Violent Crime, Non Combat Death, and Suicide at Camp Pendleton, California (US Marine Corps)

USMC

*Research not complete and includes combat deaths.

2017:

Laurel Chasmar, US Marine Corps Veteran: Died in murder-suicide, New Jersey
John Deshaies, Canadian Citizen: Suspect in homicide of Marine & GF in Belize
Drew DeVoursney, US Marine Corps Veteran: Homicide victim in Belize, unsolved
Cody Haley, US Marine Corps: Died after tree fell on him during physical training
Francesca Matus, Civilian: Homicide victim in Belize, unsolved

2016:

Oscar Aguilar, Civilian: Accused of homicide of US Marine, awaiting trial
Esau Rios, Civilian: Accused of homicide of US Marine, awaiting trial
Carlos Segovia, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim in Los Angeles
Ricky Valente, Civilian: Accused of accessory after the fact, homicide of US Marine, awaiting trial

2015:

Sergio Medina, US Marine Corps Veteran: Robbery & physical assault, 6 years
Leonardo Ortiz, US Marine Corps Veteran: Robbery & physical assault, 3 years
Rodrigo Sanchez, US Marine Corps Veteran: Robbery & physical assault, 3 years
Dominic Schraft, US Marine Corps: Found dead with gunshot wound on base

2014:

Erin Corwin, US Marine Corps Spouse: Pregnant, Homicide Victim
Emilio Harvey, Civilian: Homicide victim, child
Christopher Lee, US Marine Corps: Homicide of Erin Corwin, Sentenced to Life
Stanford Morocho, US Marine Corps Veteran: Homicide, sentenced to 15 yrs to life
Sean Neal, US Marine Corps: Non-combat related incident, Iraq

2013:

Alvin Bulaoro, US Army Reserve: Homicide victim
Kevin Coset, US Marine Corps: Accused of homicide, awaiting trial
Karen Lange, Civilian: Attempted murder by AWOL Pendleton Marine
Mathew Marsh, US Marine Corps: Training accident, EOD explosion on base
Gregory Mullins, US Marine Corps: Training accident, EOD explosion on base
David Oppelt, US Army Spouse: Suspected of homicide, under investigation
Imelda Oppelt, US Army Guard Reserve: Homicide victim, death by hanging
Miguel Ortiz, US Marine Corps: Training accident, EOD explosion on base
Eric Summers, US Marine Corps: Training accident, EOD explosion on base

2012:

Clayton Beauchamp, US Navy: Unit attacked with IED, Afghanistan
John Berry, Civilian: Homicide victim of deceased Marine veteran Itzcoatl Ocampo
Amyjane Brandhagen, Civilian: Homicide victim of AWOL Pendleton Marine
Lukah Chang (Danny Wu), US Marine Corps: AWOL, homicide, sentenced to 35 yrs
Ryan Jeschke, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat ops, Afghanistan
Brittany Killgore, US Marine Corps Spouse: Rape & homicide victim
Matthew Manoukian, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat ops, Afghanistan
Sky Mote, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat ops, Afghanistan
Louis Perez, US Marine Corps: Rape & homicide, sentenced to life
Camella Steedley, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan

2011:

Mario Arias, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim, beat to death in barracks
Yvonne Baldelli, Civilian: Domestic violence & homicide victim in Panama
Brian Brimager, US Marine Corps Retired: Homicide, Panama, 26 yrs in prison
Raquel Estrada, Civilian: Homicide victim of dead Marine vet Itzcoatl Ocampo
Darren Evans, US Marine Corps: Homicide on base, sentenced to life
Adan Gonzales Jr, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat ops, Afghanistan
Juan Herrera, Civilian: Homicide victim of dead Marine vet Itzcoatl Ocampo
James McGillivray, Civilian: Homicide victim of dead Marine vet Itzcoatl Ocampo
Lloyd Middaugh, Civilian: Homicide victim of dead Marine vet Itzcoatl Ocampo
Itzcoatl Ocampo, US Marine Corps Veteran: Accused of 6 homicides, died in prison
Joshua Robinson, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat ops, Afghanistan
Paulus Smit, Civilian: Homicide victim of dead Marine vet Itzcoatl Ocampo

