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« Bush Opposes Health Care for 3 Million Children | Main | All The Same »


Sacrificing Hearts and Minds

By Zola Jones
July 30, 2007

Evidence of gang culture and gang activity in the military is increasing so much an FBI report calls it "a threat to law enforcement and national security."

The number of gang-related crimes involving soldiers and their families nearly tripled from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2006.

To keep its enlistments up, the military has lowered its requirements for new recruits.

Because of the prolonged occupation of Iraq, the U.S. military has experienced both increased demand for American troops and declining enlistment numbers in the U.S.

One obvious and discouraging consequence has been an increase of gang members joining the army, navy and air force.

The loosening of recruiting standards has experts worried that people with criminal backgrounds, particularly association with gangs, are more likely to get into the military than before.

The report by the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center said gang members sneak into the military by failing to report criminal convictions or using fake documents. Some have sealed juvenile records unavailable to recruiters. And most of the recruiters are not properly trained to recognize gang affiliation, the report said.

Furthermore, military regulations disqualify members of hate groups from enlisting, but there is no specific ban on members of street gangs.

The New York Times reported in February that waivers for Army recruits with criminal backgrounds such as assault, robbery and vehicular homicide have risen 65 percent in three years in order to expand its diminishing recruitment pool.

The spike in waivers raises valid concerns about whether military is making too many exceptions to meet its recruitment demands. Those waivers for Army and Marine recruits with criminal backgrounds include serious misdemeanors, they also include felonies such as aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

The FBI believes that gang members may enlist in the military to escape their current environment or gang lifestyle. Some gang members may also enlist to receive weapons, combat, and convoy support training; to obtain access to weapons and explosives; or as an alternative to incarceration.

Gang membership in the armed forces can disrupt good order and discipline, increase criminal activity on and off military installations, and compromise installation security and force protection.

Gang incidents involving active-duty personnel on or near US military bases nationwide include drive-by shootings, assaults, robberies, drug distribution, weapons violations, domestic disturbances, vandalism, extortion, and money laundering. Gangs have also been known to use active-duty service members to distribute their drugs.

Upon discharge, they may employ their military training against law enforcement officials and rival gang members. Such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated, and deadly gangs, as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers.

CBS News reports that the "military police have briefed local authorities in major cities, including New York, about the rising danger that gang members in the military could share their skills with gangs on the streets. That could include combat, logistics, and even emergency medical skills."

Some gang members may wish to join the military as a way to escape the gang environment in their home communities.

Military training is not the right rehab for gang members wishing to reform themselves. Giving gang members training on hand-to-hand combat, artillery or firearms does not seem to be the right rehabilitative method. The violence and focus on control, power and defense seems very much in line with gang attitude.

Besides, for those recruits that earnestly wish to reform, staying out of their gang proves to be a difficult in the service. Not only will their home gang apply pressure to members in the military to traffic drugs or assist in procuring equipment - but, also, recruits discover upon arrival in the military that other gang members are aligning according to gang allegiance.

Much pressure is exerted on gangsters to remain as gangsters while in the service.

Other gang members have no intention of leaving the gang permanently. Some of these with criminal records are able to obtain felony waivers and come into the military with "clean records" that provide perfect cover. Here's some of the reasons why gang members might wish to join gangs:

  • As an honest attempt to leave the gang life permanently
  • As a method of temporarily seeking legal employment
  • To have access to potential gang recruits; engage in recruitment of military dependents and soldiers
  • To acquire weapons and military hardware for gang use
  • To be trained in warfare, weapons use and military tactics
  • To engage in drug trafficking for their home gang

One problem is that affiliation with a gang doesn't automatically keep a gang member or potential recruit out of the military, and it isn't yet a crime under military law. But military prosecutors can charge service members for crimes that might be linked to gang activity, such as assault or larceny. Naturally, this would be after the fact - after a gang member joins the service and after the member commits a crime and is convicted of the crime. Of course, gang members are adept at not getting caught or identified.

There is also no definition for "gang" in the Uniform Code of Military Justice nor is membership in a gang itself considered to be against military law.

In May 2007, an amendment introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) to prohibit gang-activity in the military passed the House as a part of the 2008 Defense Authorization bill. This amendment revises military command policy to prohibit service members from associating with criminal street gangs, whether on duty or at home.

Thompson introduced this amendment because a growing number of gang members in the military are returning to the streets armed with combat training, putting local law enforcement at a dangerous disadvantage. Thompson's amendment was included in the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585). The Defense Authorization passed the House 329 to 27. The bill has not yet passed the Senate or been signed by the president.

"Gang-related activity in the military is increasing and poses a threat to law enforcement officials and national security," according to the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center report.

Last year, an Army soldier who is a gang member identified 60 to 70 gang-affiliated military personnel in his unit allegedly involved in the theft and sale of military weapons and supplies.

Earlier this year, two Illinois National Guard soldiers were charged with selling stolen body armor, night-vision goggles and other military equipment to undercover federal agents.

Gang members in the military also are applying their battle training to the streets when they return home, the FBI warned.

Military training combined with gang affiliation can be deadly on American streets. Another unnamed soldier intended to supply Chicago gangs with body armor he stole in Iraq, according to a conversation secretly recorded by the FBI.

I know there's no easy answer to solving the gang problem in our American cities. I know that a lot of the kids that join gangs do it because they believe they have no other choice. For those that do want to reform and do want out - I can't blame them for wanting to join the military.

We've offered so few other alternatives to those who want out.

Sending gangsters to war doesn't help them rehabilitate. So, I don't think that sending the Crips and Bloods to Iraq is the answer - not for our American cities, not for gangsters, and definitely not for the Iraqi citizens.

We should not be exporting our urban problems to the Middle East.

There is no excuse for the graffiti that is now showing up in Iraq on military buildings and vehicles. Iraqis should not be looking at spray painted symbols for gangs such as the Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings and Vice Lords.

We need to end our occupation of Iraq.

Then, we need to concentrate our efforts on finding real alternatives for young people in the inner city. Alternatives that do not include violence.

What we are doing now is simply not working.


For more info, you can also read these government reports:


Comments (1)

KS_IND Author Profile Page:

That's what you get when you lower the bar on recruiting standards.

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