Soldiers Stockpiled Munitions in Thailand, Newspaper Says
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Green Berets stationed in Southeast Asia illegally stockpiled millions of dollars worth of U.S. ammunition and explosives, and some of it may have ended up on Thailand’s black market, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The San Francisco Examiner also said former Army Special Forces officers tried to cover up the misuse of U.S. military hardware.
The stockpiling of tons of bullets, grenades, mines and plastic explosives occurred as late as last year, the newspaper said, citing military documents and interviews with investigators and former members of the elite units.
″U.S. Army Special Operations lost control of millions of dollars of American arms and ammunition over five years,″ said Mike Bracy, a former sergeant with the Okinawa-based 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces.
In two months alone, 1 million dollars worth of ordnance ″dropped off the books,″ he said.
Bracy and another former battalion sergeant, Bob Finley, claim they were subjected to harassment, psychiatric observation and death threats when they tried to alert superiors to the problems, the Examiner said.
Finley retired. Bracy was honorably discharged last year after the office of U.S. Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., intervened.
Boxer said the Pentagon inspector general’s office told her two weeks ago its investigation confirmed that munitions intended for training use were winding up on the black market, and that the Special Forces were involved.
The Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, are experts in unconventional warfare and considered key to extending American military power into foreign trouble spots. Special Forces units in Southeast Asia are involved in training soldiers from Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia.
The Army has denied any wrongdoing by the Special Forces.
But an Army investigation cited by the Examiner said the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces - specifically its 80-man Bravo Company operating in Thailand - was ″torn by divisions, rumors and criminal activity.″
Battalion members are doing business on Bangkok’s black market, and there are lax controls on the main Green Beret stockpile, the newspaper said, quoting unidentified military and civilian sources.
Finley and other Bravo Company members said munitions were given to Thai units, contrary to strict requirements that only the Green Berets themselves use them.
Lt. Col. Robert Suchke, commander of the 1st Battalion in 1988 and 1989, said during an interrogation that he didn’t know what his soldiers stored in Thailand, the Examiner said. He also said he didn’t know who controlled the stockpile or who had the key to the biggest cache, a bunker filled with munitions on a Royal Thai Army base, according to the paper.
Bracy, originally assigned to an internal military investigation of the matter, claimed high-level officers in Southeast Asia either were involved in illicit activities or ″turned a blind eye.″
Finley and Bracy - who collated all the munitions requisition forms, inventory lists and other documents - said they took their evidence and complaints to U.S. military authorities in Japan.
Bracy said he was ordered last August to immediately halt any criminal investigation and turn over information to higher-ups.
Finley said he was ordered to burn records of Bravo Company Sgt. Maj. Edward Gleason, who started the stockpile in 1984.
Gleason denied any involvement in criminal activity and claimed that the stockpile, while against the rules, was a convenience that avoided the trouble of turning in the ammunition.
Gleason’s court-martial conviction, for threatening to kill a superior officer, were what initially drew attention to the battalion’s activities, the Examiner said. The newspaper did not say whether the Gleason case was related to the stockpiling claims.