Among the two most common routes to survival for poor people in the big city are the Army and street gangs. Research in Iraq has revealed the two are now working hand-in-hand, helping each other fight their battles.
All across Iraq you can see the signs. They're spray painted on tanks, buildings and barriers. "Amor de Rey," "GDN," "323." Everywhere you look, you can find street gangs from Chicago and Los Angeles making their presence known.
Before Jeffrey Stoleson shipped out for Iraq last year he was a corrections officer and co-founder of the gang interdiction team at a Wisconsin maximum-security prison. He is all too familiar with gang culture.
Since he's been in Iraq he's taken hundreds of photos of gang-related graffiti. He doesn't feel very safe working alongside men he associates with the ones he used to help keep in cages.
"My E-8 [supervising sergeant] told me not to ruffle their feathers because they were doing a good job," he said.
Scott Barfield is a Defense Department gang detective at Fort Lewis in Washington state. He's convinced this is problem all across the armed forces.
"I have identified 320 soldiers as gang members from April 2002 to present. I think that's the tip of the iceberg."
What he finds most troubling is that the U.S. is training young men in the art of urban warfare and then shipping them back to urban street gangs where they'll keep fighting.
In fact, gangs are sending their members into the Army.
"Gang members are telling us in the interviews that their gang is putting them in," Barfield said.
"They're not here for the red, white and blue. They're here for the black and gold," he says, referring to the gang colors of the Latin Kings.
Barfield acknowledges he knows gang bangers -- one a Florencia 13, the other from the 38th Street Gang -- who have battled in the streets of Los Angeles, have been able to fight side-by-side in Iraq.
"They had exchanged blows in Inglewood [a city near Los Angeles], but in the Army, they did get the mission done," he said. "The private is a decorated war veteran with a Purple Heart."
Joe Sparks, a retired Chicago Police gang specialist and the Midwest adviser to the International Latino Gang Investigators Association recognizes the contribution these guys are making overseas, but he's terrified of the long-term consequences for our domestic tranquility.
"Even though they are 'bangers, they are still fighting for America, so I have to give them that," Sparks said. "The sound of enemy gunfire is nothing new to them. I'm sure in battle it's a truce -- GDs and P Stones are fighting a common enemy. But when they get home, forget about it."
Not only is the Army training these men to kill, they're also supplying them with materiel. In Chicago, L.A. and El Paso there have been reports of Army-issue flak jackets showing up in the hands of gangbangers.
FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons says there's an all-out war brewing in Texas.
"We understand that [some] soldiers and dependents at Fort Hood tend to be under the Folk Nation umbrella, including the Gangster Disciples and Crips," Simmons said. "In El Paso, the predominant gang, without much competition, is the Barrio Azteca. We could see some kind of turf war between the Barrio Aztecas and the Folk Nation."
at May 01, 2006
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