2010:

Christopher Boyd, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Max Donahue, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Daniel Fedder, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Floyd Holley, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Kevin Oratowski, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Ronald Rodriguez, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan
Jose Saenz III, US Marine Corps: Died supporting combat operations, Afghanistan

2009:

Donald Hogan, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Afghanistan

2008:

Kevin Cox, US Marine Corps: 2 homicides, sentenced to life, no parole
Stacy Dryden, US Marine Corps: Non-hostile incident, homicide, Iraq
Michael Heflin, Civilian: Beating & stabbing victim, survived
Emrys John, US Marine Corps: 2 homicides, sentenced to death
Summer Lang, US Marine Corps Spouse: Rape, torture, & kidnapping victim
Robert McClain, US Marine Corps Veteran: Rape & kidnapping, sentenced to life
Adam McKiski, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
Tyrone Miller, US Marine Corps: 2 homicides, sentenced to life, no parole
Jan Pietrzak, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim
Quiana Pietrzak, US Marine Corps Spouse: Rape & homicide victim
Kesuan Sykes, US Marine Corps: 2 homicides, sentenced to death
Stewart Trejo, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq

2007:

Jon Bonnell Jr., US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
Matthew Medlicott, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
Rogelio Ramirez, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
John Tanner, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
Michael Tayaotao, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq
Cristian Vasquez, US Marine Corps: Died conducting combat operations, Iraq

2006:

Lawrence Hutchins III, US Marine Corps: Kidnapping, murder of Iraqi civilian

2005: 

Frank Wuterich, US Marine Corps: Accused of role in killing 24 unarmed Iraqis

2004:

Ryan Weemer, US Marine Corps: Acquitted in homicide of unarmed Iraqi detainee

1996:

Cassandra Corum, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, IL
Thomas Heffner, US Marine Corps: Attempted homicide victim
Lynn Huber, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, IL
Daniel Kidd, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim
Jessie Quintanilla, US Marine Corps: Homicide, sentenced to life
Laura Uylaki, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, IL

1993:

Kenneth Cook, US Marine Corps: Homicide of infant child, sentenced to life
Tiffani Cook, US Marine Corps Dependent: Homicide victim
Denise Maney, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA

1992:

Marilyn Allen, Civilian: Homicide victim, cold case, solved
Jennifer Asbenson, Civilian: Rape & abduction by Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA
Roosevelt Gipson, US Marine Corps: Manslaughter, sentenced to 11 yrs in prison

1991:

Lindell Mitchell, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim, cold case, solved

1989:

Tammie Erwin, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA

1988:

Julie McGhee, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA
Mary Ann Wells, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA

1986:

Robbin Brandley, Civilian: Homicide victim of Marine Andrew Urdiales, CA
Andrew Urdiales, US Marine Corps: Homicide of 8 women, sentenced to death

1985:

Kathleen Allen, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Lonnie Bond, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Michael Carroll, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Jeff Gerald, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Brenda O’Connor, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Cliff Peranteau, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Robert Scott Stapley: Missing, homicide victim

1984:

Richard Carrazza, Civilian: Attempted homicide victim
Paul Cosner, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Deborah Dubs, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Harvey Dubs, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim
Sean Dubs, Civilian: Missing child, homicide victim
Donald Giulietti, Civilian: Homicide victim

1983:

Charles Gunnar, Civilian: Missing, homicide victim

1982:

Charles Ng, US Marine Corps Veteran: Multiple rapes & 12 homicides, sentenced to death
Donald Lake, US Army Veteran: Missing, homicide victim
Leonard Lake, US Marine Corps Veteran: Multiple rapes & homicide, committed suicide

1980:

Eugene Brunelle, US Marine Corps: Homicide victim
Roy Garcia, US Marine Corps: Homicide of Marine, sentenced to 20 yrs to life

Related Links:
Seven Marines, Navy corpsman charged with murder in Iraqi civilian’s death

West Virginia Air National Guardsman TSgt. David Board Died of a Non-Combat Related Incident in Kuwait (2017)

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TSgt. David Board, West Virginia Air National Guard

Air Force TSgt. David Board, 49, died in a non combat related incident on August 2, 2017 in Kuwait. TSgt. Board was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve on behalf of the 130th Airlift Wing at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in West Virginia.

