Which left major newspaper outlets tripping over each other to explain why it was everyone's fault except SSG Bales' (again, assuming he committed the murders based on his apparent confession) that 16 Afghan men, women, and children ended up dead. For example:
- "Afghan rampage suspect Robert Bales was a soldier strained by deployments" - Washington Post
- "At Home, Asking How 'Our Bobby' Became War Crime Suspect" - NY Times
- "Bales Faced Losing Houses as He Fought 6,700 Miles Away" - Bloomberg
1. "Years of overseas duty on a sergeant's salary had squeezed the family's resources to the breaking point" via the WaPo. Here you have an "he snapped because of financial troubles because he didn't get paid much as a sergeant" - which begins to take the onus of these crimes off of Bales' shoulders and places them on the American people for screwing down it's military.
2. Not getting promoted caused him stress. All three stories mention Bales' not making Sergeant First Class on the 2011 promotion list and that they were all disappointed. I'm sure it sucks not making a promotion list, but you have to be realistic about these things. All three articles mention legal problems for Bales, including arrests or charges for DUI and hit-and-run (there seems to be some info missing about convictions, etc, so it's not clear what the final disposition of these cases were, but suffice to say something happened). Staff Sergeants do get promoted with that sort of baggage, but not often. And it's getting harder and harder as personnel cuts loom. Even a passing mention of it on any of these or related issues were on an NCOER, the odds are a promotion board would not promote him. So while that may be stressful for him and his family, it was not a promotion he was owed or was due to him. Promotions are earned and blemishes on record like those suggested by these stories prevent promotions. While an interesting data point in the "things that weighed on SSG Bales", chalk up not getting promoted caveated by "may have prevented this through his own actions."
3. Repeated deployments, PTSD, TBI, etc. This is the touchiest of all the topics covered by these three stories and generally speaking they did an okay job. All acknowledge that we don't know how much these three factors interact and what exactly they cause people to do. There are some undercurrents however that the Army failed to screen Bales out of his latest deployment. First and foremost, the Army generally does a poor job of screening for, diagnosing, and treating TBI and PTSD. If the current screening hasn't changed too much, it relies extensively on self reporting. So if Bales did want to redeploy, as friends of his say he expressed that he wanted to get back into the fight, then passing the screening is as easy as pie. The Army has to screen a lot people and there just isn't a cost-effective and effective test to manage this problem. Period. Not excusing the Army for this, but there isn't a viable solution as yet. If Bales wanted to deploy, no current screening mechanisms were going to stop him. But for a bigger picture, here are some numbers: between 1 and 2 million servicemembers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, well over 100,000 of them have deployed three or more times, and 300,000 to 600,000 are suffering from PTSD. So far only 1 person in that large population went out and killed 16 civilians.
4. "He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over, and then literally overnight that changed." Apparently his lawyer said this and I can't believe Bloomberg didn't refute this. Even if some knucklehead said he would never deploy again, he was a healthy NCO in the U.S. Army. Guess what: you can't make - or believe - promises like that. It's not how the military works. Deployment orders suck and are super hard on families, but they are a reality of military life. Again, it wasn't as if the Army broke it's promise - it has no institutional ability to promise one healthy soldier it would never deploy him again.
This probably reads as nit-picking or sticking up for the Army, but it's not. Major news outlets are trying to find an angle and lens from which to view this guy and I get that. But all that's coming out are reasons why the Army is at fault for what happened - included some gross inaccuracies or outright lies, outlined here - and not SSG Bales. It seems there were a lot of factors that probably caused his state of mind that day - I can only guess that they include financial problems, TBI, PTSD, family stress, unhappiness with how his career was progressing - but most of those things fall on SSG Bales, not the Army. Could the Army have done some things differently? Undoubtedly - but stop blaming the Army for what this man did. Do your research, journalists, and stop making excuses for this guy. If the 16 dead were Americans, would we be doing this hand-wringing over why the Army screwed down the perpetrator? (I draw your attention to Fred Wellman's comments in that link.) Being a soldier is hard and while command has many responsibilities, commanders are not responsible for everything. Hundreds of thousands of troops have gone through what SSG Bales has gone through - or worse - and none of them shot 16 Afghan civilians.
This entire situation is sad - for the Army, for Bales and his family and his unit, and especially for the Afghans who lost loved ones. Let's keep perspective on that. And let's not take the easy way out and blame The Man for the actions of a man because it fits your narrative. That's not justice and it's irresponsible. Robert Bales is not the victim here - the victims are in Afghanistan.