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Posted by on Mar 19, 2012 in International, Law, Media, Places, Society, War | 7 comments

Lewis-McChord, Most Troubled Base in the Military?

Since it became known that the soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in the March 11 rampage in Afghanistan, was based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord the question that has been asked most frequently is: “Is there something wrong with Joint Base Lewis-McChord?”

One of our contributors noted: “There will be trials within trials going on. In addition to Sgt. Bales Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be on trial.”

True. The alleged shooter, 38-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been stationed at Lewis-McChord for the last ten years — when not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

True. According to the Stars and Stripes:

Some connected the massacre to other problems at the base south of Tacoma, Wash.: a record number of suicides, several investigations into the treatment of soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a “kill team” convicted of murdering civilians for sport in Afghanistan and a string of other crimes involving present and past soldiers.

But, is Lewis-McChord really the “most troubled base in the military?”

A couple of reporters for the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune — Christian Hill and Adam Ashton — have looked into this issue and answer some “of the most pressing questions about the base.”

Some of the questions they ask are:

* Does Lewis-McChord have a problem with soldier suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder?

* Do records show a disproportionate number of crimes committed by Lewis-McChord soldiers?

* Is Lewis-McChord leadership to blame?

* Does the “kill team” case shed any light on problems at Lewis-McChord?

The answers may shed some light on whether there is “something wrong with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.” On the other hand, they may just raise additional questions.

We may have more definitive answers to all these questions and, most important, to the questions of “Why?” and “How can we prevent this from happening again,” after the lengthy investigations sure to come and after the trial itself. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. And, rightly or wrongly, Joint Base Lewis-McChord will also be on trial

Anyway, please read the answers to the questions above here.

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • Rcoutme

    So…the answers, as I suspected, are pretty much, “No.” It is the stress of over-deployment that is mostly to blame.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    I am not an expert on these matters, but -yes- the stress of multiple, “over-deployments”, could be a factor, along with PTSD, etc.

    I tend to go with retired general James Dubik’s assessment:

    “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.”

  • Bales has a very good lawyer and if he is allowed to do his job we may learn some things. He will ask for Bales’ medical records to see what drugs he was taking. As Dr E. pointed out in a comment to my post you linked to it’s important. The military is prescribing various psycho active to mitigate the effects of multiple deployments. As I noted here there are also questions being asked about the malaria drug Lariam. We don’t know what drugs Bales was taking but that should come out during the trial. Bales should be tried for what he did but rather than Joint Base Lewis-McChord it’s the policy that should additionally be on trial. It’s not just the multiple deployments but the nature of the wars – 24/7, no time to unwind.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Good point(s). Thanks, Ron

  • Rcoutme

    We fought WWII for about 3 1/2 years. The average infantry man’s time in combat was 10 days. In Vietnam it was over 200. With multiple deployments to Iraq and/or Afghanistan (to say nothing of other hot spots), who knows how many days our troops are facing the broken end of a bottle?

    I am actually glad that I am not a commissioned officer at this time. I simply do not know how I could keep my troops under control.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist


      There are numerous articles and statistics on this.

      USA TODAY had one in January 2010 with the following figures:

      American soldiers of the 21st century are quietly making history, serving in combat longer than almost any U.S. soldiers in the nation’s past, military historians say.

      The cycles of combat have been so long and so frequent that nearly 13,000 soldiers now have spent three to four cumulative years at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army records. About 500 GIs have spent more than four years in combat, the Army says.

      For the past six years, the percentage of soldiers at any given moment who have not gone to war has held steady at about 32% of the Army, says Louis Henkel, deputy director of the management office.

      However, Army records show that when the service accounts for soldiers in training, preparing to deploy, serving overseas in places such as South Korea, in poor health or assigned as drill sergeants or recruiters, there are fewer than 15,000 who can be tapped to fill in for the combat veterans.

      Here’s another one from Rand:

      As of December 2008, the Army has provided over 1 million troop-years to OIF and OEF. Active-duty soldiers alone have contributed over 700,000 troop-years to these two wars. From September 2005 through December 2008, the Army had an average of 128,000 soldiers deployed to OIF and OEF.
      Although the Army represented 40 percent of the DoD’s active-duty strength in 2008, it provided 52 percent of the forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Active-duty strength equals the sum of active component end strength, and those reserve component soldiers on full-time active-duty status — as distinct from mobilized reservists. Thus, the Army is sending a much higher proportion of its active-duty soldiers to the ongoing wars than the other services.
      To accumulate this much deployed time, most active-duty soldiers in the Army (67 percent) have deployed — and most now deployed are on their second or third tour. Multiple tours have created an increasingly experienced force in OEF/OIF. The figure reflects the cumulative deployments for each service as of December 2008. The numbers around the outside circle (proceeding in a clockwise direction) depict cumulative months deployed, and the rings (moving outward in a radial direction) depict the number of service members who have been deployed for that period of time. For example, 27,000 soldiers had a cumulative deployment time of 13 months; 35,000 had accumulated 15 months.

      A Significant Number of Soldiers Are Entering Their Third Year of Cumulative Deployed Time in OIF and OEF

      View enlarged version of this figure. (Sorry, did not copy .. go to link below)

      As of December 2008, approximately 373,000 soldiers in the Army had served in OIF or OEF; 173,000 soldiers are working on their second year of deployed time and 79,000 are working on their third year or longer. Of this last group, over 9,000 are deploying for their fourth year.

      I am sure all these figures have gone up in the last two-three years

      OEF = Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and OIF -Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.

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