What We Know So Far About Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the Afghanistan Shooter

A picture is emerging of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, as a decorated soldier and family man reluctantly on his fourth deployment to a war zone in the Middle East. 

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After a six-day media blackout, the U.S. military has at last revealed the identity of the Staff Sergeant who shot or stabbed 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children, in the early morning hours last Sunday. The soldier is Robert Bales, Fox News first reported, who they describe as a "decorated combat veteran" who enlisted in the army as a personal response to the 9/11 attacks. Much new information has emerged in the past 24 hours about Bales, who was transfered via white van to the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas, yesterday.

  • Bales in 38, married, and has two young children of his own, ages 3 and 4. He is originally from the Midwest (NBC reports his home state as Ohio), but now lives in a "two-story, wood-frame house between tall fir and cedar evergreens" in Lake Tapps, 20 miles northeast of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, The New York Times reports. This was his fourth tour of duty in a war zone.
  • The Times also quotes a real estate agent who was contacted by Bales' wife three days before the shootings, who said she wanted to sell the house because the family was "behind in our payments...She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances."
  • He enlisted on Nov. 8, 2001, and was first deployed two years after that to Iraq. He fought twice more in Iraq between 2006 and 2010.
  • He was injured twice in battle in Iraq. One injury required him to have part of his foot surgically removed.
  • A second injury is the subject of conflicting reports. According to John Henry Browne, Bales' Seattle-based defense attorney, Bales suffered a concussion caused by an improvised explosive device. The military says the head injury was not combat-related. (Browne once defended Ted Bundy, USA Today reports.)
  • His latest deployment in Afghanistan started in December of last year. On Feb. 1, he was assigned to a base in the Panjwai District near Kandahar, to "work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighborhood security."
  • Bales had thought he could avoid a fourth deployment and told his lawyer he was upset that he did not. According to Bales, the military had informed the family that Bales would not be required to serve a fourth time, then reneged.
  • The day before his shooting spree, according to Browne, Bales saw his friend's leg get blown off. This according to Bales' family; it has yet to be verified by the military.
  • Browne denies the reports that Bales was having "marital problems" and questioned whether or not he had been drinking before the killings, conflicting with statements from a senior military official who said the cause will eventually be found to be "a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues -- he just snapped."
  • "'He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims,' Mr. Browne said. 'He’s in general been very mild-mannered.'”
  • Bales has received sniper training, and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Lewis-McChord.
  • Bales is the recipient of numerous Army Commendation Medals, and "about a dozen" other various military awards and decorations.
  • He was arrested in 2002 at a Tacoma hotel following an investigation of assault, to which Bales pled guilty and was sentenced to 20 hours of anger-management training. It involved a woman who was not his wife. It's not yet clear how long he has been married to his wife.
  • A hit-and-run charge leveled against Bales was dismissed three years ago, the AP reports.
  • Shocked neighbors describe Bales as a "good guy," according to ABC News. "He always had a good attitude about being in the service. He was never really angry about it." Bales' platoon leader in Iraq described him as "an exemplary soldier who 'saved many a life ... Bales is still, hands down, one of the best soldiers I ever worked with," Army Capt. Chris Alexander said.

Bales has not yet been formally charged, according to the AP.

Pictured: The van transporting Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas arrives Friday night, under heavy security. [AP]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.