WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–Prior to his Oct. 28 shooting rampage that claimed the lives of three professors before killing himself, Robert Flores Jr., was a struggling student at the University of Arizona Nursing School, with no prior criminal record, and described only in recent months as “very rude and obnoxious.”

He left behind a 22-page letter to be remembered by with an Arizona newspaper that opened, “Greetings from the dead.” The letter was discovered shortly after the premeditated shooting spree.

He was a Gulf War veteran.


Four days earlier, the world learned in horrific fashion of suspected gunman John Allen Williams, a.k.a. John Allen Muhammad. He is alleged to have killed 10 people while wounding three others in a D.C.-area sniper-shooting assault. In addition, federal authorities have now implicated Mr. Muhammad in a Louisiana shooting and other crimes. Family and former colleagues of Mr. Muhammad described the suspect up to a few years ago as “a regular guy.” Before leaving the Washington state area people began noticing a distinct change of behavior, and described his new demeanor now as “belligerent.” They spoke of strange eating habits, firing weapons in his backyard for target practice and reportedly were plagued by his sentiments regarding war.

Like Mr. Flores, Mr. Muhammad had no prior criminal record and also served in the Gulf War.

Highly decorated Gulf War veteran turned killer Timothy McVeigh admitted setting the bomb in the Oklahoma federal building on April 19,1995, the anniversary of the 1993 FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The Oklahoma bombing killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured 500 others. He refused to name his cohorts and was eventually executed for the crime. Like the aforementioned, he had a clean criminal record and was often described as a “very shy guy, who liked to drive old beat up cars,” before going off the deep end.

In a televised “60 Minutes” interview months before his execution, Mr. McVeigh insisted that serving in the Gulf War changed his life.

“I came to terms with my mortality in the Gulf War,” he said. “I went over there hyped up, just like everyone else. What I experienced, though, was an entirely different ballgame.”

Asked if it was acceptable to use violence against the government, as in bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Mr. McVeigh said: “If government is the teacher, violence would be an acceptable option. What did we do to Sudan? What did we do to Afghanistan? Belgrade? What are we doing with the death penalty? It appears they (government) use violence as an option all the time.”

“Based on the record that we now have before us, could Flores, Muhammad and McVeigh, have been suffering from a neuro-psychological disorder, or some debilitating medical condition like it, still unnamed, at the time they went on their criminal rampages?” asked Internet syndicated columnist William Hughes. “What other rational explanation is there to show how these three men (and probably many more like them) abruptly went from being model patriots, to accused raving homicidal maniacs?”

New hope for vets

During the Gulf War alone, the U.S. left 600,000 pounds of radioactive waste containing depleted uranium from its use of these “dirty bombs,” said Mr. Hughes. That’s the same kind of weapon that is being used as a “bunker bomb” in the conflict in Afghanistan, he maintains.

“The story of John Allen Muhammad has given some Gulf War veterans a burst of hope, and the rest of us a reason to support them,” said editor Tom Wolfe of East Journal.Com. “The hope is that Muhammad’s arrest, along with renewed interest in Iraq’s bio-chemical weapons capacity, will help the 175,000 or more veterans who developed neurological maladies known as Gulf War Syndrome.

“Many veterans who have been denied benefits see this as duplicity: On one hand the government is warning of the ominous potential of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons. On the other hand it is denying their effects. As with Agent Orange and Vietnam, the result has been cynicism and suspicion,” he said.

Homegrown terror in the United States unfortunately is not a new phenomenon and often during war climate is overlooked. One of the most common forms of aggression such as domestic and workplace violence can be found more and more at the feet of war veterans who have a very hard time coping with transitioning from war zones abroad to a more peaceful, patient and diplomatic posture at home. The challenge of communicating with loved ones, working in loosely structured environments, living in constant panic and for one year or more, using the language of combat as the only means of resolution, have contributed to keeping veterans in “kill mode” and a potential threat to the citizens they pledged to defend.

Experts in recent years have defined this experience as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening or traumatic event, such as military combat, a violent assault, or a serious accident. The event, experts say, causes a person to respond with fear, helplessness, and horror. Suffering repeated abuse, being in a war, or witnessing something as traumatic as the terrorist attack on America one year ago, are examples of horrifying incidents that may lead to PTSD in those who experienced or were closely connected to these events. The results, they say, can in fact lead to the recently witnessed rampages.

“Anger is usually a central feature of a survivor’s response to trauma because it is a core component of the survival response in humans,” read a recent report from the Journal of Traumatic Stress, released by the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Anger helps people cope with life’s adversities by providing us with increased energy to persist in the face of obstacles. However, uncontrolled anger can lead to a continued sense of being out of control of oneself and can create multiple problems in the personal lives of those who suffer from PTSD,” it reads.

One theory of anger and trauma suggests that high levels of anger are related to a natural survival instinct. When initially confronted with extreme threat or fear, anger is a normal response to terror, events that seem unfair and feeling out of control or victimized. It can help a person survive by mobilizing all of his or her attention, thought, brain energy and action toward survival.

