Fait Diver: A Sunny Disposish


The facts are not in dispute Shirley.

Or are they?

“There is still only sketchy information available about Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ recent experience in Afghanistan, but five years ago in Iraq, he was considered an excellent and upbeat soldier.
Bales is suspected of killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians last Sunday. He has yet to be charged, and his civilian lawyers say they will meet with him at Fort Leavenworth to learn the facts of the case.”

“Has yet to be charged.” Has a familiar ring to it, no?

“Friends and neighbors describe Bales as a dedicated husband and father, and they keep mentioning his “sunny” disposition. Bales’ fellow soldiers tell the same story. Capt. Chris Alexander, Bales’ platoon leader in Iraq, says he “always kind of had a smile on his face.”

You mean like THIS?


I am not a congenitally “cheerful” person. Most of the time when I’m walking about the city my face is in “serious’ repose. This causes all manner of manic loons to rush up to me, stick their impertinent punims into mine and scream “SMILE!!!!!”

Now I’m not one to go about killing 16 unarmed Afrghan civilians — most of them children. But something leads me to suspect the “SMILE!!!!!” creeps are.

“Alexander and Bales were in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, during the troop surge. Bales headed up a “fire team,” a sub-unit in one of Alexander’s squads.
“He was one of those guys that can just kind of joke around during downtime,” Alexander says, and then get down to business when it was necessary.”

Jokes like this?

or better still, THIS?

“They were part of a Stryker Brigade, deployed from Washington state’s Fort Lewis. The Strykers are eight-wheel vehicles that are armored for combat, but still nimble enough for the tight quarters of urban warfare. Alexander says the vehicle’s armor caused some soldiers to get complacent about keeping an eye out — but not Bales. One day in the city of Mosul, his attentiveness saved lives.
“A guy popped around the corner with a [rocket-propelled grenade]… [Bales] saw it right away before the guy launched, and he actually hit the guy and caused the round to go high, so it missed all of us,” Alexander says.
Bales was decorated for good conduct, but he never received a medal for valor. He was nominated for one, after the Battle of Najaf in January of 2007. He was nominated by Maj. Brent Clemmer, then captain.”

Could it be that his failure to get a “Valor” medal put him in a really bad mood?

“Stationed here in Washington, Clemmer has known about Bales’ alleged role in the massacre for almost a week now, but he’s been reluctant to talk to the news media. He agreed to talk to NPR if he wasn’t recorded.”

Obviously thinking of the coming Court Martial.

“He recalls Bales as “a really good” non-commissioned officer and “one of those guys who was always positive.” He underscores that point with a snapshot of Bales’ unit. In a group of soldiers posed around a Stryker vehicle, Bales is the guy in the middle with the biggest grin.
Bales’ old platoon leader, Alexander, says he’s heard the theory that Bales may have “snapped,” but he says that’s hard for him to picture.
“He had about the same stress level as any of the rest of us, and he seemed to handle it very well,” he says.”

What about the “stress levels” of Afghan civilians?

(crickets chirping )

“Still, that was 2007. Since then, a lot has happened to Bales. On his third Iraq tour, he was injured. He lost part of a foot and suffered an unspecified traumatic brain injury. Back in the U.S., he failed to get a promotion he’d been hoping for. Then he was told he had to go on a fourth combat deployment, this time to Afghanistan.
“I’ve talked to people who have done both Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they’d pick Iraq any day of the week because Afghanistan is just so brutal,” Alexander says. “Something just finally — his glass filled up, and that was it.”
That’s already shaping up as a possible legal defense. On Thursday, Bales’ civilian lawyer made a point of introducing reporters to a psychiatrist who’s made a career testifying about post-traumatic stress disorder in court.
But for many, that explanation isn’t sufficient. One week on, Clemmer says he still can’t get his head around the idea that Bales killed those civilians. He adds, “You can’t forgive it if he did it.”

I’d try working on that head if I were you.

But wait — there’s more!

“A diverging portrait of the Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers is emerging as records and interviews show a man appreciated by friends and family who won military commendations, yet one who faced professional disappointment, financial trouble and brushes with the law.”

Oh dear.

“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.

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.”

Are we still smiling?

“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.”

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,” she said.”

I’m sure this is not the “adventure” she had in mind.

“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.”

Did he know about My Lai?

“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.”

And shooting down 16 unarmed women and children is a great way to show it.

Well now we see a much fuller picture. He had all sorts of problems you see. Can an Afghan civilian possibly comprehend what it’s like to not be able to keep up the payments on two homes?

Of course Afghan civilains are lucky if they have anything they can call a home, outside of a cave.

Still this unfortunate situation shouldn’t discourage the rest of us from smiling. Should it?

Take it away Bertie!

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