Thursday, December 07, 2006

The U.S. Military's Gang and Felon Problem

Gang-related violence is on the rise in the U.S. military, and is actually spilling over to affect the outside world everywhere American soldiers are deployed. Military officials claim the presence of gang members and felons in the military is just a reflection of the demographic diversity in American society. But the FBI disagrees:

FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes this week that gang members have been documented on or near U.S. military bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Iraq.

"It's no secret that gang members are prevalent in the armed forces, including internationally," Simon said, adding that the FBI is preparing to release a report on gangs in the military.
Scott Barfield, a former Defense Department gang detective at 2nd Cav's last duty station, Fort Lewis, Wash., told the Sun-Times earlier this year that he had identified more than 300 soldiers at the base as gang members.

"I think that's the tip of the iceberg," he said.

However, Vilseck Provost Marshal Maj. Robert Ray said there is not a big gang problem in Vilseck and he has no information on gang members within 2nd Cav.

"The military comes from all walks of lives, from rich to poor, and with that comes the 'society,'" Ray said. "Are there members of the military that belong to gangs? No doubt about it. But the military is not rampant with gang members.

"The military chain of commands do not tolerate things like that and do their best to weed out problems," he said.

There are no official statistics on gang membership in the military, but some experts have estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of the U.S. military are gang members, Simon said. That compares with just 0.02 percent of the U.S. population believed to be gang members, she wrote.

"Gang membership in the U.S. armed forces is disproportional to the U.S. population," she added.

An October 1 article in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the military may have brought this problem on itself:

After falling short of its goals last year, military recruiting in 2006 has been marked by upbeat pronouncements from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claims of success by the White House, and a spate of recent press reports touting the military's achievement of its woman- and manpower goals.

But the armed forces have met with success only through a fundamental transformation, and not the transformation of the military -- that "co-evolution of concepts, processes, organizations and technology" that Rumsfeld is always talking about either.

While the secretary of defense's longstanding goal of transforming the planet's most powerful military into its highest-tech, most agile, most futuristic fighting force has, in the words of the Washington Post's David VonDrehle, "melted away," the very makeup of the armed forces has been mutating before our collective eyes under the pressure of the war in Iraq. This actual transformation has been reported, but only in scattered articles on the new recruitment landscape in America.

Last year, despite NASCAR, professional bull-riding and Arena Football sponsorships, popular video games that doubled as recruiting tools, TV commercials dripping with seductive scenes of military glory, a "joint marketing communications and market research and studies" program designed to attract, among others, dropouts and those with criminal records for military service, and at least $16,000 in promotional costs for each soldier it managed to sign up, the U.S. military failed to meet its recruiting goals.

This year, those methods have been pumped up and taken over the top in several critical areas that make the old Army ad tagline, "Be All You Can Be," into material for late-night TV punch lines of the future.

In 2004, the Pentagon published a "Moral Waiver Study," whose seemingly benign goal was "to better define relationships between pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service success." That turned out to mean opening more recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal records.

In February, the Baltimore Sun wrote that there was "a significant increase in the number of recruits with what the Army terms 'serious criminal misconduct' in their background" -- a category that included "aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats." From 2004 to 2005, the number of those recruits rose by more than 54 percent, while alcohol and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year decline, increased by more than 13 percent.

In June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that, under pressure to fill the ranks, the Army had been allowing into its ranks increasing numbers of "recruits convicted of misdemeanor crimes, according to experts and military records." In fact, as the military's own data indicated, "the percentage of recruits entering the Army with waivers for misdemeanors and medical problems has more than doubled since 2001."

In fact, the savage rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, along with the murder of three other family members, can be traced directly to the military's new open door policy:

One beneficiary of the Army's new moral-waiver policies gained a certain prominence this summer. After Steven Green, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, was charged in a rape and quadruple murder in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, it was disclosed that he had been "a high-school dropout from a broken home who enlisted to get some direction in his life, yet was sent home early because of an anti-social personality disorder."

Recently, Eli Flyer, a former Pentagon senior military analyst and specialist on the relationship between military recruiting and military misconduct, told Harper's magazine that Green had "enlisted with a moral waiver for at least two drug- or alcohol-related offenses. He committed a third alcohol-related offense just before enlistment, which led to jail time, although this offense may not have been known to the Army when he enlisted."

With Green in jail awaiting trial, the Houston Chronicle reported in August that Army recruiters were trolling around the outskirts of a Dallas-area job fair for ex-convicts.

"We're looking for high school graduates with no more than one felony on their record," one recruiter said.


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