Recent research has shown that these responses to extreme threats can become “stuck” in persons with PTSD. This may lead to a survival mode response where the individual is more likely to react to situations with “full activation,” as if the circumstances were life threatening, or self-threatening. This automatic response of irritability and anger in individuals with PTSD can create serious problems in the workplace and in family life. It can also affect the individuals’ feelings about themselves and their roles in society, according to the report.

“The last thing you want is a trained soldier to become disgruntled. America trained Osama bin Laden and then he got disgruntled,” former U.S. Marshall Mathew Fogg told The Final Call. “The Army trains soldiers to kill indiscriminately. It doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not. I can understand the mechanics in these soldiers’ minds.

“Technically, that’s how the military trains the soldiers. After a while, you begin to lose focus on who the enemy is, you just begin to kill indiscriminately. The rage in you was started first by being told to kill indiscriminately. The spirit of killing is still in them even after they leave the military,” he said.

Fort Bragg murders

Before the Gulf War ended, veterans complained of illnesses that doctors could not explain. In time, the undiagnosed became known as “Gulf War Syndrome.” Still largely unexplained, many veterans believed their ailments are derived from exposure to nerve gas, depleted uranium, oil well fires, medications and various vaccines associated with building tolerance.

It was George W. Bush Sr. who in 1991 sent McVeigh, Flores and Muhammad into harm’s way in the first Gulf War. This was a war from which “an estimated 50,000 to 60,000” U.S. troops returned home suffering from the effects of the Gulf War Syndrome. Soldiers in that conflict, including Mr. Flores, Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Muhammad, were potentially exposed to enormous levels of toxicity, biological agents and poisons.

Another invasion of Iraq in 2002 will be very different from the invasion of 1991. The war’s mission has changed in the intervening years, from removing Iraq from Kuwait to removing the entire Iraqi government and military establishment from power.

The June and July homicides and murder-suicides involving five Fort Bragg military couples have brought international attention to how the U.S. military deals with domestic violence. Investigators say that in four of the cases Fort Bragg soldiers killed their wives. Two of those soldiers then committed suicide. In a fifth case, investigators say a wife killed her husband, an Army major.

The killings raised questions concerning combat stress overseas on soldiers and forced the Army to probe whether there were medical, behavioral, social or physical factors linking the killings. According to Army sources in published reports, there were none. Army officials concluded that the cluster of four cases in two months did not indicate increased violence in the Army. The only common link, they concluded, was that the soldiers were all in troubled marriages, and that at least one of the men sought and received marriage counseling. The report also denies any link to allegations that an anti-malaria drug, Lariam, could be linked to the incidents.

Since the declared war on terrorism, the nation has been on high alert and chasing down any sign or indication of threat. The U.S. action in Afghanistan against the Taliban government, the search for Osama bin Laden, the replacing of the Afghan government and assuming responsibility for its defense and protection are just a few of the activities undertaken by the U.S. before the now pursuit of an Iraq regime change. Although declaring the Afghanistan actions necessary and victorious, some soldiers returned home disillusioned and volatile.

Three of the Fort Bragg soldiers were Green Berets who had been to Afghanistan to fight in the war on terrorism. Lariam is routinely given to soldiers headed overseas. Two of the three soldiers reportedly used the drug. Additionally, the report concludes that many troubled soldiers shun counseling out of fear that seeking help would be seen as a sign of instability and hurt their military careers.

With all the war fever about re-invading Iraq, there are some who are of the opinion that mainstream media and politicians are ignoring the opinion of the veterans of the last war in the Gulf. Those who served, however, have unique and critical first-hand knowledge of the course and consequences of warfare in Iraq. Many believe their opinions should be solicited and heard before troops are deploy for battle.

Another Gulf War?

The domestic terror issue at the hands of veterans became more apparent when Viet Nam vets returned home to a changed America. They left the U.S. as the vanguards of patriotism, with hopes of being welcomed home by ticker-tape parades and Congressional Medals of Honor. Instead they returned vilified, condemned as drug abusers and alienated.

“Nobody understands the trauma that you go through during war except those who have been in war,” Black Viet Nam war veteran Lonnie Miller told The Final Call in an interview. “I guess the easiest way to explain it is, if you can recall what if feels like to have extreme fear go through you–just for a second. Imagine that fear at that level 24 hours, 365 days constantly. It takes a lot out of you and at some point, life don’t really mean anything to you, because you don’t know whether you are going to live or die,” he said.

Mr. Miller entered the war in 1968 at 19 years of age and returned from combat a year later looking at a very changed America. “While you’re there, you are not fighting for flag, mom or apple pie. You are fighting for the guy next to you and he is fighting for you. We have this Hollywood vision of war, but understanding the trauma afterwards” is the dilemma, he said.

There are many parallels between the days of Viet Nam and today. The most glaring is the anti-war sentiment in the U.S. and a failing economy. Mr. Miller believes those soldiers who will be able to return home will have some of the same resentments aimed in their direction as when he returned home.

The psychological effects, he said, will definitely be the same.

“You’re in combat and people are shooting at you every day for a whole year (at least), then you leave and you come here. Over there, violence is accepted. You have to be violent to stay alive. But when you get back here, you can’t be violent,” but the violence will still be in them, he said.