Army: Violence by GIs at Home Tied to Combat

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The Associated Press

Army: Violence by GIs at Home Tied to Combat

Colorado-based veterans accused or convicted in 11 slayings

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Iraqi securitymen stand guard at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, January 2009. Soldiers from a Colorado unit accused in nearly a dozen slayings since returning home - including a couple gunned down as they put up a garage sale sign - could be showing hostility fueled by intense combat in Iraq, where the troops suffered heavy losses and told of witnessing war crimes, the military said Wednesday. (AFP/File/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

DENVER - Soldiers from a Colorado unit accused
in nearly a dozen slayings since returning home - including a couple
gunned down as they put up a garage sale sign - could be showing
hostility fueled by intense combat in Iraq, where the troops suffered
heavy losses and told of witnessing war crimes, the military said
Wednesday.

In what was billed as its most
comprehensive study to date of violent crimes and combat exposure, the
Army looked at soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry
Division - nicknamed the Lethal Warriors - who were accused in a spate
of five killings around Colorado Springs, home to Fort Carson, in 2007
and 2008.

Six other slayings involving unit soldiers occurred in Colorado and other states since 2005.

"This
investigation suggest a possible association between increasing levels
of combat exposure and risk for negative behavioral outcomes," the
study said.

Army investigators compared
the Fort Carson unit of about 3,700 soldiers with a similarly sized
unit and found it suffered more combat deaths in Iraq and was deployed
there longer.

"This deployment
experienced higher levels of combat intensity," the report said, adding
that the soldiers also faced "significant disruptions in family-social
support."

At risk of violence Lt.
Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army's surgeon general, said Wednesday the
unit's crime cluster appeared to be unique among Army bases and that
its combat exposure and length of deployments are just two factor
officials are looking at.

"We're starting to look into the deployments and ... how it's related with attitudes and behavior," Schoomaker said.

The
accused soldiers also were at risk of violence because of prior
criminal activity, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues,
according to Schoomaker, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, the Army's
deputy chief of staff, and Army West Division Commander Maj. Gen. Mark
Graham.

Task force members suggested the
Army find a way to identify soldiers who have been exposed to fierce
combat. But in a bid to put the cluster in perspective, Rochelle
stressed that, between 2004 and 2008, 2,726 Army soldiers (.2 percent)
were involved in violent crimes, out of a population of 1.1 million.

Nationally,
at least 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have committed a killing
in the United States or been charged in one.

They
also recommended better training for commissioned and noncommissioned
officers to manage soldiers with behavioral problems and ensure
soldiers who seek help aren't humiliated or belittled.

Stress of war Investigators
focused on the cases of 14 soldiers accused of murder, manslaughter,
attempted murder and aggravated assault, mostly with firearms.

Two
of those 14 soldiers were not deployed. Among the 12 who were,
investigators found the accused had experienced heavy combat in Iraq
and that half of those interviewed reported witnessing war crimes,
including the killing of civilians.

Schoomaker stressed Wednesday that an Army probe did not substantiate the soldiers' reports of war crimes.

Back
home, the soldiers carried weapons with them because they felt "naked"
and unsafe and had difficulty transitioning to civilian life. Some said
they felt "weird" and didn't fit in, the Army report said.

"There, we were the law; here, the cops are the law," one of the accused told investigators.

High combat death rate The Army report says the accused claimed their commanders and fellow soldiers did not encourage them to seek help at home.

The
4th BCT experienced a combat death rate of 8.9 per 1,000 soldiers
during a first Iraq deployment and 9.6 per 1,000 on a second
deployment. In comparison, the other, unidentified unit had death rates
of 0.4 and 2.1 per 1,000, respectively.

The
Colorado slayings include the June 6, 2008, deaths of a man and a woman
gunned down by a man with AK-47 assault rifle as they put up garage
sale signs on a street.

Pfc. Jomar
Dionisio Falu-Vives faces first-degree murder charges in the shootings.
He lived nearby and told friends he liked hearing the sirens as
authorities raced to the scene, according to the Army report.

In
May, Thomas Woolly, a Fort Carson soldier and Purple Heart recipient,
was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the slaying of a
19-year-old woman. Woolly was in Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Unit,
which provides support for soldiers returning from combat who were
injured or have psychiatric disorders.

PTSD symptoms The
spate of killings prompted then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, now interior
secretary, to ask the Army last year to investigate the killings.

Wednesday's
study comes as the Army struggles with other combat-related issues,
including increased rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome and soldier
suicides.

A study last year by the RAND
Corp. research organization estimated nearly 20 percent of returning
veterans, or 300,000 people, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression.

Army suicides have increased yearly since
2004 as soldiers deal with longer and repeated tours in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Eight soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., have killed
themselves this year, and the Army has made suicide prevention training
mandatory for soldiers and leaders.

 

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