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Money, career woes plagued Afghan killings suspect

Wife says Sgt. Robert Bales hoped for transfer, possibly to Hawaii

By Dan Swell and Donna Gordon Blankinship

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:27 a.m. HST, Mar 18, 2012

LAKE TAPPS, Wash. >> 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 Saturday of the Army sergeant's financial troubles and brushes with the law.

While Bales, 38, sat in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.'s military prison Saturday, classmates and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, remembered him as a "happy-go-lucky" high school football player who took care of a special needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.

But court records and interviews show that the 10-year veteran — with a string of commendations for good conduct after 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.

After Bales lost out on a promotion to E7 — a first-class sergeant — the family hoped to go to either Germany, Italy or Hawaii for an "adventure," his wife Kari said in a blog post. They hoped to move by last summer; instead the Army redeployed his unit — the 2nd Infantry Division of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, named after armored Stryker vehicles — to Afghanistan.

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.

"This is some crazy stuff if it's true," Steve Berling, a high 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 U.S. and Afghanistan and threatened to upend U.S. policy over the decade-old war.

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

"He's one of the best guys I ever worked with," said Army Capt. 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."

But pressing 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, Wash.

"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."

The current deployment to Afghanistan was 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.

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

Bales always loved the military and war history, even as a teenager, said Berling, who played football with him in the early 1990s on a team that included Marc Edwards, a future NFL player and Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots.

"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."

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. in Doral, Fla.; his brother, Mark Bales, and a Mark Edwards were also listed as directors.

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

He was struggling to keep payments on his own home in Lake Tapps, a rural reservoir community about 35 miles 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 stabilize their finances."

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 U.S. flag leaned against the siding.

The sale may have been a sign of financial troubles. Bales and his wife also own a home in Auburn, about 10 miles north, 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.

"It's our Bobby. He was the local hero," said Michael Blevins, who grew up down the street from him in Norwood, 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 counseling, after which the case was dismissed.

A separate hit-and-run charge was dismissed in Sumner, Wash.'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.

Dan Conway, a military attorney who represented one of four Lewis-McChord soldiers convicted in the deliberate killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010, said whether legal scrapes affect a soldier's career depends in part on whether they prompt the Army to issue administrative penalties. The punishments are typically recorded in official personnel files.

Over the past decade, Conway said, the military has sometimes been lax in administering such punishments. As a result, soldiers who might be bad apples sometimes remain in service longer than they otherwise might have.

"It's something you want to note," Conway said. "The best predictor of future violence is past violence."

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 shootings, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant.

He also said 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.


Sewell reported from Norwood, Ohio. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, Manuel Valdes in Auburn, Wash., Haven Daley in Lake Tapps, Wash., Jennifer Kay in Miami and AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington.

