Karilyn Bales expected to be relaxing in Hawaii or seeing the sights in Germany right around now. Instead, she is suffering through the murder trial of her husband with the death penalty looming.
On June 5, her husband, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, told Col. Jeffery Nance he was guilty on 16 counts of murder in the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, mostly children, in March last year.
The massacre took place on Bales's 1,195th day of combat deployment. By 2006, Bales had spent more than three years at war in Iraq, losing part of his foot and suffering two head injuries. Shortly after his third tour in Iraq, his family was told he was done with fighting but the army decided to squeeze one more tour out of him, so Sergeant Bales was sent to Afghanistan.
Armies tend to reward their soldiers for long, hard service with cushy postings to nice places. Karilyn was looking forward to a posting in Hawaii or Germany when Robert came home. Now, after he avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty, she is waiting to see if her husband will be locked in Leavenworth for life, or will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
In no way do I condone his heinous act, but in my opinion, when Bales' foot was blown off, his Army career should have been over. He was stationed at a remote outpost in bandit country under constant threat, where he must have been tortured by PTSD. That is the last place to come to grips with a severe psychological wound. By comparison, when I had my PTSD episodes, I was safe and sound in an Alberta rehab facility.
Battle-hardened leaders are a precious resource in war. Combat soldiers rotate through a time-tested cycle of overseas operations, rest, and training. Being on a high state of operational readiness for over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly causes standards to be relaxed, rules to be bent and corners to be cut. Staff Sergeant Bales was snuck around one of those corners.
Commanding officers have the latitude to decide if a soldier is unfit to deploy on operations. Bales' CO owes Karilyn Bales an explanation of why he thought Staff Sergeant Bales was fit to deploy on his fourth combat deployment with half a foot and a mind full of nightmares.