Related Links:
DoD Identifies Air Force Casualty
Pentagon identifies Air Guardsman who died in Kuwait
Airman Who Died in Kuwait in Non-Combat Incident Identified
WV Guard airman from Barboursville dies in Kuwait
West Virginia Air National Guard Airman Dies in Kuwait
Airman killed in Kuwait incident identified
US airman casualty in Kuwait identified as Tech. Sgt. David Board
National Guardsman from Barboursville who died in Middle East remembered fondly

Gangs in the US Army Documentary


“It seems like more and more gang members joined in order to get free military training and gain new skills that they can use when they are back in their street gangs. This epidemic of gang members in the US army, marines and even the navy is getting worse. It seems like the background checks aren’t that accurate and can’t always detect who’s legit vs who’s a criminal.”

Related Links:
Gangs infiltrate US military
Gang Activity in the U.S. Military
Gangs Penetrate the US Military
2011 National Gang Threat Assessment
The modern US army: unfit for service?
Military Overlooks the Hate in Its Ranks
Neo-Nazis, gangs and criminals in the US military
In the Army Now: Gangs, Nazis & the Mentally Ill
U.S. Army battling racists within its own ranks
Irregular Army : A Conversation With Matt Kennard
Reports Back Op-Ed Linking Vets to Hate Groups
The US Military Has Become A Haven For Hate Groups
American ISIS: The Domestic Terrorist Fallout of the Iraq War
The US Military Recruited Violent Felons to Support the War Efforts
The FBI Announces Gangs Have Infiltrated Every Branch Of The Military
Military-Trained Gang Members Worry FBI, Oklahoma Law Enforcement
Red, White and Gangs: The problem of street gangs in the military
Sikh temple shooter promoted extremist views during his Army years
Sikh Temple shooter formed White supremacist views in U.S. military
Author: Sikh Temple Massacre is the Outgrowth of Pervasive White Supremacism in U.S. Military Ranks
Matt Kennard presents his new book Irregular Army at the Baltimore Radical Bookfair Pavilion
How Neo-Nazis and Gangs Infiltrated the U.S. Military: Matt Kennard’s ‘Irregular Army’
Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror
FBI says U.S. criminal gangs are using military to spread their reach (2006)
Criminal Gangs in the Military (2007)
Are Gang Members Using Military Training? (2007)
The Yale Law Journal: Gangs in the Military (2009)

Fort Hood Army Pfc. Brian Odiorne Died from a Non-Combat Related Incident in Al Anbar Province, Iraq; CID Ruled Death Suicide (2017)

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Pfc. Brian Odiorne, US Army

Pfc. Brian Odiorne, 21, US Army, died from a non-combat related incident in Al Anbar Province, Iraq on February 20, 2017. Pfc. Odiorne’s home of record is listed as Ware, Massachusetts and he joined the Army in October 2015. Pfc. Odiorne was a cannon crewmember supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. After an investigation was concluded, the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) ruled the death a suicide.