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kainalu wrote:
Watching my grandchildren right now, I can't begin to fathom how a father can gun down children. How can this guy possibly hold his own children? A tragedy all the way around.
on March 17,2012 | 08:19AM
serious wrote:
No drinking in a combat zone? Where have these people been? Just like saying we don't run red lights here in Hawaii. The soldier shouldn't be on trial--his superiors should be. A fifth tour is two too many, just like drinking!! Get the military draft going again is we don't have enough troops--then see how fast we pull out of these foreign countries!!!
on March 17,2012 | 08:21AM
butinski wrote:
If the guy was drafted, we would feel more sympathy. Instead, we have an all "volunteer" military which means that everyone chose to enlist for whatever reason. How many times did he re-enlist instead of getting out? Agree that we should reinstate the draft but till then, no tears shed for him.
on March 17,2012 | 12:30PM
Changalang wrote:
The soldier was not a family man to the women and children in the family that he executed.
on March 17,2012 | 08:55AM
serious wrote:
If you haven't been in his shoes--SHUT UP!! Combat is not a Disneyland event!!!
on March 17,2012 | 10:54AM
Changalang wrote:
Save your baby killer defense for someone who hasn't been in boots and doesn't know the difference between real combat and murder; F-head.
on March 17,2012 | 01:49PM
mrluke wrote:
What a well thought out and intelligent response!
on March 17,2012 | 01:50PM
mrluke wrote:
Yeah, a real catchy title to the story.
on March 17,2012 | 01:48PM
Changalang wrote:
This murderer's action is the most dishonorable act a soldier can commit because it makes everybody left over there liable for his actions. Because of this incident, Afghan trained indigenous troops are being disarmed. All of Petraeus's work is blown to hell for nothing.
on March 17,2012 | 02:29PM
allie wrote:
on March 17,2012 | 10:44AM
kuewa wrote:
There was nothing to win, so we haven't lost. But I agree that the Bush wars were unnecessary, expensive and damaging to our country. I'm glad that President Obama is getting us out, but I wish he would ignore the Repubs and potential political fall-out and just withdraw from Afghanistan .
on March 17,2012 | 11:01AM
terencebsmart wrote:
tragic indicator of war's toll on the human soul
on March 17,2012 | 10:53AM
kainalu wrote:
undeniable comment
on March 18,2012 | 04:45PM
Manapua_Man wrote:
If an Afghan soldier visited our country and committed a massacre of an American family... the US public would want his head. There is no way he would get to leave here.
on March 17,2012 | 11:26AM
mrluke wrote:
One of my first thoughts. But you've got to remember, we are an army of occupation, and can get away with a lot. The H--- what the locals think.
on March 17,2012 | 02:01PM
DemBones wrote:
The entire event is very sad for Americans and Afghanis, and potentially very damaging to our troops and government. I have been watching what is being said in the media and it seems he is portrayed (correctly or not) as a family man who loves his wife and devoted to his family and his only undoing was to serve yet another stressful tour in the military. I cannot see the US government giving him much latitude in respect to his charges or even his prosecution as this would open the floodgates to validated bad behavior and provide precedence in the courts for possible dismissal. I am also wondering how, in his stressed "state of mind" as reported, he could walk a mile or more and not sober up to what he was about to do. I find a brisk walk clears my mind. I wonder if there is something there, in his personality that was magnified by his situation and allowed that part of him to commit this heinous crime.
on March 17,2012 | 12:24PM
Changalang wrote:
He should be prosecuted by full extent of UCMJ for serial murder and for recruiting the last wave of Taliban by night that will inspire the indigenous population to deliver maximum revenge to coalition forces before we bug out in a very short time. The next medal Bales should get is a big yellow line painted down his back on his last walk to the gallows.
on March 17,2012 | 02:01PM
Manapua_Man wrote:
Death penalty unlikely. Already the words "post traumatic stress" are coming out in the media to excuse this murderer. He probably will get a dishonorable discharge and 10 years probation. Then he will make some $$$ from book and movie deals. He could also make more $$$ by touring and lecturing about "post traumatic stress syndrome" or something. Sad but probable.
on March 17,2012 | 04:47PM
Changalang wrote:
UCMJ can be the quickest path to real justice. Watada getting off for being AWOL will be quite different from mass murder, and Eric Sietz is not coming to his defense either like he did for Watada. Professional Council makes a huge difference with military justice. Many soldiers in country will die as blow back for this event. All the officers on the panel will know this. It is also easier to blast a psycho than raking his whole command structure over the coals for not catching and containing the issue.
on March 17,2012 | 06:30PM
Manapua_Man wrote:
I hope you're right about justice being served. Unfortunately in cases like this (involving US soldiers murdering host country's civilians) the military tends to take care of their own. This guy will most likely get to walk away in the end.
on March 17,2012 | 11:19PM
808warriorfan wrote:
This story just doesn't make sense ... just proves 4 deployments is way to many to ask our solders to do
on March 18,2012 | 12:30AM
serious wrote:
We have to get our national policy straightened out and not just let a rouge President send us into these wars and another President just keeping them going!! The answer is a military draft. Just think, if you, or your kids (male and female) or grandkids were eligible for the draft, you would sure enough have a STRONG opinion on our going to war and staying there. We'd be on the phone, email, in the faces of our politicians, to get our troops out of foreign countries in order to keep ourselves and kids out of harms way. Look at the number of troops in Korea!!! Why aren't they across our Southern borders? Think about it!!!
on March 18,2012 | 07:38AM
Hahaione2000 wrote:
The article didn't mention if his wife worked/works. Trying to maintain multiple homeownership while on deployment--wow, I can certainly agree that there may have been financial hardship. Poor guy.
on March 18,2012 | 08:13AM
vtropic wrote:
What would have happened if he came here to Hawaii?
on March 18,2012 | 09:08AM
kainalu wrote:
If you're having "money and career woes", Hawaii is the last place you would want to come. Kamaainas, I can't convince my wife that we need to pack up and go to where we can try and eek out a decent retirement - impossible here.
on March 18,2012 | 04:47PM
kainalu wrote:
Money and career woes? The post-traumatic stress syndrome defense just went out the window.
on March 18,2012 | 09:53AM
Manapua_Man wrote:
I wonder how this guy would feel if a foreign soldier came to the US and hurt his family. What would he think be a fitting punishment for the crime?
on March 18,2012 | 11:03AM
Peacenik wrote:
PSD very possible, but cold blooded pre-meditated murder, putting other soldiers in danger for their lives is inexcusable. Execution or at least life imprisonment at the least. His foolish and selfessness negates the noble sacrifice of his predecessors. Sickening story, all around.
on March 18,2012 | 03:05PM
serious wrote:
Have you seen the murder stats for Detroit, Chicago or DC? All D's byt the way!!
on March 18,2012 | 03:22PM
DABLACK wrote:
Somebody please tell me the reason we're in that country. Is it cocaine? Oil? Another Texas?? Would be good if Congress send their sons and daughters there to do this country's fight.
on March 26,2012 | 08:59AM
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