Tuesday, May 02, 2006

American Gang Members in Iraq

The Chicago Sun-Times
A truly disturbing story from Chicago Sun-Times:

At Camp Cedar II, about 185 miles southeast of Baghdad, a guard shack was recently defaced with "GDN" for Gangster Disciple Nation, along with the gang's six-pointed star and the word "Chitown," a soldier who photographed it said.

It appears that Chicago gang members who join our volunteer military do so with an ulterior motive – to pick up skills they will take back with them to the sink holes in Chicago from which they came. In this case, it appears that the term “trained killers” applies only too well.

A reserve Army sergeant has been traveling to various bases and documenting their graffiti which is how they mark their territory. And the sergeant, Jeff Stoleson, is worried, for good reason:

In civilian life, Stoleson is a correctional officer and co-founder of the gang interdiction team at a Wisconsin maximum-security prison. Now he is a truck commander for security escorts in Iraq. He said he watched two fellow soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, die Sept. 26 when a roadside bomb exploded. Five of Stoleson’s friends have been wounded.

Because of the extreme danger of his mission in Iraq, Stoleson said he does not relish the idea of working alongside gang members, whom he does not trust. Stoleson said he once reported to a supervisor that he suspected a company of soldiers in Iraq was rife with gang members.

And the Army’s response when he informed them of the gangs’ presence among the troops? You guessed it: we know about it already and it’s no big deal. Or words to that effect:

Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, did not deny the existence of gang members in the military, but he disputed that the problem is rampant -- or even significant.

In the last year, the Criminal Investigation Command has looked into 10 cases in which there was credible evidence of gang-related criminal activity in the Army, Grey said. He would not discuss specific cases.

“We recently conducted an Army-wide study, and we don’t see a significant trend in this kind of activity, especially when you compare this with a million-man Army,” Grey said.

Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, did not deny the existence of gang members in the military, but he disputed that the problem is rampant -- or even significant.

In the last year, the Criminal Investigation Command has looked into 10 cases in which there was credible evidence of gang-related criminal activity in the Army, Grey said. He would not discuss specific cases.

“We recently conducted an Army-wide study, and we don’t see a significant trend in this kind of activity, especially when you compare this with a million-man Army,” Grey said.

And when these tattooed, trained killers are back in Chicago and L.A., do you think Mr. Grey will be there?

No, I don’t either.

Sergeant Stoleson has a photo gallery link at the Sun-Times page above.

Hat tip: In From The Cold. He suggests some military training for our police officers so they'll be prepared for the returning Crips and Bloods.


JackTanner said...

Last I heard the USA was a free country. If these bangers had clean records why shouldn't they serve? Some of them may be wannabes as well.

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

The barrier walls at Convoy Support Centers like Scania are covered with graffiti of all descriptions. (Is it just me, or does blatant graffiti indicate poor discipline in military units? this is not the usual toilet stall art ....) Dunno how much is gang related .... probably things like "Amor del Rey" wouldn't warning ring a bell for most of us.

Does that merely indicate 'hood roots? Most armies hardly pick up their infantry from the cream of society...

Handsome Hu said...

one thing to consider is how appealing "gang-banging" will be to these individuals once they leave the service; if theyre up for some adventure, couldn't they sign up with Blackwater or Kellogg, Brown and Root etc and live the PMC life? its legal and pays well

El Jefe Maximo said...

The implications of all this are quite staggering. When evaluating threats to this country, it has always seemed to me that there is a great taboo (only just now dissolving with the immigration debate), to considering domestic threats to the future health and prosperity of our state.

All over the world, the nation state is under threat, and this is true in our own streets also. Tribal and gang loyalties are trumping national loyalty. The retribalization and refeudalization of politics, (abetted by communications and entertainment technology, and the decline of traditional religion) is very bad news.

Think on this in conjunction with Shelby Steele's piece in the Wall Street Journal Online (available via Real Clear Politics) about white guilt for colonialism; and consider also the immmigration issue, and the rise of a more powerful and well financed version of Castro to the South.