Related Links:
Pfc. Brian P. Odiorne
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
Death of a Fort Hood Soldier
Obituary: Pfc. Brian P. Odiorne
Fort Hood soldier dies in Iraq
Fort Hood Soldier from Massachusetts Dies in Iraq
Fort Hood soldier from Massachusetts dies in Iraq
Soldier who died in noncombat incident in Iraq identified
Pfc. Brian Odiorne, a Ware native, dies in Iraq
Brian Odiorne, soldier from Ware, dies in Iraq
Ware, Mass. Soldier Dies In Iraq In ‘Non-Combat’ Incident
Baker to family of Ware soldier: “I’m calling you as a dad”
Family, friends mourn death in Iraq of Army Pfc. Brian Odiorne of Ware
Ware selectmen request moment of silence to honor Army Pfc. Brian Odiorne, who died in Iraq
Body of PFC Brian Odiorne returned to western Massachusetts
Bishop Rozanski delivers homily at funeral of Brian Odiorne
US Army Pfc. Brian Patrick Odiorne laid to rest in Ware
Army Investigating After Soldier From Ware Dies In Iraq
Death of Mass. soldier in Iraq under investigation
Why are flags lowered today? March 4, 2017
Fort Hood soldier’s death in Iraq ruled a suicide
Why Have So Many Fort Hood Army Soldiers Died Stateside in the Last Year?
Violent Crime, Suicide, and Non Combat Death at Fort Hood, Texas
The Fort Hood Fallen on Facebook

Army Specialist Ronald Murray Jr. Died of a Non-Combat Related Incident in Kuwait Supporting Operation Inherent Resolve (2016)

US Army

Specialist Ronald Murray, Jr., US Army

Army Specialist Ronald Murray, Jr., 23, died of a non combat related injury in Kuwait on November 10, 2016. Specialist Murray was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve on behalf of the 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Fort Bliss, Texas. Specialist Murray worked in fire support and died in a vehicle accident. He is from Bowie, Maryland and joined the Army in January 2015.

Related Links:
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
Soldier from Bowie killed in Kuwait
Soldier stationed at Fort Bliss dies in Kuwait
Soldier From Bowie, Maryland, Dies in Kuwait
Fort Bliss soldier dies in Kuwait
Fort Bliss soldier dies in Kuwait in noncombat incident

Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at United States Military Bases

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*Research not complete.

My experiences as a victim of crime in the United States military inspired me to do the work I do today as a military justice policy analyst. Not only did I witness first hand how a predator operates but I witnessed multiple predator types in real time while serving my country. If these people committed these acts of crimes at work in the civilian world, they would have been in jail or I would have been rich after taking my employer to civil court. Well maybe not because the deck is stacked against the accuser but we do in fact have a civilian justice system that allows us to hold others accountable, while it simultaneously protects the due process rights of the accused. This cannot be said of the military justice system. There is no guarantee a military Commander will do anything with a crime report let alone process the felony crime effectively. We do not want a justice system where one man or woman decides whether to do nothing, give a non judicial punishment for a felony crime, or railroad the accused or accuser. We do want a justice system where we can hold our employer accountable without roadblocks from the Pentagon, Congress, and the Feres Doctrine. We cannot effectively tackle the violent crime issue in the military until the victims of crimes, like sexual assault and domestic violence, feel safe enough to report. Crime victims have expressed that they do not want to report crimes to a Commander for fear of retaliation. The Department of Defense admitted that of those of who did report the crime, 62% perceived that they faced retaliation. If service members felt safe enough to report, it could help us prevent homicide, suicide, and non combat death.

If we think about violent crime committed by military personnel compared to violent crime statistics in the United States (reference above graph), at first glance it appears the military has a homicide ‘issue’ among the ranks. Please see the below links for a sample of crime on some of the U.S. military bases. All military bases worldwide will eventually be included in this research. And the research for sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and physical assault specifically has not been conducted yet either. Because the research is far from being complete, it is too early to make any assumptions so I will put the data in one place and let you come to your own conclusions. But if military crime mirrors civilian crime statistics, one can deduce that if the military has a lot of homicide, there is even more rape. Currently the number one concern in the military is a Commander’s ability to give a non judicial punishment for a felony crime. A Commander can bypass the courts martial process simply by punishing and/or discharging the accused with a preponderance of the evidence. This does nothing to protect our military personnel and the civilians who live near our bases in America and worldwide. Predators do not discriminate. They are just as likely to harm civilians as they are military personnel. They know their rights and they know that jurisdiction issues and lack of communication among law enforcement agencies will help prolong getting caught. We need to be one step ahead.

