U.S. soldier commits massacre overseas

“When I see stories like this it’s no wonder that civilians question the mission,” said Lance Corporal Kevin Belickis of the U.S. Marine Corps in an email interview. “There is a lot of good being done over there, but all it takes is one poor decision or lapse in judgment or mental break down, and all people remember is the bad that has happened out there.”

On March 11, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales left his position at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and walked a mile to the small town of Panjwai. According to The New York Times, Bales barged into three separate homes and opened fire, ultimately killing 16 civilians. He then attempted to burn the bodies of the victims.

“Everyone knows this doesn’t reflect our standards or values, nor does it reflect the soldiers that perform here and overseas,” said General David Rodriguez, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command in an interview with NBC News. “They are shocked, just as we are.”

Bales has served in the military for 11 years and currently was on his fourth tour. On a previous tour in Iraq, Bales suffered a head injury in a car crash and a foot injury in a different accident. He did not expect to be deployed for a fourth time.

The lawyer defending Bales intends to focus on post-traumatic stress disorder as a motive for the soldier’s breakdown. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after a person has experienced some form of psychological trauma such as violence, rape or a car accident.

Depending on the exposure, PTSD can last anywhere from a few days to a lifetime and can be diagnosed as acute, mild or chronic. Some symptoms include recurrent flashbacks, avoiding stimuli, and, in some cases, PTSD can be manifested in unstable, violent behavior.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for soldiers to return home with this disorder.

“PTSD alone is not reason to do something like this,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Eva Lawrence. “It doesn’t justify it if lots of people have PTSD.”

Due to the recurring violence soldiers experience overseas, many are diagnosed with PTSD. However, it is the medical specialists that give the yes or no for a soldier to be able to serve another tour.

“There are mandatory pre-, during and post-deployment health assessments that must be completed by all soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to determine if they are at risk for an episode such as this,” said Belickis.

“It seems like a lot of soldiers are coming back with traumatic brain injuries and possibly being underdiagnosed,” said Lawrence.

Bales’ lawyer commented to the Associated Press that his client was not sure what exactly happened. This calls into question Bales’ state of mind when the incident occurred.

According to CBS, Madigan Army Medical Center at the soldier’s base began an investigation after a memo was released, encouraging psychiatrists to limit diagnoses in order to reduce costs.

It is still unknown if PTSD played a role in the incident, but it may be a potential factor to consider when looking at this case.

“While it’s not my place to guess at what potential injury may have possibly led to this massacre, it has been documented in many previous studies that serious head injuries have led to increased violence and mental instability,” said Belickis.

“Two people can be exposed to the exact same trauma and respond in very different ways,” said Lawrence. “The question is: did he know what he was doing and can he be held accountable?”

In the meantime, the Afghani government has expressed interest in trying Bales through their justice system instead of the U.S. justice system.

“It would set a dangerous precedent to allow the Afghanis to put U.S. military personnel on trial,” said Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science Ken Gilmore in an email interview. “It would be political suicide for the Obama administration to hand a U.S. soldier over to a foreign government.”

This incident further complicates negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Tensions already run high between the two countries and an event such as this only sets back the progress that has been made.

This begs the question: is there any hope this incident has not jeopardized the work of our troops overseas?

“I think many Afghans realize that these were the actions of one person,” said Gilmore. “And that, on the whole, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has had good intentions, even if the results have been frustratingly slow.”

It may take a while before both governments can agree on how this incident should be dealt with. But a main concern for the military should be what methods can be used to prevent similar events and keep soldiers safe.

The men and women who risk their lives every day in Iraq or Afghanistan need support now more than ever. Belickis entreated that our nation not lose respect or faith for those who fight overseas due to one man’s actions.

“Please don’t let something like this take away from all the great things (our troops) have accomplished over there,” said Belickis. “The sacrifices these men and women are making can’t be undone.”