An Open Letter to Kari Bales, Wife of Soldier Accused of 16 Afghan Deaths

writingUpdate: for those who have asked, here is the website for contributions to the Bales Family.  BALES LEGAL DEFENSE FUND

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is now sitting in a holding cell on US soil awaiting a visit from his lawyers after being named as the soldier suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians. His name was released Friday, and with it a frenzy of media speculation about his four tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, failed or botched PTSD diagnoses, the undue pressures that may have been created by his financial woes and professional difficulties, and allegations that he has had run-ins with the law that reveal a challenge with anger management. Neighbors and fellow soldiers describe him as heroic and exemplary and demand that these allegations, if true, are a complete aberration from the man they know.

And yet in all this flurry and speculation, the only person I can think of is Karilyn Bales, his wife of seven years.

I combed through internet pages looking for the blog that Ms. Bales reportedly wrote, in an effort to get a picture of her military life experience. I was horrified to come across a comment from a poster identified only as “Afghanistan” in response to a comment Kari Bales made on an unrelated website. The comment said “It is strange to see a wife of a person who killed 16 innocent people, including 9 children, posted here… I hope justice serves well and he burns in hell.” Similar sentiments were easy to find in the comments on every major news story reporting the emerging details. And it sickened me. I thought about what her life on base must be like in these days. And I cried.

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Dear Kari,

I can’t imagine the thud you felt in your heart and the ice that coursed in your veins when you heard a knock and saw a uniform standing at your front door. I can’t fully imagine the fear and the shock and the way that you couldn’t breathe as you thought about what this visit could possibly be about. Was probably about.

And then, the relief in your stomach that quickly turned to sickness when the shock wore off that your husband was alive, only to be told that something terrible had happened for which your husband was the primary suspect. Something very very horrible that you could never understand or imagine your husband, the father of your own children, embarking into the early morning hours to accomplish. I can’t imagine the questions that flooded your brain like a rush of moving water, threatening to drown you and offering no relief for a gasp of air.

What exactly happened? Has he been injured? Where is he now? Is he safe? When can I talk to him? When can I see him? Why can’t I see him? Am I in trouble? Is there anyone I can call? Is there anything I can say? Anything I can’t say? How do you know it’s really true? Do I hire an attorney … how much will that cost? Where will I get the money? Is he even getting a military paycheck now?

And I can only imagine what you felt as you stared blankly at the officer who arrived without any answers to give.

I can’t imagine the stress you were under when you were told that you needed to pack up your things and move onto the base for your own protection, a protection that meant you would be safe from the media but surrounded by people who stared and judged you. And I can’t imagine how that stress turned into shooting pain as you heard a baby down the hallway …

What will I tell the kids when they ask whether daddy is coming home? If they convict him, will he ever see them again? How will I explain what’s happening when people ask me questions in front of them? Will the media know before they do? How will I ever explain it to them if it’s true? How will I ever explain it if it’s not true and I don’t do everything in my power to prove it?

And when I thought of my own husband and my own children, and how devastating it would be, I sat at my own dinner table with my mother, another military wife, and we cried for you tonight, thinking about how alone and isolated you must feel right now …

Why is this happening? How could this happen … Was there something I didn’t see? What was in that last phone call, that last email, that I missed? Should I have begged him to stay home? Would it have made a difference? Why did they send him back again? Will they want to question me? Can I talk to anyone before I’m questioned? Did it even happen that way? Who can I talk to? Who can I trust? Who can hold me and cry with me and tell me that this is all just a bad dream?

Where will we go? What will we do? How long will this take? Who is going to take care of me? Of us?!

I just can’t imagine.

But Kari, in the absence of information, I can still offer you this: I want you to know that I don’t condemn you for being married to a man who has been accused, even though there will be venomous vipers spewing their hatred toward your entire family. I know that no matter what, it isn’t you. I know that there is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. And I know you are hurting.

I’m praying for you. All of you.


Lori Volkman

VOTY Reader