We can’t get real violent crime numbers for the military bases unless we include those who died of non combat deaths while they were deployed. Veterans Noonie Fortin and Ann Wright inspired me to initially look into the non combat deaths of female soldiers overseas because they observed the unusually high number of female soldiers who died of non combat deaths during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their chief concern was that although the military labels a non combat death as a suicide, there are suspicions that some female soldiers were murdered, like LaVena Johnson, Amy Tirador, and Ciara Durkin. I did the research on every single female soldier who died from non combat deaths overseas and their concerns are valid. My research on non combat deaths in Iraq alone revealed that roughly 30% of female soldiers died as a result of homicide, suicide, and other unknown causes. I am working on collecting the data for male soldiers who died from non combat related injuries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas. I started with 2010 so we can get the most recent cases but I will go back to September 11, 2001 in the next phase of data collection. The first male soldier non combat death case I found in 2010 was an unsolved homicide. His name was SSG Anton Phillips and he was stabbed to death in Afghanistan. Further research in this area has uncovered that non combat deaths of male soldiers are just as prevalent.

Learn more:
The US Military Recruited Violent Felons to Support the War Efforts
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Afghanistan)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Iraq)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Other Areas)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Carson, Colorado (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Violent Crime at Fort Wainwright, Alaska (US Army)
Violent Crime at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
A List of Soldiers Targeted & Murdered for the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance Benefits
Rep Nikki Tsongas & Rep Mike Turner Host Educational Caucus: Improving Treatment Resources for Male Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma
An Open Letter to the Senate and House of Representatives in Support of the Military Justice Improvement Act
Letter of Support for Save Our Heroes in Our Shared Quest for Military Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

Navy Sailor BM Devon Faulkner Died of a Non Combat Related Injury While Underway on USS Wasp in Mediterranean Sea (2016)

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BM Devon Faulkner, US Navy (photo courtesy http://www.militarytimes.com)

Navy Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Devon Faulkner died of a non combat related injury while underway on September 20, 2016. Devon Faulkner was supporting Operation Odyssey Lightning on behalf of the USS Wasp (LHD 1) forward deployed in the central Mediterranean Sea. According to the Department of Defense, the incident is under investigation.

Related Links:
Department of Defense Identifies Navy Casualty
U.S. Navy sailor dies of non-combat injury off Libya
Sailor aboard locally based ship dies overseas
Navy Sailor dies while deployed on Norfolk-based USS Wasp
US Navy sailor from NC dies during Mediterranean operation
Sailor Dies While Supporting ISIS Airstrikes in Mediterranean
Sailor dies aboard USS Wasp in Mediterranean Sea
Injured USS Wasp sailor dies while underway in Mediterranean Sea
Department of Defense identifies Raleigh, NC Navy casualty
U.S. Navy member dies of non-combat-related injury in Libya

Army Warrant Officer Travis Tamayo Died of a Non Combat Related Incident in United Arab Emirates (2016)

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Warrant Officer Travis Tamayo, US Army

Army Warrant Officer Travis Tamayo died of a non combat related incident in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on September 16, 2016. WO Tamayo was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve on behalf of the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Fort Gordon, Georgia. According to the Department of Defense press release, the incident is under investigation.

Related Links:
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
Deployed Fort Gordon soldier dies in UAE
Army Officer from Brownsville Killed Overseas
Brownsville native, proud military member dies at age 32
DoD: Soldier dies in non-combat related incident in UAE
Department of Defense investigating death of deployed Ft. Gordon soldier
Death of deployed Fort Gordon soldier under investigation
U.S. Army intelligence soldier supporting OIR dies in United Arab Emirates
US Anti-Daesh Operation Serviceman Dies in UAE in Non-Combat-Related Incident

Army 1st Lt. Jeffrey Cooper Died of a Non Combat-Related Injury in Kuwait Supporting Operation Inherent Resolve (2016)

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1st Lt Jeffrey Cooper, US Army

1st Lt Jeffrey Cooper, US Army, died of a non combat related injury in Kuwait on September 10, 2016. 1st Lt Cooper was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve on behalf of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. According to the Department of Defense, the incident is under investigation.

