Gang Members: No place for you in the Guard
By Tech. Sgt. Paul Connors, 177 FW/PA; Illustration by
Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, 177FW/PA
Club scene: the music is booming
to the accompaniment of lights, men and women are dancing; some
of the guys are flashing gang hand signs. A bar in Los Angeles or
Miami? Not quite. The scene is from a video taken
in the enlisted club at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Gangs! You’ve read about them, heard about them and seen
the results of their activities on the nightly news. Viewing their
activities from the outside and the comfort of your reasonably safe community
generally results with statements of denial, the kind where people say,
“not in my community.”
The fact is gangs exist just about everywhere in New Jersey and they have
become an increasing problem for law enforcement and other state agencies.
On the basis of information provided by the Attorney General’s Office
of the Juvenile Justice Commission to Capt. Diana Brown, 177th Fighter
Wing Director of Personnel, and after receiving information from local
law enforcement that the 177th could be a potential target for gangs
to infiltrate, it was decided to hold a conference on gang activities
at the 177th.
Commanders, First Sergeants and recruiters from both the 177th and the
108th Air Refueling Wing attended to better be able to understand
gang behavior, their recruiting methods and some of the tell-tale signs
of gang membership.
One of the strategies employed by gangs is their “grooming”
of members to join the military. Gangs do this to obtain crucial
combat arms skills to further advance their criminal activities.
They do this by selecting members from within their ranks with no criminal
record and none of the gang tattoos that immediately identify members.
The individuals are then actively encouraged to approach military recruiters,
especially Army and Marine Corps (although Air Force is a target
as well), where infantry and other combat tactics are taught. The
planning stage is based on the assumption that the gang member’s
first loyalty is to the gang and that after leaving military service,
will return to the gang where his/her military skills will then
be put to work.
While gang membership is not illegal in and of itself, it is not consistent
with the good order and discipline required within the armed forces where
unit cohesion is necessary for mission accomplishment.
Surprisingly, gangs have identified affluent rural and suburban
communities as prime territories for the expansion of their illicit drug
sales activities. During the conference, Juvenile Justice Commission representatives
provided information that gangs are plentiful in Pleasantville and Atlantic
City and in fact, every gang that has been identified, to include The
Bloods and the Crips are represented within the two cities. Furthermore
the Bloods in New Jersey have about 4,064 members of ALL races.
While the workshop was held primarily for the benefit of senior leaders
in both of New Jersey’s ANG units, participation by local and state
law enforcement agencies was robust and contributed to the session’s
success. Several of the civilian law enforcement members, among
them Detective Chris Taggart - a member of the Pleasantville Police Department
and also a technical sergeant with the 177th Security Forces provided
in depth details on gang activities, infiltration and recruiting practices
providing timely and relevant information for the ANG leaders in attendance.
One issue that civilian law enforcement has no control over is the ability
of military organizations to ‘weed out’ gang members from
within its own ranks. Several Air Force Instructions and Department
of Defense directives govern gang related and other unacceptable conduct.
Those individuals found to be members of gangs, whether they have engaged
in criminal activity or not can be processed for separation.
Whether or not the member receives an honorable discharge is based on
individual circumstances, but the outcome will be the same, once identified
the gang member will very quickly become a “former” member
of the Air National Guard.