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Friday, January 2, 2009

'Lethal Warriors' in Iraq, linked to string of crimes back home

Reporting from Orange County and Colorado Springs -- They nicknamed themselves the Lethal Warriors, and during two tours in Iraq, the soldiers of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry regiment confronted some of the war's cruelest fighting, hunting insurgents through the warrens of Baghdad and Tikrit amid roadside bombs, mortar fire and close-quarters firefights. By June 2007, in what one field commander called the "heart of darkness," the unit was losing a soldier a day in a body bag or on a stretcher. Over two tours, 33 of them had died.

On Nov. 30, 2007, Kenneth Eastridge, a wiry, heavily tattooed survivor of the fighting, found himself at a rough Colorado Springs bar called the Rum Bay, not far from the unit's Ft. Carson base. Eastridge, a high school dropout from the projects of Louisville, Ky., had joined the Army to escape what seemed the dead-end prospects of civilian life, only to run repeatedly afoul of Army rules and face a court-martial.
So on that cold night just two days after his discharge, Eastridge was at loose ends again, in the company of two other war-coarsened vets from his unit, Louis Bressler and Bruce Bastien.

Police say the trio plotted a robbery in the company of an Army private, leaving Bressler worried that the private would divulge their plot. Later that night, police say, Bressler shot the soldier to death with a .38-caliber revolver.

Now Eastridge, 25, sits behind bars in a Colorado prison, having agreed to a 10-year sentence in exchange for his testimony.
The Army was quick to downplay any link between what he and the other soldiers saw in Iraq and the allegations against them.

"Anybody that does crimes of that nature, it goes deeper and farther back than anything in the U.S. Army," said Lt. Col. Brian Pearl, the 2-12's commanding officer. "Nothing here has trained them to do what they are charged with."

Yet there is a larger story of those who fought with the 700-soldier unit: a string of alleged robberies, domestic violence and senseless murder. [Mark Godsey]
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