And we have the left about to return to serious political power.

Oh yeah, the Mexicans just de-criminalized drugs. Won't that be fun ?

Handsome Hu said...


Some things to consider re: your vision of the world:

-Police departments are going through force-transformations very comparable to the US Military. Law enforcement IT bestows upon them new capabilities; for instance:
1. distributed network of cameras that can be accessed remotely (see the criminals while youre hidden) blue lights sit atop these telephone pole-mounted 'urban eyes' that have a deterrent effect as well. if you want to deal drugs there, well, good luck to you.
2. devices that allow police cars to scan license plates as they drive by them and determine if theyve been registered as stolen or not. the program was in beta when i saw it last and it had netted something on the order of thousands of stolen cars. the policeman who was previously just two vigilant meat-eyes now gets a suite of IT augmentation

I'm from the Chicago suburbs and read an article about how the gang-plagued Belwood is transforming its force of ~60 cops by giving them these C4ISTAR advantages and, in essence, more access to crime that would otherwise be obscure or hard to react to. In belwood, the cameras are so effective that residents are putting up their own money to help build the network.

Indeed, Chicago as a city has pioneered these network-centric policing strategies and it offers something of an alternative or supplement to the fabled tactics of Giuliani, which seem to simply be better management.

Also, the supercriminal is something of a recurring myth per se (perhaps because we understand how delicate our peace and prosperity is; e.g. History of Violence) and even if we have ex-military gang bangers, they will be hardpressed to keep up with the adaptation curve that hopefully will become the norm for police departments.

Not that we shouldnt worry about your hypotheses but lets just remember that the good guys (cops and citizens) are suiting up for the fight too.

William Zeranski said...

The military takes this kind of stuff very seriously--more seriously than the civilian world can possibly think, so there is probably an ongoing investigation--and Mr. Grey isn’t going to tell anyone about it.--Why tip-off the bad guys?

El Jefe Maximo said...

I certainly hope you're right, FFN. I suppose my concerns are more about the political will to deal with the trends. I'm certain the police and military intelligence, and counterintelligence authorities are aware of these issues, as they bear on their particular specialities, but superb information, and superior organization, training, motivation and equipment are of little utility without the political will to squarely confront the problem.

I have no doubt whatever that in, for example, the Austro-Hungarian police bureaucracy of the 1900's, the English government in Ireland of the same period, or the Okhrana of 1917, there were talented and intelligent police officials who could give their superiors reels and rheems of information on threats to the state, but the political leadership was unwilling, or unable, to do much of substance to confront the threats or address problems before rabble rousers did.

No, I'm not saying we're Austro-Hungarian, British or Russian -- every empire has its own separate pathologies. Ours is the political inability and unwillingness to confront multiculturalism, which is sometimes a disguise for non-American nationalisms and/or the favoring of tribalism over the interests of the country.

The forces of order can suit up for all the fights they want to, but it's going to be for naught if we can't get the chattering classes to do some suiting up too.

Dymphna said...


have you looked at the stats for those who enlist in the military? At best your statement is...lacking.


I like your optimism, but the sergeant who told the Sun Times about the problem works in civilian life in interdiction and he wasn't assured. If they were *really* taking it seriously, those tanks, walls, etc., would be scrubbed/painted clean. And they're not.

fastfoodnationalist do you have any links or research you can share? That is indeed heartening to read. Here we are at Boyd's OODA loop again...

el jefe Domestic problems? Our only domestic problem is Bush. Where have you been?

Here's a somewhat related article. Its summation is a good one and deserves a wider audience. I'm going to send it to Heather McDonald (City Journal), though she probably already has it.

The Augean Stables

Handsome Hu said...

