By: Peter Sessum
There is one thing America loves, and that is a hero. We love winners. The winner gets to go to Disneyland, do you know where the loser goes? Nobody cares, they lost. If we can’t have a hero, then we need a victim. The last thing we need to do is turn Staff Sergeant (SSG) Bales into a victim.
There is no way his legal team is going to explain exactly what happened and why. No matter the crime, every U.S. citizen is entitled to a defense. Lacking the information of exactly what happened that night, we keep looking for a why. Looking at the articles by the New York Times, some pieces frame Bales as a helpless victim who has been constantly screwed over by the Big Army Machine. Articles speak of Bales being “denied a promotion to sergeant first class” which isn’t precise and his injuries have been well documented. One main theme that continues to come up is that he didn’t want to deploy in the first place. When put together, it paints a picture that is not accurate. One of SSG Bales as a victim. None of those things excuse the crimes that he is accused of.
He was passed over for promotion
In some civilian jobs being passed over promotion can be a career ender but the Army is different. One the enlisted side, the first few promotions are automatic. As long as a soldier meets the minimum time in service requirements, can pass the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and does not get into trouble, promotion to Specialist (E-4) is assured. Past that, it is based on promotion points and number of slots available in the Army.
Every year a promotion board meets and looks over the records of all E-6 candidates that turned in a packet. Bales not being selected for promotion means he was not competitive as the other candidates. There are a number of factors that could impact that. Making E7 in 11 years is actually on the fast side. According to About.com, making E7 in 13.6 years is about average.
There will always be a need for an Infantry Sergeant First Class (E7) so patience is needed. The men who get screwed in the promotion deal are Special Forces soldiers. Not the people who work with Special Forces, but actual Special Forces soldiers in Special Forces Group (SFG). So few soldiers leave Special Forces, that there is a bottleneck on the upper promotions. There are rarely any open promotion slots for Special Forces that to get promoted, some choose to leave the group.
There have been reports of Bales having getting into trouble off duty. If anything about money problems, hit and run accidents or any other issue that could negatively reflect on his character to people who have never met him make it to his packet, Bales would not stand a very good chance of getting promoted.
He didn’t want to go
There have been reports in the media that SSG bales didn’t want to go on this deployment. The conclusion that we are supposed to reach is that the Army is an unforgiving machine that forces people to do things against their will.
Why this is stupid
No one wants to go! Deployments suck! Yes, we make the most of them and try to pass the time, but it sucks being 12 time zones away from your family. Afghanistan is freezing cold in the winter and ungodly hot in the summer. No one would subject themselves to that for fun. There are people who volunteer for deployments, but that is because the deployment is a means to an end.
If selected to go, most soldiers will go. When I got the call, I went. Not because I wanted to deploy so bad but because if anything happened to the person that took my place I would not have been able to deal with it. That does not mean I wanted to go. I don’t know of anyone who wants to leave their family, but for one reason or another, we all get on that plane. If everything else that is reported about SSG Bales is true, he could have gotten out of the deployment.
He has been deployed three times already
The thing that most bothers me about this being used to make Bales a victim is that many people have been deployed three or more times and they are not killing innocent civilians. Being in the military sucks. It isn’t easy, but if you do it for the right reasons it is very rewarding. The multiple deployment excuse is stupid because no one to his left or right went over the edge and started a killing spree. There is about 1,000 soldiers in his battalion and most of them would have deployed with him.
After the first deployment, a soldier should have some coping mechanisms in place to deal with the separation and hardships of being overseas. By the third deployment, a soldier should have a system in place to deal with the stress of the deployment. Bales is not the first person to deploy four times and he won’t be the last.
He is missing part of his foot
If this is true, then he could have gotten out of the Infantry. I know there is a civilian perception that military members are all highly regimented robots that are always training to go to war. Truth be told, we are just like the rest of the country. Some soldiers are hard workers, and some are the biggest slackers you have ever met. If you want to find a loophole in a rule, ask a grunt.
