It’s not particularly palatable to think about, but there are gang members in the military, serving overseas and gaining valuable weapons and tactical training.
Not only does Killeen gang detective John Bowman know that firsthand, but he also said it shouldn’t be that surprising.

“The military is a slice of life from the nation as a whole,” Bowman said during a meeting of gang officers and experts gathered in Fort Worth this week for a Safe City Commission-sponsored conference.

Bowman, an Army veteran and 20-year police officer in the city adjoining Fort Hood in Central Texas, said the presence of gangs in the armed forces is not just a problem for people like him. He said it affects many of the nation’s cities and counties, while the troops are in service and certainly when they get out.

“Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a base near you blind you to the problem,” he said. “The gang members at Fort Hood get their dope from Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. The Gangster Disciples at Fort Hood are directly linked to the Gangster Disciples in Houston.”

That kind of message from city police has led to sharp disagreements with officials on military installations, who argue that gangs are not a significant problem.
A Fort Hood spokesman said the base has “had no confirmed gang activity … in any recent history.”

Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command in Virginia, said there are a dozen or fewer cases every year of soldiers engaged in criminal gang activity.

“We don’t have our heads in the sand, but when you look at the amount, it’s very minute when you look at the population Armywide,” Grey said. “It is not rampant, by any means, which is what some people suggest.”

Bowman acknowledges that gang members constitute a fraction of the military’s active, National Guard and reserve troops, but even 1 percent would be more than 10,000, he said. It’s hard, if not impossible, to know exactly how many there are because gang members don’t broadcast that information, nor, Bowman said, does the Army have an incentive to accurately report gang activity in its ranks.

In 2007, a report from the National Gang Intelligence Center for the FBI concluded that it was an “increasing” problem and “poses a threat to law enforcement officials and national security.”

Read more: Chris Vaughn for Star-Telegram.

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