“Cooper was killed in a rollover vehicle accident while traveling from Camp Buehring in Kuwait to the Ali Al Salem Airfield.” -CBS News

Related Links:
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
DOD: U.S. soldier from Washington killed in Kuwait
Defense Department: Washington soldier killed in Kuwait
DoD identifies soldier killed in vehicle rollover in Kuwait
Fort Campbell soldier killed in car crash Saturday in Kuwait
Fort Campbell Soldier Dies In Non-Combat Crash
U.S. Department of Defense identifies 101st Airborne Division casualty

An Inside Look at Toxic Leadership in the US Army: On the Dark Side in Al Doura, Iraq (2011)


U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow soldiers in Al Doura, Iraq. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which, in the public interest, are now released in this video. John paid a terrible price for his opposition to these acts. His story is tragic. –On the Dark Side in Al Doura

After watching the 2011 documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ which profiles the case of Army Private John Needham, one can clearly observe the similarities to ‘The Kill Team’ PBS documentary released in 2014. On the Dark Side in Al Doura interviewed Michael Needham, the father of John Needham, who was an Army whistleblower from Fort Carson, Colorado and reported witnessing war crimes and atrocities in Iraq; The Kill Team profiled Adam Winfield, an Army whistleblower from Fort Lewis, Washington who witnessed and tried to report the same war crimes and atrocities in Afghanistan. For the sake of preservation, both John Needham and Adam Winfield admitted feeling pressured to conform or risk their own lives if they didn’t. They both felt like they were being set up to die or participate in the war crimes. Both soldiers at times felt like suicide was their only way out because there was no safe place for them to report overseas nor could they escape the situation. If they made it out of the war zone alive, the return home didn’t fair well for them. The PBS documentary  ‘The Wounded Platoon’ released in 2010 reveals the impacts the wars overseas had on Fort Carson soldiers. After watching these three documentaries, it’s clear why our soldier’s combat experiences traumatized and changed some of them. They not only had to fight a credible threat on the battlefields but some were betrayed by the very team they depended on for their lives.

Michael Needham takes us through the series of events that occurred in the course of John’s short Army career. He shared how John was the fifth generation in the family to fight in a war. John volunteered to join the Army in the spring of 2006, went to Fort Benning, Georgia for training, and then got stationed at Fort Carson. John was an Army Ranger assigned to the 212th, 2nd Combat Team, 12th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was part of the infamous team known as the ‘Lethal Warriors’ which now appears to be disbanded. Part of his initiation into his new band of brothers was fighting other soldiers to determine where one fell in the pecking order. John held his own in the fights and was respected for his wins. According to John, the soldiers that didn’t fair so well in the fights were ‘smoked’ by leadership and peers, which ultimately forced them to leave, quit, or commit suicide. In October of 2006 John was deployed with his Fort Carson team to Al Doura, Iraq. His team was assigned to the Quarter Cav which was known for having some of the deadliest fights in the Iraq war.

John was a good soldier. He worked hard, saved lives in Iraq, and was awarded three medals for heroism and two Purple Hearts. John excelled as part of team, was brave, and his resilience was admirable. But during the course of John’s deployment, he witnessed war crimes and other atrocities committed by leadership and his fellow soldiers that affected his morale. John would also admit that initially he wasn’t quiet about it and when he did question superiors, he was told he didn’t have the right to question leadership. He didn’t dare report the war crimes via e-mail or telephone because he knew leadership could monitor everything. So for the sake of preservation and life’s sake, he did what he had to do to get by and stay alive. John would share that the Army was short of personnel so most of the soldiers got driven into the ground and deprived of sleep. After awhile John felt that he was forced into committing war atrocities that were illegal but feared if he didn’t do it, he would become a liability to the team and ultimately a casualty of his own people.

