When a rogue U.S. soldier went on a shooting rampage and killed 16 Afghan civilians this weekend, all eyes again fell on the military and its more than decade-long war.One Sgt. stationed in Afghanistan and preparing to come home this week direct tweeted us saying, “I had a friend killed in Iraq because some soldier lost it and went homicidal on a combat stress clinic in 2009.”
He continued, “I’ve seen some guys lose their military bearing enough to get sent home, but not all of them did much harm to anyone else.”
Military bearing is like a game-face; it keeps the “human” things about a soldier out of sight. Emotions, reactions, opinions all stay hidden behind a servicemember’s military bearing. If one of those things slips out, it’s noticed — if it happens often enough it will get commented on by command, be put into the soldier’s evaluation, and possibly earn a discharge.
In another direct message, the same soldier continued, [the guy who killed the Afghans is] “a disgrace to our country and his service. Killing innocents over here is the same as killing innocent women and children back in America.”
Service members posting on blogs express a pragmatic frustration about the shooting, and expect retaliation.
“Looking forward to more incoming fire, protests, and lack of amenities. Thanks GI Joe,” wrote one irritated poster.
A Marine writes: “No excuse at all for blowing women & children away. I still wouldn’t hand him over to the Afghans for justice, but I’d definitely see putting the needle in his arm for this.”
The same Marine goes on to point out how this will affect all troops’ daily lives on the ground in Afghanistan: “Every time someone does something stupid like this, command always throws down a shit-ton of new regulations designed to somehow magically prevent this from happening again (As if you could stop someone from doing this randomly if they so chose…), when all it really does is piss off the rest of us who would never do anything like that.”
Civilians and veterans leaving comments on the Army’s official Facebook page, where the service apologized in a post, have made references to sadness, shock, and anger; or to PTSD and bringing troops home. Others even challenge the need to apologise for the incident.
“Terrible news. Bad for the mission, puts our boys in danger.”
“I don’t see Karzai saying sorry for the numerous times Afghan ‘Army Soldiers’ have turned their weapons on American or International troops.”
“I hope the boys are prepared for more IED attacks.”
The shooting has generated global commentary.
Military veteran blogger Jonn Lilyea was asked by the BBC to join a discussion of the shooting. Lilyea says the BBC wanted to frame the shooting in terms of PTSD and troops spending too much time in combat, but says that’s not a foregone conclusion. “We don’t know who the guy is, so how do we know that his participation in the war had anything to do with it.”
A repeated concern is summed up by another commenter on Lilyea’s blog: “[I]f it were any other administration, I wouldn’t be worried. This one? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him handed over to either the Afghanistan government or the World Court.”
But the cause of the spree killing isn’t what worries the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan right now. It’s the retaliation, the new restrictions that will be imposed on their already limited freedom, and whether the Obama administration will turn the unnamed 38-year-old soldier over to the Afghan government.
Most soldiers on the ground seem to agree on two things: the shooting was a tragedy, and they’re getting fed up with a situation that seems to inevitably be spiraling out of control.
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