10News I-Team Investigates Gangs In The Military

They endure grueling tests of strength, are trained to kill, and pledge their absolute loyalty.

"Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Mara Salvatrucha, 18th street, all the big ones are in," says Carter Smith, an Army veteran who spent 22 years in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

American street gangs have gone global, and increasingly, they're in the service of Uncle Sam.

"There are a lot of them out there, already in the ranks," cautions Hunter Glass, a veteran and gang detective out of North Carolina who now works as a consultant on gang behavior. The U.S. Air Force is among his clients.

Sailors, Marines, soldiers, even women, are flaunting their gang ties, while in uniform.

"In the combat zone, they will support each other, but as soon as they are off the battle field, all bets are off," says Glass.

10News obtained video taken on base at Fort Bragg, which shows Bloods and Gangster Disciples on the dance floor. First they are throwing gang sings; then they throw punches.

Glass spoke to the Army officer who took the video who was assaulted while taping it.

"There is nothing glamorous about being a gang member, "Glass says. "It's about money, it's about profit."

He says gang members in the military have a sworn allegiance, not solely to the President of the United States, but to their gang set.

The initiations are brutal. 10News showed videotape of a jump-in, where gang members continuously beat a new recruit for six agonizing minutes. He has to take the beating. Once it's over, the gangsters' ritual includes a blessing over their newest member. Gangs in the military use the same initiation.

Carter Smith warns, "They'll actually send people into the military to be recruiters in the military."

That's what T.J. Leyden did while serving for 3 years as a Marine at Camp Pendleton. Reformed now, he was then a racist and a leader of a white power gang.

"Everyone totally knew what I was doing," says Leyden. "And I recruited 12 active members of the United States military to join a white supremacy group."

It was a violent recruitment into a gang which cost Stephanie Cockrell her son, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

"What did I do? What should I have done? What happened? What went wrong?" she still asks herself.

Juwan Johnson grew up on the tough streets of Baltimore. His mother warned him over the years to say away from the gangsters hanging out on the corner. She never thought to repeat that warning when he joined the U.S. Army.

"There are gangs here in the streets," she says. "But in the military? I was in the military, I don't remember a gang in the military!"

She spent five years in the Army herself, and thought the experience would be a good one for her son. Sgt. Johnson spent 6 years in the Army and served 18 months in Iraq. His mom still watches the home video she took of him during a brief visit home.

"Thank you, and I love you all," he says on camera to his large extended family, during a family picnic.

He had only two weeks left in the service when offers to join a gang swayed him. So he ended up in a park outside a base in Germany, where his life would end as he was "jumped in" to the Gangster Disciples. They beat him to death. Eleven soldiers and airmen took part.

"And after they beat him to death, they took him back to the barracks, and they went out to clubs to dance," exclaims Cockrell, with disbelief.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a drain on the U.S. military, forcing relaxation of standards, "moral waivers", to join. More service personnel have criminal records and gang ties than in years past.

"My concern is when they get out," adds Carter Smith.

In the 1990's, while working as an Army criminal intelligence officer, he was one of the first to uncover the growth of street gangs in the ranks. He says the general estimate is that about 1 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces are gang members, 13,000 to 14,000 of them, roughly the population of Solana Beach.

"They will have been trained to do lots of things from the basic support, logistics, and transportation, to the use of weapons," he warns.

According to the National Gang Intelligence Center and the Army Criminal Investigation Command, "Gang related activity in the U.S. military is increasing ... posing a threat to law enforcement officials and national security."

The gang activity ranges from graffiti you can see in pictures from Iraq, to shootouts and murder much closer to home.

"Crimes involving military soldiers have been on the rise, and violent crimes at that," says Hunter Glass.

In San Diego, an ex-Marine marksman, Nathanial Guillen, and active member of the Bloods, shot a rival gang member to death in La Mesa. He was found guilty of murder in 2006.

In Northern California, a Camp Pendleton Marine and gang member named Andres Raya ambushed police with military tactics and a high power riffle, murdering police Sgt. Howard Stevenson. Raya was killed in the shoot out.

Those are only two examples.

"They're gang members at heart, they're not going to be changing. It's what they live for, what they believe," says Glass.

Officially, no branch of the service allows gangs. However, criminal courts are reducing felony charges to misdemeanors, allowing gangsters who promise to reform to join the military rather than go to prison.

Glass adds, "Are they good in a fight? Yes that's right, but when dog fighting becomes illegal, what do you do with the dogs?"

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