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Lewis-McChord soldiers concerned about Afghan massacre fallout

Army Spc. Joshua Pinheiro dropped by a sewing shop Monday near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to get a name tag sewn on his rucksack.

Business is brisk at Jeannie’s Sewing Shop as Pinheiro, 22, and other soldiers check off their to-do lists as they prepare for a deployment to Afghanistan. Pinheiro and the 4,000 other soldiers in 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division will depart this spring for a nine-month tour.

The upcoming mission will be made more challenging and dangerous, Pinheiro and other local soldiers said, due to the actions of one soldier assigned to another Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. The unidentified 38-year-old staff sergeant went door to door and gunned down 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, before turning himself into authorities Sunday. The incident made international headlines and is another setback for U.S-Afghanistan relations as the Obama administration looks to conclude the decadelong war there.

“I feel sad for the dudes who are on the line now,” Pinheiro said.

Pinheiro said he was shocked when he first heard the news.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “They’re human beings. How could you take lives in cold blood like that? They’re not all terrorists.”

Local soldiers shared the worries of U.S. officials that the massacre would lead to a repeat of the violence and unrest that followed last month’s burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Soldiers also agreed that the massacre sheds more negative light on Lewis-McChord, the largest military installation on the West Coast with about 40,00 active-duty soldiers and airmen. The installation gained notoriety for more than a year during the investigation and prosecution of soldiers from another combat brigadewho killed Afghan civilians for sport. There’s also been high-profile crimes committed locally by former or current Lewis-McChord soldiers.

Sgt. Justin Bishop, 24, another Lewis-McChord soldier heading to Afghanistan, said the vast majority of its soldiers serve honorably and their contributions are undone by a few who “go out of their way and ruin it for the rest of us.”

Spc. Andrew Baker, 20, said he talked with his father, a senior enlisted soldier stationed in Georgia, after his father asked about all the problems at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Baker believed combat stress was a factor in Sunday’s attacks – the soldier reportedly served three prior tours in Iraq – and he wondered why warning signs were missed. CNN reported Monday that the soldier suspected in the attack was a sniper who was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in 2010.

“It could have been avoided, and it should have been avoided,” Baker said.

Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of Coffee Strong in Lakewood, called for a congressional investigation into why Lewis-McChord’s leadership is failing its soldiers. The shop, located near the sewing center, provides counseling and other outreach to Lewis-McChord soldiers. The organization had planned a Monday night vigil for the victims of Sunday’s attacks but canceled it out of concern it would be seen as criticizing the Army and its soldiers.

Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran, recognizes that other Army bases have their share of problems, “but for some reason it keeps happening over and over here.”

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