One night John was sent out on a mission with a Lieutenant (who did not commit war crimes yet remained silent). John thought this was unusual because they didn’t usually get sent out in pairs. They were ambushed by three shooters in the middle of the night who were determined to see them dead. When the shooting began, John pushed the Lieutenant to safety and kept the shooters at bay. He shot every round he had and when he was almost out of ammunition, he called the 212th for back-up on the radio but nobody answered him. Luckily another team was nearby who did answer him and was able to extract the soldiers from the situation and save their lives. It would be this incident that would break John’s spirit. He immediately suspected that he and the other soldier were sent on this mission to be killed. When he got back to the base, he began yelling “Why did you set us up?” And “If you want to kill me, kill me to my face!” But nobody acknowledged him so he went back to his tent where he decided that he would commit suicide. John was exhausted, irate, and he saw no way out. He didn’t want to live anymore. He felt that committing suicide was his only way out. John put a handgun to his head but just as he got ready to pull the trigger, his roommate dove and pushed the gun away from his head. The gun discharged and put a hole in the wall. Soldiers immediately began ascending upon the area. According to John, once leadership learned what happened, they held him down and beat him then locked him in captivity in a small room. The Battalion Commander was the one who kept John captive yet he didn’t press any formal charges.

John’s father Michael learned through John’s friends in Afghanistan that John was being held captive by the Battalion Commander. They were concerned about him. John’s family was already concerned about John’s earlier e-mails and posts on MySpace because it sounded like he had given up, which was not like him. With this information Michael Needham contacted Army commands, Fort Carson, Congressional leaders and the Army Inspector General (IG). He reports that the only office that took him seriously at the time was the IG. Michael was trying to save his son’s life. He told the IG that he didn’t want him to die. The IG’s office shared a list of rights for both John and Michael. And it was at this time Michael learned that he had third party rights and could intervene and act on John’s behalf. Michael was finally able to get in touch with the Battalion Commander only to learn that John was being treated like a criminal. The Battalion Commander informed Michael that John committed crimes and was being sent to prison in Kuwait. But Michael was able to intervene and get the Command to send him to medical instead. Medical determined that John was severely injured both physically and mentally. He had significant back injuries from the multiple explosions and blasts, shrapnel in his body, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Army medical in Iraq referred John to medical in Germany and from there he would be sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the states. But not before the Battalion Commander would put up one more roadblock. Instead, Michael Needham won this battle and John was flown to Germany.

Eventually, John was sent to Ward 54 which is the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed. Michael shared that John appeared to like the psychiatric help he was getting. A month into John’s stay at Walter Reed, he was informed that the Iraq Battalion Commander contacted the 212th Command in Colorado and requested that John be sent back to Fort Carson where he was facing criminal charges including unlawful discharge of a weapon. They were making him go and sent armed guards to accompany him back to Fort Carson. Michael Needham tried to intervene with the 212th at Fort Carson but they said they couldn’t do anything because they had orders from the Battalion Commander. John was sent back to Fort Carson and the harassment he endured in Iraq continued with the 212th in Colorado. John shared that they mentally tortured him, banged on his barracks door, stole his things, and isolated him. It was at this time Michael elicited the help of a veteran advocate Andrew Pogany who went to the command in Colorado and held these people personally accountable. Andrew helps soldiers in John’s situation because he understands how important it is to intervene. John could not get the kind of help that he needed at Fort Carson. Michael shared that the soldiers could see a professional once a week if they were suicidal and once a month if they were not. John’s father wanted him transferred to a Naval Medical Center in San Diego for intensive treatment and so he could be closer to home. Andrew helped make that happen.

