Afghan shooter 'the local hero'

2012-03-18 14:10

Lake Tapps - Bypassed for a promotion and struggling to pay for his house, Robert Bales was eyeing a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he allegedly gunned down 16 civilians in an Afghan war zone, records and interviews showed as a deeper picture emerged of the US army sergeant's financial troubles and brushes with the law.

While Bales, 38, sat in an isolated cell at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Saturday, classmates and neighbours from Ohio remembered him as a "happy-go-lucky" school football player who took care of a special needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighbourhood.

But court records and interviews show that the 10-year veteran - with a string of commendations for good conduct during four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - had joined the army after a Florida investment job went sour, had a Seattle-area home condemned, struggled to make payments on another and failed to get a promotion or a transfer a year ago.

His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, court records show. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed, the records show.

Military officials say that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, Bales crept away on March 11 to two slumbering villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children and 11 belonged to one family.

One of the best

"This is some crazy stuff if it's true," Steve Berling, a school classmate, said of the revelations about the father of two known as "Bobby" in his hometown of Norwood, Ohio.

Bales hasn't been charged yet in the shootings, which have endangered complicated relations between the US and Afghanistan and threatened to upend US policy over the decade-old war.

His former platoon leader said on Saturday that Bales was a model soldier inspired to serve by 9/11 who saved lives in firefights on his second of three Iraq missions.

"He's one of the best guys I ever worked with," said Army Captain Chris Alexander, who led Bales on a 15-month deployment in Iraq.

"He is not some psychopath. He's an outstanding soldier who has given a lot for this country."

Family troubles

But Bales' family troubles were hinted at by his wife, Kari, on multiple blogs posted with names like The Bales Family Adventures and BabyBales. A year ago, she wrote that Bales was hoping for a promotion or a transfer after nine years stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.

"We are hoping to have as much control as possible" over the future, Kari Bales wrote last March 25. "Who knows where we will end up. I just hope that we are able to rent our house so that we can keep it. I think we are both still in shock."

After Bales lost out on a promotion to E7 - a first-class sergeant - the family hoped to go to Germany, Italy or Hawaii for an "adventure," she said. They hoped to move by last summer; instead the army redeployed his unit - the 3rd Stryker Brigade, named after armored Stryker vehicles - to Afghanistan.

It would be Bales' fourth tour in a war zone. He joined the military two months after 9/11 and spent more than three years in Iraq during three separate assignments since 2003. His attorney said he was injured twice in Iraq - once losing part of his foot - but his 20 or so commendations do not include the Purple Heart, given to soldiers wounded in combat.

Saved lives

Alexander said Bales wasn't injured while he oversaw him during their deployment, Bales' second in Iraq. He called Bales a "very solid" officer who didn't have more difficulty than his fellow soldiers with battlefield stress. Bales once shot at a man aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at his platoon's vehicle in Mosul, sending the grenade flying over the vehicle.

"There's no doubt he saved lives that day," Alexander said.

The charges he killed civilians is "100% out of character for him," he added.

Bales always loved the military and war history, even as a teenager, said Berling, who played football with him in the early 1990s.

"I remember him and the teacher just going back and forth on something like talking about the details of the Battle of Bunker Hill," he said. "He knew history, all the wars."

Loved the army

Bales exulted in the role once he finally achieved it. Plunged into battle in Iraq, he told an interviewer for a Fort Lewis base newspaper in 2009 that he and his comrades proved "the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy."

Bales joined the army, Berling said, after studying business at Ohio State University - he attended three years but didn't graduate - and handled investments before the market downturn pushed him out of the business. Florida records show that Bales was a director at an inactive company called Spartina Investments Inc; his brother, Mark Bales, was also listed as a director.

"I guess he didn't like it when people lost money," Berling said.

Bales was struggling to keep payments on his own home in Lake Tapps, a rural community south of Seattle. His wife asked to put the house on the market three days before the shootings, real estate Philip Rodocker said.

"She told him she was behind in our payments," Rodocker told The New York Times. "She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilise their finances."

House for sale

The house was not officially put on the market until Monday. On Tuesday, Rodocker said, Bales' wife called and asked to take the house off the market, talking of a family emergency.

Bales and his wife bought the Lake Tapps home in 2005, according to records, for $280 000. It was listed this week at $229 000. Overflowing boxes were piled on the front porch, and a US flag leaned against the siding.

The sale may have been a sign of financial troubles. Bales and his wife also own a home in nearby Auburn, according to county records, but abandoned it about two years ago, homeowners' association president Bob Baggett said. Now signs posted on the front door and window by the city warn against occupying the house.

"It was ramshackled," Baggett said. "They were not dependable. When they left there were vehicles parts left on the front yard ... we'd given up on the owners."

The diverging portrait of the sergeant rippled across the country on Saturday.

Local hero

"It's our Bobby. He was the local hero," said Michael Blevins, who grew up down the street from him in Ohio. The youngest of five boys respected older residents, admonished troublemakers and loved children, even helping another boy in the area who had special needs.

