A former platoon leader for the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians says the allegations are "100 percent out of character" for the man, whom he described as a model soldier who has saved other soldiers' lives.
Army Capt. Chris Alexander said Robert Bales worked as a stock trader before the Sept. 11 attacks motivated him to enlist in the Army.
"I've always admired him for that _ he had a good thing going, and he dropped it to serve his country," Alexander said Saturday in a phone interview.
Bales enlisted about two months after 9/11 and had served with the 3rd Stryker Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord since Sept 11, 2002.
He became a staff sergeant in April 2008, following his second deployment in Iraq. He went to Iraq one more time before his fourth deployment, to Afghanistan.
Alexander, 32, spent three years as Bales' platoon leader, including during Bales' second deployment to Iraq. He described Bales as "one of the best guys I ever worked with."
"He always made sure his team was ready, that they were briefed on the mission, that the equipment was checked," he said. "Anything he was given to do, you never had to worry about it getting done and done well."
Alexander said he and others who served with Bales were stunned by the allegations.
Military officials say that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, the 38-year-old staff sergeant crept away March 11 to two slumbering villages, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Eleven of those killed belonged to one family. Nine were children.
Bales was in custody Saturday at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but had not yet been charged.
Alexander said that while serving with Bales, he saw no evidence that Bales had any more difficulty dealing with the stresses of battle than anyone else. If the allegations against Bales are true, "it's 100 percent out of character for him," Alexander said.
"I'm not a psychologist, but you don't go from being a solid NCO (noncommissioned officer) to this unless there are extenuating circumstances," Alexander said. "He is not some psychopath. He's an outstanding soldier who has given a lot for this country."
Alexander added Bales has distinguished himself in battle more than once.
He described one incident in which Bales' unit was driving in Mosul and Bales spotted a man aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at them. Bales shouted to warn the unit, then shot the man as he fired the RPG, causing it to sail over the unit's vehicle.
The wounded shooter fled and was later detained as he sought treatment at a hospital.
"Bales didn't let his guard down," Alexander said. "There's no doubt he saved lives that day."