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Did soldier said to have killed Afghan civilians come from 'most troubled base'?

US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers, was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, reputedly the most troubled base in the US military.

By Staff writer / March 17, 2012

In this Aug. 2011 photo, soldiers from the 3rd Stryker Brigade, including Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, take part in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. Staff Sgt. Bales is suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers.

Spc. Ryan Hallock/DVIDS/AP

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Information about the US Army sergeant suspected of wantonly killing 16 Afghan villagers – most of them women and children – is being slowly revealed.

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His lawyer has suggested that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38 years old, married, and the father of two young children, may have carried out the night-time massacre because of earlier trauma – being wounded twice during three previous combat tours in Iraq and recently witnessing at close range the serious wounding of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan.

Was he experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), perhaps in combination with an earlier head injury? These are the kinds of questions Army officials and medical experts are just beginning to probe as US diplomatic and military officials work to restore some semblance of cooperation with Afghan officials and village elders.

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But the horrific episode also revives charges that Bales’ home base – Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) near Tacoma, Wash. – has unusually serious problems ranging from violent episodes involving soldiers at home and in war zones to failings in the base’s command structure.

A timeline of problems at the base, which has sent tens of thousands of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan over the years, can be seen on the Seattle Times web site. But the most recent event has been especially jarring to those on the base (Bales’ family has been moved from their split-level home onto the base for their protection) as well as to those in the greater community.

"My reaction is that I'm shocked," next-door neighbor Kassie Holland told the Associated Press. "I can't believe it was him. There were no signs. It's really sad. I don't want to believe that he did it."

But there are those who could see it coming.

“This was not just a rogue soldier,” says Jorge Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran who now runs the Coffee Strong GI coffee house and antiwar organization just outside the base. “JBLM is a Rogue Base, with a severe leadership problem.”

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