), drug use, domestic violence, and related behaviors, I began to wonder how many unsuccessful suicide attempts there might have been?

This is where it gets scary:

The Daily Mail, UK reported in November, 2011, that:

“One U.S. veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempts suicide every 80 minutes, according to new study.

In a staggering indictment on the lack of mental health programmes in the U.S. military, the report reveals 1,868 veterans made suicide attempts in 2009 alone.

Many veterans face dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, high employment and a loss of military camaraderie after returning from tours.” [bolds mine throughout]

Piling onto the suicide horrors, in 2010, the Army Times reported that new data was showing that among veterans at large, there were 18 suicides a day, five of whom were under VA treatment at the time, even though once they were in the system, risk screenings programs were in place.  Of the 10,000 calls a month the VA suicide prevention hotline received,  the program’s coordinator credited the hotline and referrals for help as having saved the lives of 7,000 vets.

Please allow me now to take a wild turn toward the man US Military spokespeople had initially referred to as a ‘Rogue Soldier’ who has reportedly admitted to killing 16 and wounding five villagers, nine of them children, in Kandahar Province on March 10.  The military’s ‘rogue’, lone gunman’ verbiage seemed to presage the framing of the narrative of the murders that the military would tell, and still maintains as ‘The Truth.’  Sergeant Bales was  spirited out of Afghanistan soon afterward, of course, with promises that the military would investigate the incident.  He is being held at Ft. Leavenworth prison.

Hamed Karzai has been quoted as being livid that Afghan investigators were blocked from interviewing him and from access to the military base’s closed-circuit camera tapes, thereby hampering in-country investigations.  I’d add editorial comment to the effect that how much he cares about any US/ISAF killings is…debatable, given his awareness of the precarious nature of his government’s position without our forces protecting him/it.

Originally charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of assault and premeditated murder on March 23, the Army has recently amended the charges.

According to the New York Times:

“The Army later amended its charges, reducing the murder count by one, to 16, and adding charges of illegal steroid use and alcohol consumption. In its statement accompanying the amended charges, the Army did not explain why it had eliminated one of the murder counts, though it had initially reported 16 dead shortly after the killings occurred.

The added charge of alcohol consumption was expected, as military officials had previously said that soldiers on Sergeant Bales’s combat outpost in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province reported seeing him drinking the night of the killings.

But the report of steroid use was new. The Army’s charging sheet said that Sergeant Bales had illegally possessed and used stanozolol, an anabolic steroid commonly used by athletes to build muscle mass.”

‘Roid Rage defense?

In direct conflict with the single ‘rogue’ story,  Tolon News announced that the investigation by an Afghan Parliament delegation sent to Kandahar found evidence of a far different scenario:

“’About 15 to 20 persons were seen, as well as two helicopters and an aircraft in the sky of the village while the operation took place,” Shakila Hashimi, the parliamentary member who presented the report, said.

“This brutal action took place with two groups and it had already been planned and deliberated on.”

Another member of the Afghan Parliament from Kandahar, Mohammad Naeem Lali Hamidzai commented: “Neighbouring countries, Taliban, foreigners, and on the other hand the government: we don’t know from which oppression we should save ourselves.’”

ISAF spokespeople hadn’t confirmed that the victims’ families have received up to $50,000 per death as had been reported by anonymous Afghan sources.

Speculation that Bales’ attorney John Henry Brown was planning a defense including PTSD and other contributing stressors has prompted experts in the field to push back; this ABC piece claims research has shown that PSTD most often causes sufferers to harm themselves rather than others.  Support groups are adamant that sufferers not be seen as potential powder-keg threats to others.

There has been plenty of Bales-dirt dished, including this Daily Mail piece (many photos), which paper seems more about boobs than news.  And believe me, I’m still furious and broken-heartened over the murders, as well as what seems to be a major cover-up of the truth.

