ONTD Political

Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home

5:27 pm - 05/08/2011
Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.

Marquez's 3,500-soldier unit — now called the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team — fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq, taking the most casualties of any Fort Carson unit by far.

Back home, 10 of its infantrymen have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006. Others have committed suicide, or tried to.

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

But in the vicious confusion of battle in Iraq and with no clear enemy, many said training went out the window. Slaughter became a part of life. Soldiers in body armor went back for round after round of battle that would have killed warriors a generation ago. Discipline deteriorated. Soldiers say the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians lurked in the ranks. And when these soldiers came home to Colorado Springs suffering the emotional wounds of combat, soldiers say, some were ignored, some were neglected, some were thrown away and some were punished.

Some kept killing — this time in Colorado Springs.

Many of those soldiers are now behind bars, but their troubles still reach well beyond the walls of their cells — and even beyond the Army. Their unit deployed again in May, this time to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, near Khyber Pass.

This month, Fort Carson released a 126-page report by a task force of behavioral-health and Army professionals who looked for common threads in the soldiers’ crimes. They concluded that the intensity of battle, the long-standing stigma against seeking help, and shortcomings in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment may have converged with “negative outcomes,” but more study was needed.

Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

More killing by more soldiers followed.

In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

Soldiers from other units at Fort Carson have committed crimes after deployments — military bookings at the El Paso County jail have tripled since the start of the Iraq war — but no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. The vast majority of the brigade’s soldiers have not committed crimes, but the number who have is far above the population at large. In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.

Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?

And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who took command of Fort Carson in the thick of the murders and ordered marked changes in how returning soldiers are treated, said he hopes so.

“When we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do about it. That is what we are trying to do here,” Graham said in a June interview. “There is a culture and a stigma that need to change.”

Under his command, nearly everyone — from colonels to platoon sergeants — is now trained to help troops showing the signs of emotional stress. Fort Carson has doubled its number of behavioral-health counselors and tightened hospital regulations to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation. Graham has also volunteered Fort Carson as a testing ground for new Army programs to ease soldiers’ transition from war to home.

Eastridge, an infantry specialist now serving 10 years for accessory to murder, said it will take a lot to wipe away the stain of Iraq.

“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. ... If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

Full article at Colorado Springs Gazette, part two here
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
lafinjack 8th-May-2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
My drill sergeants had us yell "Blood! Blood! Bright red blood!"
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
bowtomecha 8th-May-2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
its a culture of death and marginalization of the enemy. my brother came back a very scary person.
romp 9th-May-2011 12:10 am (UTC)
Is he better now? If you're so inclined, I'd be interested in how that went, if time helped or something else...or nothing.

My father said he and his fellow recruits were trained to kill and then, after the war, just dropped back home in the US. That they should have also gone through another set of training to reenter society.
erunamiryene 8th-May-2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

That sergeant should never have made that rank, because that's an astonishing failure of leadership. And yes, there WERE things he could do.

The main failure, IMO, is not enough training to ensure that they still see "the enemy" as human, and not watching those who come back. For each of these stories, there are hundreds of guys that had the same combat-oriented cadences, went through the invasion, went through multiple deployments, and don't come home and kill people. The problem is with the mindset that it's "weak" to ask for help.

With this brigade in particular, it sounds like a failure of leadership from the top down.

to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation

Erm. That's kind of overkill. o.O
wemblee 9th-May-2011 02:39 am (UTC)
The main failure, IMO, is not enough training to ensure that they still see "the enemy" as human

I thought the whole point was that they're specifically taught to dehumanize the enemy, so that they can kill people.
romp 9th-May-2011 12:07 am (UTC)
It's fascinating to me that we have to learn this over and over. I'm convinced killing fucks with the mind--we're simply not built for it. Some people have the support and mental flexibility or whatever to cope but many do not. And some aren't affected at all.

I fear we simply don't want to acknowledge that people we send to fight are damaged by battle, even those that survive. This has affected entire families for generations but it's only now that people are tracking it. How many soldiers are still living in the bush, unable to stand the sight of another person, since coming back from VIetnam?

