CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - WBTV On Your Side has obtained picture and video proof our military is being infiltrated by members of street gangs. In some cases, detectives say gang members are using the tactics learned to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan to commit crimes on the streets of America. Anchor Molly Grantham is investigating.
They serve and protect under the flag of the United States of America. They protect our freedoms, and represent our great country. Some of them are gang members.
"Gangs are on the rise in every major city in the United States," says Hunter Glass, a gang consultant. "They're on the rise in the military."
Glass is an 82nd Airborne veteran and former gang detective with Fayetteville Police Department. He left policing in 2006 and now travels the country lecturing about and investigating gang life.
"Putting these people in the military doesn't change them," says Glass. "And you're certainly not going to kick them all out. If you start kicking them out... let's just say it's one percent of the military... you're going to kick out 14,000 people? I don't think so.
"America has the greatest military in the world," he continued. "I was a soldier. My dad is a veteran. I love and respect the military. But I'm also a realist. I'm telling you, it's there. To turn a blind eye isn't going to help anything."
WBTV obtained pictures which show gang graffiti in Iraq.
Images like, a Vice Lords star sprayed on a Humvee. A picture of four men dressed in fatigues showing off rifles, posted on an 18th Street Gang website. Another picture shows a guy flashing a gang sign on a "Realize Your Potential" Army recruiting chat room. Still others capture tanks and bomb walls covered with gang tagging... even a six-pointed 360-degrees intricate gang star pictured in barracks.
But the most unbelievably eye-catching images are on Glass's computer.
He shows us home video taken years ago at a popular nightclub on Fort Bragg. You can see people on the dance floor using their hands to chant "Crips"... while across the room, Blood members are throwing down signs that mean "Crip Killers".
The video proves gang life is on this North Carolina base. A Fort Bragg spokesman doesn't deny it.
"I'm positive there are gang members in the US Army," says Tom McCollum. "There are gang members probably here on Fort Bragg also, but we do everything possible to get rid of them."
McCollum says the Army's goal is to weed out as much gang activity as possible. Whenever they do find tattoos or some kind of sign, they pull the soldier off to the side and interview them in-depth. He says the soldier in question will be watched closely by his or her command to see how elevated and active they are in a gang.
"Are gang members in the military," he says. "Yes. Is it a large problem? It's not as large of a problem as some people would like to believe."
As for actual numbers, officials said they had no way of really knowing exactly how many. Glass estimates about one percent -- which would be about 14-thousand people. He also says he thinks the military should enact solid laws to deal with the element.
"In many ways I think the military is robbing Peter to pay Paul," says Glass. "It's a quick fix. We need manpower. We get these guys in here. They're good dogs in the fight. We'll worry about it later."
Later, is now. These gang members are getting trained in the military and using their knowledge to come back and fight on American streets. While in California a month ago, we interviewed two L-A County gang investigators in south central Los Angeles. Just listen to what Detective Adan Torres told us.
"One of the biggest gangbangers around here actually has on his license plate, 'Iraq veteran, or veteran Iraq'," he said. "He's got F-13 on the back of his head. Florencia on back. F-13 on his arms... and two purple hearts. Been on two tours of duty. He's trained than half the officers here anyway, fighting him."
That's the "gotcha" -- hearing veteran gang detectives say some gang members are purple heart recipients who are a better shot than most police.