As if it weren't bad enough that Iraq is becoming a cause and a safe haven for Islamic terrorists, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that US gang members may be sharpening their urban warfare skills as soldiers in Iraq.
Military and civilian police investigators familiar with three major Army bases in the United States -- Fort Lewis, Fort Hood and Fort Bragg -- said they have been focusing recently on soldiers with gang affiliations. These bases ship out many of the soldiers fighting in Iraq.
"I have identified 320 soldiers as gang members from April 2002 to present," said Scott Barfield, a Defense Department gang detective at Fort Lewis in Washington state. "I think that's the tip of the iceberg."
Feeding the problem is the lowering of entry standards to meet recruiting goals. "A friend of mine is a recruiter," Barfield told the Sun-Times. "They are being told less than five tattoos is not an issue. More than five, you do a waiver saying it's not gang-related. You'll see soldiers with a six-pointed star with GD [Gangster Disciples] on the right forearm."
In Iraq, gang membership is displayed mainly as graffiti, but there have already been worrisome incidents.
Barfield said a big concern is what such gang members trained in urban warfare will do when they return home.
He pointed to Marine Lance Cpl. Andres Raya, a suspected Norteno gang member who shot two officers with a rifle outside a liquor store in Ceres, Calif., on Jan. 9, 2005, before police returned fire and killed him. One officer died, and the other was wounded by the 19-year-old Raya, who was high on cocaine. Raya had spent seven months in Iraq before returning to Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Photos of Raya wearing the gang's red colors and making gang hand signs were reportedly found in a safe in his room.
A law enforcement source in Chicago said police see some evidence of soldiers working with gangs here. Police recently stopped a vehicle and found 10 military flak jackets inside. A gang member in the vehicle told investigators his brother was a Marine and sent the jackets home, the source said.
Barfield said he knows of civilian gang members in the Seattle area who also have been caught with flak jackets that he suspects were stolen from Fort Lewis.
Barfield said he has documented gang-affiliated soldiers' involvement in drug dealing, gunrunning and other criminal activity off base. More than a year ago, a soldier tied to a white supremacy group was caught trying to ship an assault rifle from Iraq to the United States in pieces, he said.
Thus far, only a handful of media outlets, mainly in Illinois, have picked up on the story. Thanks to The News Blog for the tip.
Addendum: Gang infiltration of the military is not a new problem, and I am alerted to the book Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave by fellow HuffPoster Deanne Stillman, published by William Morrow about two girls killed by a Marine after the Gulf War in Twentynine Palms, Calif. The story includes an account of a riot between Crips and Bloods on the base at Twentynine Palms, where MPs had to be called in to break it up.