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by Daniel Maldonado
Monday, Apr. 30, 2007 at 3:25 AM
The brave soldiers of the New Mexico National Guard were put through degrading searches by the U.S. Army last May. The soldiers were asked to remove their shirts, socks and shoes in order to check them for gang tattoos. It didn’t seem to matter to the Army that some of the soldiers are current and former police officers.
The story first ran in the Albuquerque Journal last week.
Of the 58 soldiers who were asked to be searched, 3 refused and have been counseled but no disciplinary action that could hurt their military records was taken against them.
Brig Gen. Kenny Montoya, who heads the N.M. National Guard, immediately apologized to his soldiers for the searches. Gen. Montoya believes the searches were racially motivated. “I want to make sure it won’t happen again,” Montoya said. Montoya wrote a letter to the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Shoomaker that stated “the unit "was racially targeted and illegally searched for body tattoos just because the unit consists of a large number of Hispanic-surnamed soldiers. An Army CID agent without any credible evidence, and armed only with information about an individual soldier from a different base and in a different unit, made a decision to target my unit.” "All I asked was that someone with equal rank to me would go over to these great Americans and apologize -- this still has not been accomplished." Montoya said explaining that he used his chain of command but heard no reply, hence, the letter to Gen. Shoomaker.
Montoya’s unit is 58% Spanish sir named.
N.M. Governor Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, called the searches “degrading” and said he supports an investigation.
According to Gen. Montoya, the incident began when a reservist, Sgt. Jeffrey Stoleson of the 127th Infantry, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was "tired of serving and putting his life on the line with gang bangers." Sgt. Stoleson is a corrections officer in his civilian life. Stoleson told the Army Criminal Investigations Unit, C.I.D., that a soldier named Morales in the 12th Infantry (a unit different than that of Task Force Cobra) and unnamed soldiers in the 111th Air Defense Artillery, the unit that Task Force Cobra is in, had gang tattoos.
The C.I.D. ordered the Guardsmen at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, searched for tattoos. No other units were searched but a second round of searches was cancelled. Gen. Montoya said the only link between Morales and his unit is the Hispanic last names.
No gang tattoos were ever found on the soldiers and in a later investigation, Morales explained the meaning of his tattoos and denied being a gang member.
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