Infantrymen are expected to be able to carry large, heavy rucksacks a long distance. If ever there comes a time when he can’t do that, like missing part of his foot, he is removed from the Infantry. If the injury will not prevent military service and especially if it is combat related, Bales would have had the choice to not be medically discharged from the Army and could have retrained to do a different job. It would not matter if the foot injury was from a car accident or combat, there must be documentation somewhere. If SSG bales had pushed the issue, he could have found a way to use the injury to get out of the Infantry or the deployment.
He was supposed to be a recruiter
This is portrayed as another example of the big Army machine ruining lives. Orders change, it happens and it sucks. No one should have been surprised because when a unit gets on rotation to deploy, soldiers are usually put on stop-loss status. This means no transfers and some will not be allowed to get out of the Army at the end of their contract. In the Marines, everyone can be stop-lossed when it is put in effect, but in the Army it can be unit by unit. So not only should this not be a surprise for Bales, it should have been expected.
This would have been the time to milk the foot injury to get out of the deployment and on to recruiter duty. Even if the unit denied his request, he could have used the injury to get onto a job as rear detachment and take care of business back home or, once again, been retrained into a new job. Had Bales decided to reclass into a new job, he would have had to go to the school and that would have gotten him out of the unit and out of deployments for up to a year or longer.
He has a head injury
Again, this must be documented, but the Army is so worried about head injuries, that this could have been worked into getting out a deployment. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can be difficult to diagnose. It isn’t like a broken arm where you can see where the break is. Sometimes it is just a matter of interpreting the symptoms. If a soldier had a documented case of TBI, no matter if it was from a bump on the head during off duty or combat related, it would be easy to milk that to get out of a deployment.
Infantrymen need to be able to shoot, if Bales couldn’t get a good shot grouping to zero his rifle or couldn’t hit targets at the range that might be cause for worry. How do you prove that someone isn’t forgetful? If he really didn’t want to deploy, he could have used a documented TBI to try and get out of the deployment.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A PTSD diagnosis is a double edged sword. It can be the golden ticket out of a deployment or a pink slip out of the military. It is all a matter of situation and severity. For someone in a critical position with a high security clearance, any PTSD diagnosis will mean a medical discharge. However, someone with a severe case could stay in if they did not hold a position where they could directly impact national security. Guard the president and have PTSD and you are out, pump gas (yes, that is a job in the Army) and you can stay in.
And here is the kicker, it is reported that Bales had a $1.5 million judgment against him. If he went to his doc and said he was feeling really stressed from multiple deployments, head and foot injury and having to pay over $1 million, he might get out of the deployment. Especially if pulls the whole “my family might be better off without me” line. If he doesn’t say he is suicidal and says he doesn’t have a plan to take his own life when asked the doc might reach the conclusion that under more pressure, he might do harm to himself. It isn’t quite that cut and dried, but PTSD could have been used to try and get out of the deployment and go on those recruitment orders he already had.
Despite his problems, they deployed him anyway
So how does a guy with PTSD, half a foot and TBI get deployed? Prior to a deployment there is a process that the entire unit must go through. Part of that process is a medical screening. This would have been the time to make his medical problems clear. There would have to be documentation. So the answer is that either the documentation did not support Bales staying home or he did not give all the information. If he lied to be medically cleared, then he gets no sympathy for deploying. If he did not seek treatment, then the military cannot be blamed for not knowing the severity of his condition. There are far too many resources out there that soldiers really have no excuse for not using them.
SSG Bales is not a victim of the military system. There are things being reported that are normal for soldiers, like not wanting to deploy. There are things that are unfortunate, like being passed over for promotion. And there are things that he could have done to change his situation. One thing that is being overlooked is that the Army is an all volunteer service. There is no such thing as an 11-year contract. Contracts are for as short as two years with the longest enlistment contract being six years. Not only did Bales have to volunteer for the Army, but he had to reenlist at least once to still be in. He did this to himself and nothing excuses going into a village and killing innocent civilians.