By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Soldiers returning from Iraq after serving with a Fort Carson, Colo., combat brigade have exhibited an exceptionally high rate of criminal behavior in their home towns, carrying out a string of killings and other offenses that the ex-soldiers attribute to lax discipline and episodes of indiscriminate killing during their grueling deployment, according to a six-month investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper.
Members of the 3,500-soldier Fourth Infantry Division's Fourth Brigade told the publication that the brutal conditions in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 and the Army's failure to provide proper treatment for stress were in part to blame for the incidents of rape, domestic abuse, shootings, stabbings, kidnappings and suicides, the paper said.
Ten of the brigade's members committed or attempted to commit homicides after their return from Iraq, a rate said to be 114 times the murder rate in Colorado Springs, adjacent to the unit's base.
During their deployment, some soldiers killed civilians at random -- in some cases at point-blank range -- used banned stun guns on captives, pushed people off bridges, loaded weapons with illegal hollow-point bullets, abused drugs and occasionally mutilated the bodies of Iraqis, according to accounts the Gazette attributed to soldiers who said they witnessed the events. The unit's casualty rate was double the average for Army combat teams deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the paper said.
In December 2007, a member of the brigade wrote senior Army officials about what he described as "war crimes" committed by the unit, including the shootings and dismemberment of a 16-year-old boy and several civilians.
The Army told the newspaper its investigators found no evidence to sustain some of these allegations. Several soldiers involved in improper conduct were dishonorably discharged.
The Army has taken a special interest in the unit's troublesome track record, commissioning a task force that examined eight of the homicides committed after soldiers returned home. It affirmed in a 126-page report this month that "combat exposure/intensity, leadership, and barriers to seeking care" may have increased the risks of "negative outcomes" for ex-soldiers.
Maj. Steve Wollman, who was recently appointed as a spokesman for Fort Carson, said Monday he couldn't "speak to the past, but in the present and future, we are working very hard to provide the best behavioral health for our soldiers and their families." He said efforts were being made to overcome the stigma attached to applying for mental health treatment, a key problem cited in the Army's task force report.