Alexander said the stress of the combat was a constant presence during their time together, fighting in hostile provinces in Iraq, where friends and foes mingled together and where soldiers spent many hours in “mind-numbing boredom together waiting to get blown up.”
Yet, Bales, he said, “seemed far less stressed than I was. He just has that kind of personality.”
Neighbors and colleagues said Bales had exhibited signs of emotional strain in the months and years before the events. His home visits had included a few brushes with the law, including a drunken-driving arrest in 2005 and a hit-and-run accident in 2008. Friends say both Bales and his wife were surprised and deeply disappointed when he was ordered to Afghanistan. The family had been struggling during the long deployments to pay bills and raise two children, both born while Bales was overseas.
Hints of the financial stress faced by the Baleses were evident at a property Kari Bales bought before their marriage. They lived there briefly until they bought a house in late 2005.
The two-story duplex is on a small street in a development of modest houses behind a busy commercial strip in the Tacoma suburb of Auburn. The gray paint on the siding and the blue paint on the trim are peeling. A bright orange sign stuck on the door, dated November 2010, states that Auburn building officials had declared the home unfit for human occupancy. The only indicator of happier days is a small iron wind chime in the shape of a sun with a smiling face.
‘He just wanted to go back’
Tim Burgess, who lives in the adjoining half of the duplex, said he got to know Bales when he moved into the house before the couple were married. At the time, Bales limped because of a foot injury he suffered in his first deployment in Iraq, and he made routine visits to a rehabilitation center, Burgess said. But Bales spoke eagerly of returning to Iraq.
“He was looking forward to getting his health back and going back after his foot got better,” Burgess said. “He was trying to get back in shape. He wanted to be a soldier. That’s what he lived for. He just wanted to go back. That was his goal, to get healthy and go back.”
Burgess said he never saw any flashes of anger from Bales, but he was aware the couple were taking on a lot of financial obligations.
Last year, Bales was up for a promotion to sergeant first class, a move that would have improved the family’s financial prospects. When he failed to receive the higher rank, his wife spoke openly of the emotional toll of the rejection in a blog she kept at the time.