Michael began to understand the impacts the war had on his son after John got back to California. John couldn’t handle driving above 35 mph, was suspicious of trash on the side of the road, and was easily startled by loud noises. He could not function in public and suffered with what is known as flashbacks. The Naval Medical Center in San Diego recommended that John get surgery on his back right away. They warned him that he could become paralyzed if he didn’t get the surgery. In the meantime Johns father spoke candidly with one of the Navy doctors about the treatment John received both in Iraq and at Fort Carson. He reiterated that he was concerned about his well being and asked him to help him find a way to prevent John from being sent back to Fort Carson, Colorado. Michael Needham feared that if John got sent back to Fort Carson that he would not return. This doctor agreed to help John. And Andrew Pogany recommended that John report the war crimes to the Army in an effort to protect John from being complicit and implicated in the future. John reported to the Army that he witnessed both leadership and peers killing innocent Iraqi civilians during the October 2006 to October 2007 timeframe in and around Al Doura. It wasn’t long after John made the report that all the charges against him were dropped and Fort Carson gave the necessary approval to transfer him to Balboa Naval Command. John went in front of the medical board and was medically retired for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and back injuries. He was discharged honorably from the Army. The Army investigated John’s claims but concluded that no war crimes were committed.

Michael and John won a lot of battles with the US Army but soon they would lose the war. Just days after John was discharged from the Army, he would be accused of beating his new girlfriend to death with his bare hands. John Needham was charged with the murder of Jacqwelyn Villagomez and jailed for ten months until his family raised enough money to get him out on bail. John was not given treatment while jailed so the family was motivated to get him out so he could get the treatment he needed. John did in fact follow through with getting treatment and he learned a lot about himself in the process. He spent some time on camera talking about how the combat stress and the betrayal from his team impacted him. He talked about how he didn’t realize the significant impacts from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. John recognized how PTSD and TBI did in fact play a role in his fight or flight response mechanisms and that it may be because these conditions went untreated that he disocciated, snapped and beat his girlfriend to death. The two were in a heated argument after Jacqwelyn attacked one of John’s female friends. Both of them were volatile but unfortunately there were no witnesses to the event as John’s friend was outside the home calling the police to report Jacqwelyn. While John was awaiting trial, he went to Arizona to get another surgery and visit with his mom. On February 19, 2010 following treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs, John would be found dead in his room from an overdose on painkillers. The cause of death at autopsy was considered undetermined and it is unclear if John accidentally overdosed or committed suicide.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, M.D. (Ret.), a former top military psychiatrist who until recently was a consultant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us: “[TBI ]most sensitively affects executive functioning, that part of the brain that we use for judgment and we use for decision making … when we are in situations of intense emotion. So if a person is affected neurologically … they don’t have the controls that they had before. … They can’t think as clearly. …They are really vulnerable to just reacting, overreacting, particularly maybe doing something that they had done when they’d been in combat.” –The Wounded Platoon

As a parent, Michael Needham has questions for the Army. Why don’t they even recognize the problem? Why don’t they take care of the soldiers? And why did they leave his son John Needham behind? The documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ concludes with the reminder that since the Patriot Act was passed and Dick Cheney declared that we needed to go into the shadows, the definition of torture has been blurred. The Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse scandal erupted under the Bush administration in 2003 but no war crimes have been investigated under President Barack Obama’s administration. If the rule of law has been lost, what do we have? Our military personnel have a responsibility to abide by the rules established by the Geneva Conventions. John Needham and Adam Winfield both reported witnessing innocent civilians murdered by their fellow leadership and peers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They both also shared the impact the crimes had on their mental health and morale. They wished they could have reported the crimes to someone who would have listened and understood that their lives were in danger. We can learn a lot from John Needham and Adam Winfield; they have experienced what it’s like to be a whistleblower in the US Army. They have clearly illustrated what toxic leadership in the Army looks like and how whistleblowers in the US military have nowhere to turn.

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Private John Needham, US Army

Related Links:
Dateline NBC Mystery: Private Needhams War
PBS Documentary: The Wounded Platoon
On the Dark Side in Al Doura: A Soldier in the Shadows
PBS Documentary: The Kill Team
The PBS Documentary ‘The Kill Team’ Nominated for an Emmy
Retired Army Pvt John Needham Beat his Girlfriend Jacqwelyn Villagomez to Death, Then Died of an Overdose on Painkillers Awaiting Murder Trial (2008)
Honoring Jacqwelyn Villagomez who Died at the Hands of Retired Army Private John Needham (2008)