Clever to track one unit. I've been reading about this for a decade and I don't know if things have improved. Sounds like the entire macho culture might have to change.

very good article from 2008: The Last Tour: A decorated marine’s war within

anecdote: My father came back with nightmares that he woke from screaming for over a year. And PTSD that was never officially acknowledged--he was just handed valium for anxiety. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned not everyone woke in the middle of the night to patrol the house and check all the windows and doors.
serendipity_15 9th-May-2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Current's Vanguard did an episode about this last summer. They looked at how a growing trend was being seen in the justice system of recently returned service members who are charged with violent crimes back here. If you want to take a look at it, it's here on their website. Vanguard's warcrimes
jessebaker 9th-May-2011 12:42 am (UTC)
The Blesser/Bastien/Eastridge murders were given major coverage in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine a couple of years back.

One thing that was scary about that sordid tale of random murder and violence was that the trio seriously contemplated going into the armed robbery business as far as using their military training to commit bank robberies and such.

The article also pointed out that in Blesser's case, you had a guy who came from a home where the dad preached gospel of "might meets right" as far as pitting his children against each other in fights when they got mad at each other and generally raised his kids in a semi-mainstream survivalist way in terms of hunting and guns. And the fact that Bastien and Eastridge were actually WORSE, in terms of one being a racist sociopath who killed Iraqis for shits and giggles while the other was a wife abusive piece of shit BEFORE he got into the army and generally was the brains behind the murders as far as controlling the mentally deranged Blesser with pot and a desire for companionship from someone he served with that was back in the states, to make him his pet killer.
amethyst_amore 9th-May-2011 01:35 am (UTC)
All these stories of soldiers coming home with from the service without being treated for the trauma they've endured make me really worried for my sister. She's dating and ROTC, but since he's training to be an officer in the air force we think he'll be somewhat ok... Not safer, but perhaps sparred the same horror those on the ground are exposed to. Even still, I do worry for him and for her.

On a less personal note, the lack of proper care in the aftermath of service for these veterans makes me absolutely sick.
doverz 9th-May-2011 01:50 am (UTC)
It's ridiculous that when our vets come home that a lot of them don't get the mental help they need.
orange_fell 9th-May-2011 01:53 am (UTC)
Makes me think of this poem (WARNING FOR GRAPHIC CONTENT: mental illness, suicide, violence).

I wish there was something I could do to help things change.
eponaschild 9th-May-2011 02:11 am (UTC)
Just today my Dad, a Vietnam veteran, told me that if my kids ever went into the military he would kick our (my and my husband's) asses. Stuff like this is the reason why.
snarksnarklaugh 9th-May-2011 03:47 am (UTC)
Oddly enough I seem to only here these types of stories of people going seriously criminal after or during duty out of infantry units or MPs. Also isn't there a Haji!Haji!Haji! KILL!KILL!KILL! part to that chant?! Maybe I heard a different version or he left some out.

The military seems slow on the uptake. Giving people skills to kill but not skills to deal with what happens afterword is a problem they've had for a while. I don't think one more study is going to help if they just ignore it like they do with the previous ones.
mdemvizi 9th-May-2011 04:41 am (UTC)
My brother is home on R&R from Afghanistan. I won't be seeing him due to my finals schedule but I am calling him tomorrow. He was in a very small IED explosion and was in the hospital for three days or so. He's got enough going on his life I hope that he's okay. Just makes me want to call him more.
jugglingeggs 9th-May-2011 05:32 am (UTC)
This is an extremely chilling article. And the amount of time the army spends dehumanizing "the enemy"(...civilians even..)..I just can't. This is why this entire institution is such a failure. How can you claim to be "liberating people" when this is KILLKILLKILL is part of your daily mantra? And really is it such a shock that more and more civilians take up arms against this kind of mindset (and then themselves take on this killkillkill mindset?).
This page was loaded Apr 20th 2018, 2:58 pm GMT.