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Military gangways

Past gang activity in Texas has police watching as troops move to Fort Carson


A confirmed gang member is linked to a gang through - a process of verification; an associate is suspected but - has not been confirmed as a gang member.
  • A confirmed gang member is linked to a gang through a process of verification; an associate is suspected but has not been confirmed as a gang member.

Investigators in Colorado Springs, wary of rising gang membership in the military, say they will watch as thousands of soldiers leave Fort Hood, Texas, for duty at Fort Carson.

The FBI, in a recent intelligence assessment, sounded an alarm on the trend.

"Such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated and deadly gangs, as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers," said the assessment, prepared by the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center in January.

In recent years, the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples have been active at Fort Hood, and alleged members have been linked to slayings, robberies and drug and gun trafficking.

Police in Colorado Springs and Killeen, Texas, which is home to Fort Hood, confirm they are sharing gang information to prepare for the relocation of some 23,000 people troops, family members and civilians headed from Texas to the Pikes Peak region.

"There's a whole broad spectrum of issues that we're trying to be proactive with and take a look at," says Cmdr. Rod Walker of the Colorado Springs Police Department's gang unit. "Certainly, gang activity and gangs in the military is one of those issues."

Fort Carson officials say the post doesn't presently have a gang problem and isn't anticipating one.

"We do not see any indicators to suggest that the criminal activity at Fort Hood will make its way to Fort Carson," the post's provost marshal, Maj. Shannon-Mikal Lucas, says via e-mail.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon praised soldiers last week in Pueblo during a town hall meeting on Fort Carson growth. Mixon, citing an unnamed area police chief, said the region would be safer as more troops are stationed here.

Trevor Velinor, local agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is more cautious.

"We know there's a gang element within the military," Velinor says. "How significant that's going to be [with the troop influx], we don't know."

The FBI assessment stated that gang activity is rising across the military and appears to have spread to Iraq, most evident in the form of gang-specific graffiti.

"Members of nearly every major street gang ... have been documented on military installations both domestically and internationally," the assessment stated.

Yet the assessment lacked specific numbers, stating such information was not available because the military does not report criminal statistics to the FBI.

The assessment named gangs including the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips and Vice Lords.

Those gangs and others, including some with ties to white supremacists, already are active in Colorado Springs, according to Walker.

Two years ago, Jerome Anthony Smith, Fort Hood sergeant and reputed leader of Killeen's Gangster Disciples, was convicted of aggravated robbery. Smith allegedly directed dozens of Gangster Disciples in the Army to commit activities including drug dealing, identity theft and armed robbery.

It wasn't the first gang activity uncovered at Fort Hood, says Detective John Bowman, Killeen police's one-man unit devoted to gangs and narcotics. In 1999, Spc. Jacqueline Billings was court-martialed for murder charges stemming from her alleged leadership of the gang.

"Multiple soldiers were also arrested and charged," Bowman says. "It's not just your leaders. They're recruiting from within the ranks."

One of the nation's first major military gang cases emanated from Fort Carson, Bowman adds. Ten years ago, Gerald Ivey, an alleged Gangster Disciple, was court-martialed in an investigation where locations in Colorado Springs were part of a multi-state drug and gun network.

Part of the concern is additional training and access to equipment the military provides to gang members, Velinor says.

The FBI found a gang-linked Marine in a Colorado prison who said it was easy to steal military weapons and equipment for use on the streets. It also found that a military police officer at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., who was affiliated with a gang, stole body armor later used in robberies.

Concerns about gangs come as the military faces scrutiny for relaxing its recruiting standards. A government report found a 50 percent increase in violations by recruiters from 2004 to 2005. Also, the New York Times reported in February that waivers for Army recruits with criminal backgrounds such as assault, robbery and vehicular homicide have risen 65 percent in three years.

"We're giving more felony waivers today than we were in the past," Bowman says. "Any time you do that, you're going to get that less attractive soldier."

The FBI assessment cautioned against recruiting soldiers with criminal or potential gang ties, saying, "While allowing gang members to serve in the military may temporarily increase recruiting numbers, U.S. communities may ultimately have to contend with disruption and violence resulting from military-trained gang members on the streets of U.S. cities."

"Furthermore, most gang members have been pre-indoctrinated into the gang lifestyle and maintain an allegiance to their gang. This could ultimately jeopardize the safety of other military members and impede gang-affiliated soldiers' ability to act in the best interest of their country."

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