Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Army

June
6th

Life spared, Bales owes the world an explanation

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

‘I intended to kill them.” That’s all he has to say?

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to massacring 16 Afghan villagers last year, owes humanity some explanation for that atrocity. Single-handedly, in one night, he did incalculable damage to America’s standing in Afghanistan and handed a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban.

“There is not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things that I did,” he told the judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Of course there’s no good reason. But how about a bad reason? How about any reason at all?

Bales’ defense team, and a legion of folks opposed to the Afghan war, have tried to turn him into the poster boy of everything the Army has done wrong on that side of the world.

The problem is, Bales’ enormity is an outlier by any reckoning. It has few parallels in all the years since Vietnam.

Innocents suffer and die in war; Sherman was talking precisely about noncombatants when he remarked, “War is hell.” In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, air strikes have taken the lives of countless bystanders. In battle, soldiers and Marines have killed noncombatants, deliberately in some cases — but almost always in the heat of battle.

But we’ve seen nothing like what Bales did on March 11, 2012. On a quiet night, in the relative safety of an Army compound, he armed himself with a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher; he sneaked off in the darkness to a nearby village, barged into a mud-walled home and gunned down unarmed people without provocation.

Then he returned to base, chatted with a friend, slipped out to another village and did it all over again.

The calculation behind it is reminiscent of the “kill team” — several JBLM soldiers who murdered three Afghan men, apparently for sport, in 2010. But Bales produced a far higher body count in far less time, and many of the bodies in that count belonged to children.
Read more »

April
1st

Uncle Sam wants – your cat?

Dogs get all the glory – until now. A report on the U.S. Army home page says a new program plans to enlist cats to do their doody, uh, duty for their country. They would work alongside military police.

The Army looks at this as a jobs program, a way to put stray, feral cats to work. And cats have a natural advantage over dogs, according to one military source:

It’s better to use these cats because they are a lot quieter, sneakier and quicker than most of our dogs. They will also be able to get into some of

Read more »

Feb.
12th

Army shouldn’t close ranks around Madigan inquiry

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It’s hard to beat the U.S. Army when it comes to giving the bureaucratic run-around.

The Army has been blocking News Tribune staffers who have tried to ferret out information about problems at Madigan Army Medical Center, where soldiers apparently had been misdiagnosed during medical disability reviews for combat-related conditions. Even Freedom of Information Act requests have gotten little traction, with the requests lagging for months before being rejected for one reason or another, or being answered incompletely.

Most recently, military reporter Adam Ashton sought information about findings made by the Army Behavioral Task Force, which conducted an Army-wide investigation after the reports of problems at Madigan. At a press conference last week, Army Secretary John McHugh announced that the task force generated 24 findings and 47 recommendations, but he couldn’t share any of them. That might happen at some future, unspecified date.

That’s not good enough. Read more »

Aug.
6th

Helping lawmakers get re-elected isn’t Army’s mission

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Many members of Congress stumping for re-election back in their districts decry government spending and those awful earmarks. Except (wink, wink) our earmarks, that is.

That’s as good an explanation as any for why the House more than tripled funding for a 70-ton tank the Army doesn’t need or want – and added hundreds of millions more for other items the Pentagon didn’t request, including an anti-drug program that duplicates one performed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It’s all about jobs that lawmakers can brag about preserving in their districts. If it means the Army gets more tanks that have little use in the kinds of war it’s been fighting in the 21st century, so be it.

Read more »

June
16th

Pentagon must overcome bureaucracy on PTSD diagnoses

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

It’s welcome news that the Department of Defense is expanding its review of post-traumatic stress syndrome diagnoses. That review will now date back to the 2002 start of the war in Afghanistan and include all branches of the military, not just the Army.

If recent reversals of many diagnoses made at Madigan Army Medical Center are any indications, too many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been wrongly told that they do not suffer from the disorder, affecting their ability to get treatment and receive disability benefits.

According to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray – who has been a pit bull on the subject of veterans’ mental health care – many soldiers whose diagnoses have been reversed said they were told “they were exaggerating their symptoms, lying and accused of shirking their duties.”
Read more »

March
31st

Massacre excuses: Guilt by association for U.S. troops

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Too many cheap explanations are being tossed around for the March 11 massacre of what appears to be 17 innocent villagers in Afghanistan. As a result, untold thousands of combat veterans risk getting indirectly smeared.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Lake Tapps man who’d been deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has been charged with the killings. The public knows very little about the crimes and very little about him; the Army has not been particularly forthcoming.

Into the vacuum of information has blown a whirlwind of speculation. Plus, in this case, artful comments from Bales’ defense attorney.

Much of the speculation concerns post-traumatic stress syndrome. Specifically, whether the slaughter was triggered by PTSD.

There are several problems with this notion. For starters, the Army has said nothing about whether Bales actually suffered from PTSD. His wife has said she saw no signs of it.

The estimates of soldiers who return from war with the disorder runs as high as 30 percent. That leaves a minimum of 70 percent who don’t come back with PTSD. Was Bales among the minority who do? We simply don’t know.

More to the point, soldiers and veterans who’ve had PTSD aren’t known for mass murder. The disorder can cause anguish, nightmares and flashbacks; it can trigger domestic abuse and even suicide.

But it doesn’t connect any dots for violence of the March 11 magnitude. The attempts to turn it into an explanation imply that other soldiers with the same condition are also at risk of becoming bloodthirsty berserkers.
Read more »

March
19th

After 10 years of war, the Army looks due for relief

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Individual soldiers have their breaking points. So do armies.

We don’t know the story behind a staff sergeant’s alleged massacre of Afghan villagers March 11, but it’s reasonable to assume he was not a paragon of mental health. The fact that he was on his fourth combat deployment may have had something to do with that.

The entire U.S. Army might be described as on its fourth deployment – or fifth, or eighth – since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq broke out, respectively, in 2001 and 2003. It’s hardly facing collapse, but symptoms of stress – such as a spiking suicide rate – are all too evident. Read more »

March
12th

Deadly rampage turns up the heat on U.S. mission

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

There’s a lot we don’t know yet about the tragic shooting rampage in Afghanistan on Sunday, allegedly by a lone Stryker soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

We don’t know yet what set him off and led to the murders of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women. Was it alcohol, drugs, mental illness, stress related to having already served three tours in Iraq? A combination of one or more of those factors?

We don’t know yet why someone who works with the staff sergeant – a 38-year-old soldier, 11-year veteran, husband and father – didn’t recognize that he was troubled and get him some kind of help. The Army has been promoting its increased focus on mental health services for U.S. troops, especially in light of higher rates of suicide and stress related to serving in war zones.
Read more »