The article re: Bellwood was in a security industry magazine and I'll post a link later if its online (its at home). I think its worth pointing out that these technologies potentially augment the good guy effects to a point where political support can be compromised and you can still achieve certain objectives. Illinois and Chicago are not really regarded for their leaders...

Anyways, heres a run-down of what the robbers will have to adapt to:

re: Bellwood's fight against the criminal tides
Chicago To Expand Video Surveillance System New Cameras, Microphones To Cost $3 Million
Chicago Goes High-Tech with Cameras, Biochemical Sensors
Cameras, sensors to run 2,818 intersections in city
Philadelphia police will see how Chicago uses video surveillance

different sort of thing but still related:
http://www.chicagocrime.org/ - site in the spirit of your JUF citizen-IT vigilance
if you google 'chicago crime watch' youll see a Apple dashboard widget that can keep you informed as to where the criminals are

Oh also, and Dymphna and jefe:

to the political will points, there is a series of PRI shows on RadioOpenSource.org wherein they do dabble a bit in Huntington's 'culture-as-actor' realm but quickly retreat to the pleasant vestiges of mystical blank-slatery, fancying themselves not simply activists but social-engineering maestros that can manipulate these criminal populations by flowers and music and money - emphasis on the money. My initial response forgot how its both illustrious and sexy to believe in these artists of the superorganic. It is these indoctrinations that will sew the seeds of Fjordman's dystopia state-side - and you can listen to them for free on Itunes.

Handsome Hu said...

To the PRI point and Augean Stables:

Whats remarkable is how the same facts were recently presented in the NPR programming I referenced. Its the same story, beginning with the 90's boom, through welfare reform and the record levels of employment, employment that extended to many black women, but those tragic males missed out.

Of course, society is simply hostile in these really nuanced ways that you, as a privelged but erudite and open-minded NPR listener, would not be acutely aware of. So it seems there are agreed upon facts, but a different interpretation of what dynamics dominate and define.

-The NPR folks say its the system that is still flawed and needs reform because minority ex-cons cant get a job in this wretched economy.

-Augean Stables mentions the cultural dimension but also seems to creep into what I feel may be the growing consensus: that criminals are defined more by their choice to commit crime than some tragic circumstances that surround them.

What would be terrible is if the leftist rabble can implement policies to the effect of curbing our terrible "prison-industrial complex," upon realizing that if you let rule-breakers break the rules, you find an elegant way to diffuse tension, conflict etc.

On a side note, ideas like the Prison-industrial complex are strange abstractions indeed, the intellectual equivalent of the Illuminati, in that they ordinate an otherwise dissonant mess of capable intelligent proto-Malcolm X's who just romantically reject the opportunity-rich society around them because they envision it how Kanye West tells them it is. How effing ridiculous...but so, like, cool sounding, man

Fellow Peacekeeper said...


Since you have marked my post as "lacking", I feel obliged to explain at some length. Since I detail my thinking and assumptions, some of the latter may be found questionable - if so, I beg forgiveness, and someone please correct me.

I said "Infantry" and not "military" for a reason (and I was thinking professional units, not reserve units or regional regiments).

Infantry is the branch most in demand in Iraq, and the one that does the repeat tours. . A certain subset of total enlistment goes to Infantry (or other front-end lower-status) units. The more technical branches (whether signals or log) tend to acquire the well educated. The most motivated (like committed patriots) gravitate to more flash elite forces (whether SF, rangers (US), alpine troops, rotary aviation, cavalry or heavy armour). Line infantry also weeds out the soft and faint of heart by being a harsh and uncompromising life (basically - suffering without glamour). Consequently, there is a somewhat curious disproportion of infantrymen from two places : those escaping the desolate countryside, and those escaping rustbelt towns (both small towns and inner city). They are typically not bad kids, but those from a bad area trying to make good. This is mostly true for infantry from the UK, France (disproportionate numbers of non-native immigrants), Latvia (my children are typically from alcoholism devastated ex-collective farms or from rustbelt industrial towns), elsewhere in Eastern Europe and as far as AFAIK this pattern also fits the US army.

