LAWTON — Soldiers such as Spc. Gregory Darnell King II are emerging as a new kind of face at Fort Sill — a face police claim many high-ranking military officers won’t acknowledge, let alone talk about.
Lawton police identified King as a "known gang member.”
And police say he is one of many who are either stationed at or have passed through Fort Sill.
"People don’t want to face the truth, but it’s true,” said Lt. Darrell Southerland, a 20-year veteran who oversees Lawton’s Gang Task Force Unit. "Fort Sill has a problem with gangs. We see it every Friday and Saturday nights on the streets. But nobody wants to listen.”
Southerland thinks it’s time for Fort Sill to hear his pleas. But Fort Sill spokesman Jon Long contends: "No evidence of a widespread gang problem involving Fort Sill soldiers has been presented to Fort Sill by the LPD (Lawton Police Department) or city officials.”
In a recent interview with the post newspaper, "The Cannoneer,” Special Agent Jessica Jasper of Fort Sill’s Criminal Investigation Command said: "In the last calendar year, the CID and MPI have not worked any gang-related offenses on post. ... We’ve not been called to respond to any of those concerns.”
Southerland said his six-member unit has routinely gathered and shared evidence with post officials about gang membership among soldiers stationed at Fort Sill.
Evidence was obtained from traffic stops and arrests and includes photographs of gang-related tattoos and details from informants.
On Web sites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, local soldiers post pictures of themselves flashing gang signs.
The gang unit has a binder stuffed with such photographs, images spokesman Long says "is not proof that the person pictured is actually a gang member.”
In one image, King — a reservist who served with the 177th Field Artillery — can be seen flashing a sign affiliated with the 107 Hoover Crips, a nationwide gang known to have members in Lawton.
Since 2006, King has been arrested six times by Lawton police on complaints ranging from drug possession to driving with loaded firearms. King was last arrested Sept. 25 for not paying his court fines.
Investigators list his gang affiliation as "107 Hoover” and occupation as "SPC-E4.”
"I told them about King,” Southerland said. "I was told, ‘Look, this guy is a hero. He pulled someone out of a burning Humvee in Iraq, and we’re not touching him.’ What are you gonna do?”
King could not be reached for comment.
In January, soldiers David Coleman and Ira Easterling — suspected Blood gang members stationed at Fort Sill — engaged in a deadly clash outside a Lawton nightclub with suspected civilian gang member Ronald Walker of the 107 Hoovers, Southerland said. An argument ensued. Shots were fired. Easterling died.
"The argument started with one guy disrespecting the other,” Southerland said. "Next thing you know, guns are pulled. ...”
A war within a war
Tattoo artist Rocky White, who operates a shop just beyond Fort Sill’s gates, isn’t shocked by the idea.
"Young soldiers come in here all the time asking me to do some gang-related tattoo,” White said.
"I sit them down and lecture them on the profound effect it could have on their lives and their military careers.”
Recently, White said a Marine recruiter approached him about hiding a young recruit’s swastika tattoo with an Irish clover. The combination is a symbol for the Aryan Brotherhood.
"If they are persistent, I just refuse,” White said.
"I have a real problem doing any kind of drug- or gang-related tattoos.”
Experts claim gangs in the military are nothing new, although the subject always seems to shock the senses of the general population.
Hunter Glass, a former U.S. Army soldier who specializes studying military gangs, said the problem is alarming and widespread.
"I often encounter people who express disbelief,” Glass told The Oklahoman
from his North Carolina home. "And my lectures aren’t always popular. People get angry. I’ve had politicians call me, generals call me ... but people have to wake up. The military is a reflection of society. Why wouldn’t there be gang members in the military?
"The world isn’t always Norman Rockwell.”
Southerland and his gang task force members are now bracing for the thousands of soldiers who will transfer to Fort Sill with the Army Air Defense School from Fort Bliss by 2011. Police fear the transfers could ignite a turf war among military gang members.
The National Gang Intelligence Center mentioned Fort Bliss in a 2006 report, noting authorities had identified more than 40 suspected military-affiliated members of the Chicago-based Folk Nation gang on post.
"By their nature, gang members are violent and territorial,” Glass said. "I’d say the likelihood of conflict is highly probable.”
There is one more concern, perhaps the greatest of all.
"It’s a disgrace to the military,” said Clay Houseman, a gang task force member. "Our veterans didn’t fight and die in wars so these guys could join the military and terrorize our streets as members of gangs. We just can’t let that happen.”