GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — U.S. criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the U.S. military and are using overseas deployments to spread tentacles around the globe, according to the FBI.
FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes this week that gang members have been documented on or near U.S. military bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Iraq.
“It’s no secret that gang members are prevalent in the armed forces, including internationally,” Simon said, adding that the FBI is preparing to release a report on gangs in the military.
Among the cases:
¶ In Iraq, armored vehicles, concrete barricades and bathroom walls have served as canvasses for spray-painted gang art. 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,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
¶ In Germany, a soldier is being prosecuted this week for the murder of Sgt. Juwan Johnson, beaten to death on July 4, 2005, allegedly during a Gangster Disciple initiation in Kaiserslautern.
¶ In September, Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe warned teachers and parents to watch out for signs of gang activity, including the deadly MS-13 gang. At the time, DODDS-Europe public affairs officer David Ruderman said there had been two incidents in the past 18 months that involved students fighting, wearing gang colors or claiming to be members of gangs. In one of the incidents, a student’s family member may have been a gang member, he said.
¶ Earlier this year, Kadena Air Base on Okinawa established a joint service task force to investigate gang-related activity involving high school teens linked through the Web site MySpace.com.
Last year, the U.S. Army conducted 11 felony investigations into gang activity, one of those being the death of Johnson, said Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) in Virginia. Three of the incidents, including the Johnson case, took place in Europe, Grey said.
“We investigate all credible reports of gang activity,” Grey said, adding that CID has programs to combat gang activity in the Army.
Soldiers are reluctant to talk openly about gang problems. However, Spc. Bautista Kylock, 21, of the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment in Vilseck, Germany, said last week that there are gang members within his unit.
Kylock blamed recent violence around Vilseck on soldiers affiliated with the Crips and Bloods street gangs.
Scott Barfield, a former Defense Department gang detective at 2nd Cav’s last duty station, Fort Lewis, Wash., told the Sun-Times earlier this year that he had identified more than 300 soldiers at the base as gang members.
“I think that’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
However, Vilseck Provost Marshal Maj. Robert Ray said there is not a big gang problem in Vilseck and he has no information on gang members within 2nd Cav.
“The military comes from all walks of lives, from rich to poor, and with that comes the ‘society,’” Ray said. “Are there members of the military that belong to gangs? No doubt about it. But the military is not rampant with gang members.
“The military chain of commands do not tolerate things like that and do their best to weed out problems,” he said.
There are no official statistics on gang membership in the military, but some experts have estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of the U.S. military are gang members, Simon said. That compares with just 0.02 percent of the U.S. population believed to be gang members, she wrote.
“Gang membership in the U.S. armed forces is disproportional to the U.S. population,” she added.
Jim Kouri, vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, wrote recently that, in addition to the Gangster Disciples, other Chicago gangs such as the Latin Kings and Vice Lords have infiltrated the military along with neo-Nazi groups.
Although there are no numbers to back it up, Simon believes gang member presence in the U.S. military is increasing.
“The U.S. Army has reported an increase in gang-related activity in the military, although their numbers are low,” she said.
Gang-related activity in the military is highly underreported, and the Army is the only branch of the military that collects gang-related statistics, she wrote.
“It’s often in the military’s best interest to keep these incidents quiet, given low recruitment numbers and recent negative publicity. The relaxation of recruiting standards, recruiter misconduct and the military’s lack of enforcement (gang membership is not prohibited in the Army) have compounded the problem and allowed gang member presence in the military to proliferate,” Simon said.