So therefore, there be numbers of soldiers native to deprived inner-city areas enlisted in the US army, and that many of those would have gangs in their past (are there hard stats on this, anyone?).

Also, it must be said that places like Scania are just covered in graffiti. Most of it is "ordinary" military graffiti (you know, like : "3/456 engineer battalion was here summer 04" "120 degrees and I already hate this f***ing place" "I love Mona" or whatever). Kind of like every unit passing through feels compelled to inscribe itself - though why they are permitted to do so is a different question. As to my ignorance : I have a vague recollection of, when stopped at length passing through Scania, wondering who Amor del Ray was and why a spanish name was prominent in American graffiti, I though he was like maybe a new hit musician or something.... you may laugh now. Graffiti on vehicles is troubling though, I can't imagine any level of US army leadership would permit that sort of thing to stay. As to places like Scania, scrubbing those bastions is physically not particularly practicable.

The Chicago sun-times article starts "Gangs claim their turf in Iraq" (provocative), explains at length that there are indeed gang members in the army (I think that it would be a huge surprise if there weren't) , but fails to find much to write about actual gang related activity, let alone in Iraq. In any case, reforming and reeducating delinquents has been a subsidiary task for armies since Rome had legions. The gangs encourage them to become soldiers ? Scary but partly irrelevant. Do the older and wiser ex-gangsters ex-soldiers return to the gang lifestyle as super-gangsters, or do they reform and make something of themselves? IMHO past historical experiences with returned military veterans indicate the latter.

Is the gangland related graffiti merely an reminder of some of the population comprising the recruiting pool, as opposed to something more sinister, like symptoms of gang ties emerging within (and despite) the organization? The Chicago sun-times article suggests the latter, but demonstrates the former.

Roy Lofquist said...

It would seem to me that if you wanted to rehabilitate a gangster there is no better opportunity than having them in the military. Possible? Certainly in some cases.

GoArmy said...

I served as the Army's recruiting commander in Chicago for two years. I controlled recruiting efforts for downtown and all of the southside areas. I can say that we dealt with a lot of kids who were balancing on a wire: they knew if they didn't get out of the city, they'd be pulled in to gangs, so the military was a way to escape what they saw as a no-win future.

When reading this article, I wonder if any of these Soldiers were ones that were put in the Army during my tenure, and the answer is probably, unfortunately yes. As I said above, we had a lot of kids who wanted to escape a life as a future gang member, but that certainly does not mean they weren't already in a gang with a clean record.

If there is one thing that you simply cannot cover up when joining the Army is a criminal record (or at least it is very difficult). We scrutinized applicants heavily for charges of any kind and had to get detailed explanations of any charges. That information was sent up at least two levels in the chain of command for approval before the applicant could continue the enlistment process.

The other interesting piece to some of the comments is the mention of the infantry. With the demographics of my recruiting area being primarily black and Hispanic, I put in the fewest combat arms (Infantry, Armor, Artillery, etc) in the Northern Illinois areas. Our Soldiers entered more in the Service/Support fields, such as supply, mechanics, cooks, drivers. I'm certainly not saying we didn't have recruits in combat jobs, but our stastics matched the Army, and it was one we constantly fought--many families assumed their Hispanic son was considered 'expendible' by the Army and would therefore be on the front lines. Not true.

I'm not sure if any of my comments add up to a point, but I thought I'd share them anyway, as I feel a direct link to this topic.

mcgill said...

What was this idiot, SSG Stoleson, doing in a combat zone worried about gang graffiti for? Something tells me if he had time to take over a thousand pictures and worry about LA street gangs he didn't have his priorities straight in a war zone. His 1SG was right if the soldiers are doing a good job leave 'em alone there are other issues to worry about. Typical of some of the reservists we had in Iraq, no sense of priorities in a combat zone. Stoleson should've been sent to the rear with the gear.