Gang Members in the Military

Here’s a fascinating piece in the Chicago Sun-Times about how gangs such as Chicago’s Latin Kings and Vice Lords are sending members into the U.S. military—some of them making it as far as Iraq. Only a very small fraction of soldiers are gang members, and few commit crimes while on base, but some observers seem to be worried that many will eventually leave and then use their training and access to military equipment to become “deadly urban warriors” when they return home.

[Scott] Barfield[, a Defense Department gang detective] said gangs are encouraging their members to join the military to learn urban warfare techniques they can teach when they go back to their neighborhoods.

“Gang members are telling us in the interviews that their gang is putting them in,” he said…

Barfield said he has documented gang-affiliated soldiers’ involvement in drug dealing, gunrunning and other criminal activity off base. More than a year ago, a soldier tied to a white supremacy group was caught trying to ship an assault rifle from Iraq to the United States in pieces, he said.

Part of the reason the military has been letting in so many gang members is that it’s had to lower its standards; recruits are increasingly getting waivers for criminal backgrounds, and recruiters are told that it’s now okay to accept people with gang tattoos, so long as there are fewer than five. And, of course, part of the reason that standards have dropped so low is that the military’s bogged down in a pointless and deadly war that no one wants to fight. But at least we’ll have some great urban violence to show for it.