War’s scars may be factor for Colo. soldiers linked to crimes

Army investigates as spate of killings points to Iraq unit

By P. Solomon Banda
Associated Press / July 16, 2009
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FORT CARSON, Colo. - Soldiers from a Colorado unit who are accused in nearly a dozen slayings since returning home from Iraq - including those of a couple gunned down as they put up a garage sale sign - could be showing a hostility fueled by intense combat, in which the troops suffered heavy losses and told of witnessing war crimes, the military said yesterday.

The Army launched an investigation after soldiers from the Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division - nicknamed the Lethal Warriors - were accused in five killings around Colorado Springs, home to Fort Carson, in 2007 and 2008.

Six other slayings involving unit soldiers occurred in Colorado and other states since 2005.

The investigators’ report called for more study on the links between combat and aggressive behavior. It suggested the Army find a way to identify soldiers who have been exposed to fierce combat.

Army investigators compared the Fort Carson unit of about 3,700 soldiers with a similarly sized unit and found it suffered more combat deaths in Iraq and was deployed there longer.

Investigators focused on the cases of 14 soldiers accused of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, and aggravated assault, mostly with firearms. They found the accused had experienced heavy combat in Iraq and that half of those interviewed reported witnessing war crimes, including the killing of civilians.

Back home, the soldiers carried weapons with them because they felt “naked’’ and unsafe and had difficulty transitioning to civilian life.

“There, we were the law; here, the cops are the law,’’ one of the accused told investigators.

The Army report says the accused alleged that their commanders did not encourage them to seek help at home.

Nationally, at least 121 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed a killing in the United States or have been charged in one.

The Colorado unit experienced a combat death rate of 8.9 per 1,000 soldiers during a first Iraq deployment and 9.6 per 1,000 on a second tour. In comparison, the other unit had death rates of 0.4 and 2.1 per 1,000.