Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, including nine children, was trying to leave active service in response to financial problems, it emerged yesterday.
Bypassed for a promotion and struggling to pay for his house, Robert Bales, 38, was eyeing a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he was deployed to Afghanistan.
While Robert Bales sat in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth’s military prison, classmates and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati, Ohio remembered him as a “happy-go-lucky” high school football player who took care of a special needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.
But court records and interviews show that the 10-year veteran – with a string of commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – had joined the Army after a Florida investment job went sour, had a Seattle-area home condemned, struggled to make payments on another and failed to get a promotion or a transfer a year ago.
Robert Bales’ legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, court records show.
He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed.
Military officials say that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, Robert Bales crept away on March 11 to two slumbering villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children and 11 belonged to one family.
Robert Bales hasn’t been charged yet in the shootings, which have endangered complicated relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threatened to upend U.S. policy over the decade-old war.
He joined the Army after studying business at Ohio State University – he attended three years but didn’t graduate – and handled investments before the market downturn pushed him out of the business.
Florida records show that Robert Bales was a director at an inactive company called Spartina Investments Inc. in Doral, Florida; his brother, Mark Bales, and a Mark Edwards were also listed as directors.
Robert Bales was struggling to keep payments on his own home in Lake Tapps, a rural reservoir community about 35 miles south of Seattle; his wife asked to put the house on the market three days before the shootings, real estate Philip Rodocker said.
“She told him she was behind in our payments,” Philip Rodocker told The New York Times.
“She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances.”
The house was not officially put on the market until Monday; on Tuesday, Philip Rodocker said, Robert Bales’ wife called and asked to take the house off the market, talking of a family emergency.
Robert Bales and his wife bought the Lake Tapps home in 2005, according to records, for $280,000; it was listed this week at $229,000. Overflowing boxes were piled on the front porch, and a U.S. flag leaned against the siding.
Neighbors said Robert Bales was a loving father two his two children, daughter, Quincy, and son, Bobby, adding that there were no signs that the Army sergeant was troubled.
The best case scenario for the next phase in their family’s life, Robert Bales’s wife wrote, would be an Army assignment in an adventurous location like Germany, Italy or Hawaii, and barring that, possibly an assignment in Georgia, where her husband could become a sniper instructor.
“We are hoping that if we are proactive and ask to go to a location that the Army will allow us to have some control over where we go next,” she wrote.
It would seem she was greatly looking forward to the promotion, which would allow him to be home with her and their children.
But when Robert Bales was passed over for the position, his wife was understandably upset.
Sgt. Robert Bales, who served as an Army sniper, joined the military after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
His attorney, John Henry Browne, described the couple’s marriage as “fabulous”.
John Henry Browne said on CNN that marital problems were “totally bogus”, adding that his client had a “very strong marriage and, frankly, we’re all taking offense at that”.