In an article three years ago in a Joint Base Lewis-McChord newspaper, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who has been identified as the suspect in the killing of 16 Afghans, talked with pride about how American forces behaved during a 2007 battle in Iraq.

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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, whom military sources identified Friday as the suspect in the killings of 16 Afghans earlier this week, is a combat-seasoned veteran of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

In a 2009 article in the Northwest Guardian, which is published at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he spoke about his role in the battle of Zarqa in Iraq two years earlier.

The fight pitted what Don Kramer, the author of the article, described as “fanatic and well-armed Shiite paramilitary” fighters, along with U.S. forces including two companies of Western Washington-based soldiers. It ended with 250 enemy fighters killed and 81 wounded. There were no deaths among the American soldiers.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day,” Bales said in the article, “For the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us.”

“I think that’s the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm’s way like that.”

Kramer, now the Northwest Guardian’s editor, recalls a free-flowing discussion with a group of noncommissioned officers, including Bales, about their perspectives on the battle.

Reached Friday, Kramer said he doesn’t have a specific recollection of Bales, who lives in Lake Tapps.

But he said he was stunned to hear the staff sergeant’s name linked to the Afghan killings.