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For several years, there have been allegations among law-enforcement officials and in the media of a strong presence of street gangs within the U.S. military. Military officials acknowledge that gang members can be found in the services, particularly the Army, but insist that gang membership does not pose a serious problem.

Stars and Stripes set out to explore the issue. Reporters interviewed dozens of military officers, police officials, military and civilian investigators, former gang members and ordinary servicemembers. This is what they found:

¶ Although the number of gang-related incidents officially chronicled by the Army is small (60 last year), the number had nearly tripled from the year before. Officials say a broader definition of what constitutes a “gang incident” partly accounted for the sharp increase. Outside experts say that in reality more incidents occur than are listed by the military.

¶ Regardless of the number, several high-profile incidents in recent years have cast an unwelcome light on the issue of gangs in the military, including a murder in Germany, several assaults and cases of servicemembers selling or giving stolen military equipment — including weapons and body armor — to street gangs. Most have occurred in the United States.

¶ The loosening of recruiting standards has experts worried that people with criminal backgrounds, particularly association with gangs, are more likely to get into the military than before.

¶ Some commands and military officials are taking the problem seriously, looking to raise awareness and to find solutions.

¶ Defense officials see no evidence that any service’s mission is being compromised because of it, but outside authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have expressed concerns.

The FBI’s January 2007 report, titled “Gang-Related Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing,” reads, in part:

“Members of nearly every major street gang have been identified on both domestic and international military installations….

“Gang membership in the armed forces can disrupt good order and discipline, increase criminal activity on and off military installations, and compromise installation security and force protection….

“[Military members retaining their gang loyalties] could ultimately jeopardize the safety of other military members and impede gang-affiliated soldiers’ ability to act in the best interest of their country.”

Over the next four days, Stars and Stripes takes a hard look at gangs in the military.

Read the full reports ...

The 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment

The Army Criminal Investigation Command’s FY 2006 Gang Activity Threat Assessment

A January, 2007 FBI report on gang-related activity in the Armed Forces

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