Friday, October 23, 2009

Class on Integrity at White Sands Missile Range

Picking up Patterns in Military “Investigations” of Non-combat Deaths: Part 1

I want to tell you about a DVD I received from one of our families.

I cannot simply post it in its entirety for reasons of privacy protection. So, I’ve decided to describe it and include a short clip.

This is video taken on June 21, 2007. It is taking place on the patio of a modest house on the White Sands base.

This will be a “formal” class on integrity, according to the Captain of Bravo Company, but there is a party atmosphere. Some of the soldiers are dressed in desert fatigues, some in shorts and T-shirts. Nearly everyone has a beer and some of the young men go inside before Sgt. Ben Griego begins the “class” to get more beer.

The Captain encourages everyone to get comfortable, and a clearly nervous Ben Griego comes out through the sliding screen patio door and rinses his head under the outside tap while the others arrange themselves around the patio.

He asks the Captain if her daughter must videotape the event and is told that things can be cut out of the video later if he wants.

The First Sergeant is seated in the middle of the patio with the others standing.

The Captain has electric clippers in her hands, and Ben asks if she has a one guard on it. Some of the lower ranking soldiers suggest that she use no guard when shaving Ben’s head.

Although there is some nervous laughter, to me the scene seems edgy, with trainees obviously delighting in the humiliation to come.

Ben is twenty six years old, a good-natured, clean cut young man who was caught lying about where he was one morning when he didn’t show up for work. He was stationed at Sante Fe, NM and taught a Warrior Transition class at White Sands one to three weeks per month.

He is taking this thing seriously even though he is smiling and trying to maintain some dignity.

The Captain, who appears amused throughout the video, asks, “Do you need a beer or something so you can start giving the class?” Ben says, “No.”

The Captain tells the group who have gone into the house to get more beer to turn the music down so the class can begin. Ben asks, “This is a formal class, isn’t it?” The Captain confirms that it is a formal class.

As Ben asks the group to “listen up” so that he can deliver his confession, without excuses, something extraordinary happens. Clearly audible from the group of soldiers on the patio:

“SALUD, CAVRON!” (Translated not literally, but in the vernacular slang by his father: “Hey, bitch“)

“DAM GUERO FROM TEXAS!” (“Dam gringo from Texas!”)

“PINCHE CAVRON” (“F___ing bitch!”)

I see the momentary look on Ben’s face showing that he hears the totally inappropriate remarks, yet he does not reply to the insults. Most of the group is Hispanic and they all, including the Captain and First Sergeant, understand what is being said. The video clip appears below. Click on the arrow to play:

There is no admonition from either the Captain or the First Sergeant, although this would appear to be a more grievous offense than what Ben is being punished for. These soldiers are insulting an NCO during a formal class on integrity.

Ben went on to tell what happened to merit his punishment with plenty of interruptions and comments from the group. Ben completes his presentation by saying, “All right. That’s the reason I’m getting my head shaved. Are there any questions?”

“I GOT A QUESTION. YOU GOT WITNESSES, DID YOU GET BUM RUSHED EARLIER?” comes from a soldier who earlier insulted him.

Ben says, “Yes.”

The soldier then says, “EXCUSE ME, WHEN DID YOU GET BUM RUSHED?”

The Captain says, “I heard that was round two…”, addressing the soldier.

The soldier replies, “No, no, we already got round three out of the way already”, addressing the Captain.

Who won?”, asked the Captain.

He did, puss, we rolled down bar and then come in guillotine…”

Note that he has just called the Captain “puss” and there is no reaction from her or from the First Sergeant.

So, you’re weak!” the Captain replies.

There is some banter about her remark. They then go back to the matter of the clipper guard.

At the end of the video, the soldier who has just asked about “bum rushing” comes up to Ben and says, “HEY, THE ONLY BAD THING, HEY, THE ONLY BAD THING NOW…YOU’RE REALLY GONNA FIND OUT WHO YOUR "MAN BOYS" ARE. THEY’RE NOT GONNA FIND THE FINGERPRINTS IN THE BACK OF YOUR GRAVE.”

Three weeks later, on July, 13, 2007, Sgt. Benjamin Griego was found dead in his quarters by his roommate. His death was ruled suicide by hanging, even though there was evidence that his hands and feet were bound.


His mother and father have explained to me that the soldier who made the threat on the video was obsessed with fighting Ben to show that he was tougher. He never won and Ben was getting tired of the constant challenges.

There were three or four confrontations with this soldier the week of Ben’s death. The group must have been involved in the “bum rushing” incidents. Was there some sort of power struggle for leadership in the unit? Did the Iraq Veterans resent the young combat instructor?

The Captain and First Sergeant were clearly aware of the situation. Why did they do nothing to stop it?

Ben had the habit of calling various family members several times a day. He never expressed any emotions or problems which would have made them think that he would commit suicide.

His father pointed out that he had a .40 Glock in a desk drawer along with ammunition. Why would he choose hanging if he had decided to kill himself?

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Military culture or rules, but I find the entire “Integrity Class” incident strange and troubling. Perhaps I have some unrealistic and stereotypical ideas about what constitutes Army Discipline, Integrity, and Army Values, not to mention "formal class."

The video does not prove that members of this unit were responsible for Ben’s death, however I think there should have been interviews of all members and that those interviews would be available to the family -- who absolutely do not accept suicide as a cause of death.

Ben’s father described the extreme nervousness of members of the unit at Ben’s funeral, where they served as the Honor Guard.

The hyoid bone was removed at Ben’s autopsy and requests for it have been denied. The condition of the hyoid bone is useful in determining details about a hanging death.

The clothing he was wearing when found were requested unwashed so that they could be forensically analyzed, but were sent from Ft. Bliss freshly laundered and still wet.

The Army CID declared the death self-inflicted and the case was closed in 2008. Documents the family has requested have been routinely denied without reason.



Anonymous said...

I Wish Justice Would Come And Who Ever Did This To Benjamin, Should Be Put To Death. They Shouldn't Go To Jail And Be Able To Sleep And Eat, And Shower, Etc,Etc... And How Can They Live With Their Selves?! Knowing They Killed Someone?! And They Knew He Had A WonderFul Wife And Little Girl!! And Now His Little Is Going To Have TO Grow Up WithOut A Dad!! If They Ever Turn Their Selves In I Want To See That Person That Killed My Brother. And I Want To Beat The Living Crap Out Of Them!! His Family Needs To Know What Really Happened. So

Anonymous said...

I am lost for words as I read this article on Ben. I am so sorry for your loss Griego Family. I pray for you all and hope some sort of justice is served. I wish you all peace and comfort and you all one day will be together again.

~Phoenix, Arizona

Anonymous said...

I pray that if anyone was involved in Ben's death that they come forward.. The military is supposed to protect us but they can't protect one of their own. They cover up whatever they can to save who??? I think the military should be held more accountable but instead they get away with it. One day it will not be that way when they see nobody wants to be in any kind of military arms because of incidents like this.