In Washington state, court records showed a 2002 arrest for assault on a girlfriend. Bales pleaded not guilty and was required to undergo 20 hours of anger management counselling, after which the case was dismissed.

A separate hit-and-run charge was dismissed in Sumner, Washington's municipal court three years ago, according to records. It isn't clear from court documents what Bales hit. Witnesses saw a man in a military-style uniform, with a shaved head and bleeding, running away.

When deputies found him in the woods, Bales told them he fell asleep at the wheel. He paid about $1 000 in fines and restitution and the case was dismissed in October 2009.

Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said he didn't know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the Afghan shootings, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant.

He also said on Friday he didn't know if his client had been drinking the night of the massacre. Browne didn't return telephone calls on Saturday. His legal team has said Browne will be meeting with Bales at Fort Leavenworth next week.

  • Dmitri - 2012-03-18 14:57

    On his 4th tour of duty. That is hectic. If he did what he did, it is horrific, but unless you understand what he went through (which I cannot), then I would not pass judgement on this guy. Time for obama to bring the guys home. Enough is enough.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 15:20

      He's a murderer or a patsy.

      Dmitri - 2012-03-18 16:02

      goyoubadthing - crawl back under the rock so that the female spider can bite your head off!!!! @Anneck, everything points to him shooting the civilians and if he is found guilty then he will be tried as a soldier. I agree that they went after OBL, and then they should have pulled out. I also cannot understand what they are still doing there. The Russians learnt the hard way as well. Could it all be a "staging point" for a possible deployment into Iran that was planned years ago???

      Fred - 2012-03-18 20:12

      And the mad, blood-thirsty, narcissistic dictator Moamar Gaddafi was a true African hero! Hahahahaha!

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:20

      Dmitri, I gather you don't understand the concept of a patsy.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:28

      As far as I can ascertain, Gaddafi had no hand in this particular slaughter. In fact I believe he is dead. What does he have to do with this Fred?

      Fred - 2012-03-19 01:29

      Patrick believes he was a real African hero. You believe central banks are privately owned and controlled, the Rothschilds are the source of all evil, and 9/11 didn't happen.

  • Anneck - 2012-03-18 15:21

    @Dmitri, in a way I agree with you. The real reason they went to Afganistan was to capture Osama bin Laden, which they have now achieved. What are they still doing there? As tough as it must have been on this individual, he still committed a multiple murder, and as a soldier, he should be tried accordingly in a military court.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 15:23

      That's not the REAL reason, it's the reason they gave you. Osama did nothing.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 16:28

      Osama did nothing! Goothing, this twisted delusional idea is consistent with your silly ideas that the Rothschilds are the source of all evil in our world, and central banks are arms of private banks, not governments. Hahahaha.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 16:32

      Anneck, Afghanistan was a vacuous state being used by Al-Quaida, in association with the Taliban, to wage war on the freer world. That means you. The US not only was looking for Bin Laden, but also meant to create some form of government that would prevent the territory from being used the same way again.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 20:15

      Yeah go figure. You're vocal to the extreme on anything linked to the US, but deathly silent on the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of civilians INTENTIONALLY maimed and killed by suicide and car bombers who want to take the world back 2,500 years, and stone women to death for nothing. In your deranged world, they're heroes, not the real terrorists.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:19

      Fred, I've given you so much proof as to the central banks being private, our own SA reserve bank states so on it's website. Wikipedia has a list of the rest. Talk sense man.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:21

      Fred, Afghanistan was an ally of the USA up until the end of the 70s. They had the entire area squared away - then what happened - the CIA happened.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 20:25

      So funny. You're misreading the information. If only you knew how stupid you look. Especially when you believe the Rothschilds are the source of all evil in our world, and 9/11 didn't really happen. Hahahahaha!

      Fred - 2012-03-18 20:26

      The Soviet Union happened, that's what happened. Did you miss that too?

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:46

      Fred, seriously. Your obsession with things out of context, markers which have no bearing on the situation at hand and constant barrage of unsubstantiated mutterings continues. 9/11 Happened alright, I saw it on television. Did a few cave dwellers do it all on their own and topple steel-buildings like a house of cards from aviation gas... pulverising metal and yet conveniently leaving a terrorist passport in pristine condition in the street? The odds are slim. If you can take that leap of faith, then your imagination is alive and well.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-03-18 20:48

      None of them are heroes Fred, not the terrorists on the one side and certainly not the 'soldier' on the other.

      wgjooste - 2012-03-18 21:30

      Afghanistan is pregnant because America didn't pull out in time when they f^&%#$ her

      Fred - 2012-03-19 01:32

      I think everyone who has even a slight awareness of world events knows 9/11 was carried out by Al-Quaida. How you manage to distort that event is anyone's guess. It's the same "leap of faith" you take when you distort information about what central banks are, and believe the Rothschilds of all people are the source of evil in our world. The Jihadists who are killing hundreds of thousands of civilians: no

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