Sat March 17, 2012
Neighbors: Suspect In Afghan Attack Was Family Man
Originally published on Sun March 18, 2012 12:59 am
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier alleged to have killed 16 Afghan civilians, was described by a former platoon leader Saturday as an "awesome" soldier.
"He always got the job done," said Cpt. Christopher Alexander, who led Bales on his second tour in Iraq. "You give this guy a task — it could be menial, it could be dangerous — either way, you never had to worry about whether he'd get it done and get it done well."
Alexander said he and other former members of the company found out Monday that Bales had been linked to the massacre. They kept it quiet until his name was leaked by government officials Friday. He said everyone who knows Bales from that time is mystified, and guesses this might be a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I would be surprised, though, if we haven't been told everything," he said. "There's just a lot about this story that doesn't make sense."
Bales has not yet been charged. He was flown back to the U.S. from Kuwait and arrived Friday evening at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
The Army says Bales has been placed in his own cell instead of the normal four-person bay. He will get time out of his cell for hygiene and recreational purposes, as well as religious support if he wants it.
'Life Of The Party'
Bales' home post is Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. There's no one home at his house in a rural, wooded community about 35 miles south of Seattle. The front porch is crammed with boxes and other odds and ends apparently left behind in a short-notice move. A Realtor's key locker hangs on the front door.
Records show Bales and his wife bought the home in 2005. Just days before the shootings, his wife asked a Realtor to put the house on the market — priced at a loss.
Stuart Ness, a Vietnam vet who lives nearby, said he feels sorry for Bales.
"I think that they shouldn't be trying to hang the guy; they should be trying to support him and help him," he said.
Another neighbor, Beau Britt, pointed to Bales' four tours overseas.
"Being gone, being sent over there four times," he said, "I can understand he's probably quite wracked mentally."
Kassie Holland's father lives next door. "My thought when I heard was I was blown away," she said. "I was completely shocked. I never thought that he would do anything like that. Ever."
Holland says she knows the Bales family well. She spends time here: children's birthday parties, Fourth of July. She has nothing but good things to say about Bales.
"He was great ... kind of the life of the party," she says.
Bales' record isn't perfect. He's had a couple brushes with the law. He completed 20 hours of anger-management counseling following a 2002 arrest for assault. The court docket shows that Bales pleaded not guilty, and the case was dismissed. In 2009, he was cited for running from the scene of a single-car accident.
Time In Iraq
Early indications are that Bales was a good soldier. He signed up soon after Sept. 11, 2001. In the decade since, he served three times in Iraq, earning medals for good conduct and meritorious service.
In 2007, Bales took part in the battle of Najaf, an intense engagement later written up in a Fort Lewis newspaper called the Northwest Guardian. In the article, Bales is quoted saying he was proud of his unit, because "we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants."
One officer who was there says Bales distinguished himself; he told the Seattle Times Friday night that when he learned the name of the alleged shooter in Afghanistan, "I nearly fell off my chair and had a good cry." The Times said the officer asked that his name not be used.
Bales became a staff sergeant in April 2008, following his second deployment in Iraq. He went to Iraq one more time before his fourth deployment, to Afghanistan.
Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, said his client was injured twice while deployed to Iraq. Bales suffered a concussion in a vehicle accident caused by an improvised explosive device, Browne said, and sustained a battle-related injury requiring surgery that removed part of one foot.
Deployment To Afghanistan
Browne said when the 11-year veteran heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go.
"He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment," he said. "He was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going."
The staff sergeant arrived in Afghanistan in December. On Feb. 1, he was assigned to a base in the Panjwai District, near Kandahar, to work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighborhood security.
On March 10, the day before the shooting spree, Browne said, Bales saw his friend's leg blown off. Browne said his client's family provided him with that information, which has not been independently verified.
Officials said Bales was wearing a NATO forces uniform when he moved through the nearby villages of Alkozai and Balandi, barging into homes and opening fire on those inside, then burning some of the bodies. Nine of those killed were children. Eleven of the dead were from a single family.
'War Is A Terrible Thing'
The Army is now sheltering Bales' wife and two small children at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, while the TV trucks line up outside their house.
Ness, lingered near the Bales' home, wearing a jacket covered with patches commemorating his service in Vietnam.
"War is a terrible thing, and things happen to people and [it] does strange things to their mind," he said. "[Bales has] obviously been affected by the war, and I just came to support him."
Military officials have leaked information indicating the possibility that Bales "snapped" under pressure, perhaps because of marital troubles or alcohol abuse. Bales' civilian lawyer has cast doubt on those theories, but he does say that, after three combat tours, Bales did not want to go on a fourth.
NPR's Martin Kaste and Allison Keyes contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.