Lewis-McChord: 'Most troubled base in the country'?

Armed ConflictsUnrest, Conflicts and WarHealthAfghanistanBenjamin Colton Barnes

Two years ago, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes called Joint Base Lewis-McChord the "most troubled base in the country." News that a JBLM sergeant is accused of the massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan puts the base back under a spotlight it surely doesn't want.

In 2010, four soldiers from JBLM were convicted of forming a “kill squad” that shot dead three Afghan civilians. 

This year, a gunman named Benjamin Colton Barnes, a former soldier from the base, shot a Mount Rainier National Park ranger to death on New Year’s Day.

“That’s on top of years of trouble at the base’s hospital in terms of taking care of its soldiers.  There have been multiple investigations not only into the care the soldiers received but the leaders responsible for providing care. So the base doesn’t seem to be able to shake this off and get back on its feet,” Megan McCluskey, the national correspondent for Stars and Stripes, the independent military newspaper based out of Washington D.C., said in a phone interview.

“I don’t know if folks will be targeted specifically because they’re from JBLM but simply being a U.S. soldier is a very dangerous prospect right now,” McCluskey said.

Jorge Gonzalez, an Iraq veteran and director of a soldiers' resource center, Coffee Strong, near JBLM, has long been concerned about the violent acts soldiers from JBLM have committed.

“The issue is the constant redeployment of these soldiers but they’re not being given the time to heal or take care of themselves physically and mentally,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez worries for the thousands of troops from JBLM being deployed to Afghanistan later this spring.

“They see the Koran burnings going on, and then this happens and they’re about to be deployed in the next month or two, and a lot of them are worried what’s going to happen to them when they deploy,” Gonzalez said.

The trouble is both abroad and at home. JBLM reported a record number of suicides last year, at 12. There is also a congressional investigation into doctors at Madigan Army Medical Center, who are accused of under-diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s enough for Gonzalez to call for a change of leadership at the base

“Who knows what else is going to happen for someone to speak up and finally say enough is enough at JBLM,” Gonzalez said.

Authorities said the family of the suspect in the Afghan killings had been moved onto JBLM for their protection.


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