But when I read a Mark Ames piece called ‘Death by Foreclosure Killings and Staff Sergeant Bales’ in April, narrating some of the harsh foreclosure story that his wife believes contributed to the craziness that led to her husband’s rampage, it set me back on my pins.  His piece provided a wider-angle context of the utterly hypocritical way this war-loving country treats not only the 99% in general, but the soldiers the political elites claim to honor and love so well.   The degree to which we believe these facts mitigate any of his actions is less important, imo, than the glimpse he gave us into the dark side of the class war, finance, foreclosure, military lies and betrayals that affect veterans and active military every day.

It’s a long piece, and I hope you’ll read it all.  He began with the micro stories of a Modesto man’s death-by-cop and foreclosure piece, Bales’ story, and expanded to the macro.

After acknowledging that most people familiar with the case agree that before the rampage, Roger Bales had ‘snapped’, and offer various psychological factors, etc.  Ames brought other atmospherics into the picture:

“Less well-known or discussed is what happened to Sgt. Bales on the other front: the class war front. Three days before his shooting rampage, the house where Bales’s wife and two children lived in Tacoma, Washington, was put up for a short sale, $50,000 underwater. This was exactly what Sgt. Bales and his wife feared might happen if the Army forced him into a fourth battlefield deployment.

The last time Sgt. Bales deployed — to Iraq in August 2009 — Bank of America foreclosed on the family’s rental property, a duplex that his wife had bought in 1999 that was also underwater. Within months of BofA taking their duplex, Sgt. Bales’s Humvee hit an IED and flipped over, causing brain and head injuries. On a previous deployment to Iraq, Sgt. Bales had one of his feet partially blown off by a bomb. [snip]

Before being deployed to Afghanistan last year, he and his wife had been assured that the Army wouldn’t force Sgt. Bales, a highly-decorated hero who’d already sacrificed his physical wellbeing and his family’s financial health, back into combat.”

He then cited the fact that apparently due to military ‘austerity cuts’ that fell on soldiers’ pay, but not weapons systems, Bales didn’t receive the promotion and pay raise he’d been promised, but his wife wrote that at least he wouldn’t be sent back to a war zone.

But, bam; they soon received notice that he was being sent back to Afghanistan, leaving his wife and children with a familiar subprime mortgage with a variable interest rate and refinancing deals that led to a $500,000 subprime mortgage mess based on an original $178,000 loan.

Ames’ outrage is apparent:

“The extent to which mortgage lenders and banks deliberately preyed on American military families is made clear by this little-known fact: the Tacoma region, home to Fort Lewis-McChord, the largest base in the Western United States and home to 100,000 military personnel and families, suffered one of the worst predatory subprime loan epidemics in the country, an anomaly in the state of Washington. According to Richard Eastern’s firm, roughly half of all home sales in that region are either foreclosures or short sales. As early as 2007, the Wall Street Journal singled out Tacoma as one of the nation’s worst affected regions from subprime plunder.”

In this case it was another business hero, Bernard Hayes at Paramount Equity: same story, different lender, preying on soldiers and others in a sick version of Military Madness and Profiteering disguised as Military Love.  The larger story may give some  insight into the reason even non-deployed soldiers are attempting to, or succeeding at…killing themselves.  Many return to chronic unemployment, foreclosure, and the associated family hardships; many have been betrayed by the broken social contract, and even the one the military promised them: health care, a college education, and the consideration of a country allegedly grateful for their ‘defense’ of it.

In related news, the Army Times brings news that the Defense Department has announced four units, including two from Fort Campbell, that will deploy to Afghanistan this year.  The scheduled rotation announced Thursday includes more than 11,000 soldiers from the four units who will start deploying between spring and winter.  One comment under the piece quips that they are not mentioning the National Guard troops who are to be deployed also.  ‘Winding down the war’ indeed.


Stop the ‘wars’ and the drone murders.   Stop the madness.  Even these celebrated Business Heroes who profit by stepping on the backs of soldiers and their families are ‘Masters of War’, no matter how inadvertently.  Please also consider for whom how many enlistees the military serves as a de facto jobs program; the signing bonuses and alleged perks like paid college tuition down the road must seem like a viable way out of economic straits for so many jobless, especially those who can’t support their families now.  The MOTU were brilliant in ending the draft; it will never come back as long as they reign.

Stop the the Predatory Class.  Sharp-shinned hawks  have to make a living like this; humans definitely do not.

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