Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, has been deployed three times to Iraq where officials say he suffered a traumatic head injury. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.
By Miguel Almaguer and Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News
U.S. officials told NBC News on Friday that the soldier suspected of shooting 16 civilians in Afghanistan is Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
Bales, 38, was deployed to Afghanistan in December with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma, Wash., the officials said.
“It’s a tragedy,” Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, said at the base, home to about 37,000 Army and 6,000 Air Force personnel. “Everyone knows this doesn’t reflect our standards or values, nor does it reflect the soldiers that perform here and overseas. They are shocked, just as we are.”
Bales, a married father of two, has a clean record of conduct, the officials said. He joined the military after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“He felt it was his calling to stand up for the us after 911 and then decided to make his career the military,” said his civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, who spoke to Bales on Thursday night.
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Bales had been deployed to Iraq three times before going to Afghanistan. While in Iraq, officials say, he suffered a traumatic head injury in a crash and also suffered a foot injury in a separate incident. In Afghanistan, Bales reportedly saw a friend lose a leg.
What role those incidents may have played, if any, in the shootings, remains unclear. Browne says the soldier may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Browne also said the soldier never expected a fourth deployment.
“Overnight he was told he was going back and he told his family and told me that he did what he was ordered to do ’cause he was a soldier,” Browne said.
Officials are investigating reports that Bales may have been drinking before he left the base in Afghanistan on the night of the killings over the weekend. Among the dead were nine children.
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Bales, a native of Ohio, has been based at Lewis-McChord his entire career. He and his family reportedly lived not too far from the base and have family roots in western Washington. Bales’ wife is said to be an executive at a Seattle-area company.
Brown said the suspect’s family will remain on base for the foreseeable future for their own protection. Bales was reportedly en route to the United States on Friday.