Afghan shootings refocus attention at Fort Lewis-McChord base
He said that he doesn’t want police shooting troops but that he fears the risk of such deadly encounters is growing.
Lewis-McChord, an Army and Air Force installation south of Tacoma, is the largest military base on the West Coast, and thousands of service members from here have been deployed, often repeatedly, to Iraq and Afghanistan. The consequences of those tours are being felt both on distant battlefields and in the communities that surround the base, according to activists who work with veterans.
Confrontations with the police and criminal activity off the base are on the rise, and the legacy of battle is to blame, they say.
PTSD “is a chronic problem, and it’s been growing for 10 years,” said Stephen Kubiszewski, who co-founded PTSD Anonymous, which meets at a chapel at Lewis-McChord.
The 38-year-old soldier who is alleged to have killed 16 civilians over the weekend in southern Afghanistan was based at Lewis-McChord. Officials have said he had a traumatic brain injury in 2010 while in Iraq but was deemed fit for duty.
It remains unclear what prompted the shootings or whether anything in the suspect’s medical history could have led to his alleged actions. But the disclosure this week that he was from Lewis-McChord has refocused attention on trouble at the base, where a string of high-profile incidents had already raised questions about the scale of the mental health problems here and how the military is responding.
Last year, four members of a platoon from the base’s 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were convicted for their roles in a self-described “kill team” that murdered three unarmed Afghan civilians.
Two soldiers have been accused of waterboarding their children — one because the child couldn’t recite his ABCs and another because his foster son wet his bed. A 24-year-old Iraq war veteran fatally shot a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. In April, David Stewart, 38, a decorated combat medic with two tours in Iraq, killed himself after leading police on a high-speed chase down Interstate 5 near Tumwater.
His wife, 38, who had been shot in the head, was found in the car beside him. Their 5-year-old son was found dead at their home.
And on Tuesday, a lieutenant colonel at the base was charged with felony harassment in connection with allegedly threatening to kill his wife, with whom he is going through a divorce, and his superior officer.