Gang Identification

Street Gangs In The Military

Using military training to spread their reach


It is sad, but true, that street gang members have infiltrated our U.S. armed forces.  They appear to be volunteering, not to serve our country, but to learn how to use military tactics and to learn how to kill.  There is evidence of these gang bangers appearing with more and more frequency in many parts of the world - where ever our military forces are serving.

The following news article appeared in the "Stars and Stripes" the military newspaper for all branches of services.  It contains alarming news about this growing problem.


FBI says U.S. criminal gangs are using military to spread their reach

By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — U.S. criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the U.S. military and are using overseas deployments to spread tentacles around the globe, according to the FBI. FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes this week that gang members have been documented on or near U.S. military bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Iraq.

“It’s no secret that gang members are prevalent in the armed forces, including internationally,” Simon said, adding that the FBI is preparing to release a report on gangs in the military.

Among the cases:

¶ In Iraq, armored vehicles, concrete barricades and bathroom walls have served as canvasses for spray-painted gang art. At Camp Cedar II, about 185 miles southeast of Baghdad, a guard shack was recently defaced with “GDN” for Gangster Disciple Nation, along with the gang’s six-pointed star and the word “Chitown,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

¶ In Germany, a soldier is being prosecuted this week for the murder of Sgt. Juwan Johnson, beaten to death on July 4, 2005, allegedly during a Gangster Disciple initiation in Kaiserslautern.

¶ In September, Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe warned teachers and parents to watch out for signs of gang activity, including the deadly MS-13 gang. At the time, DODDS-Europe public affairs officer David Ruderman said there had been two incidents in the past 18 months that involved students fighting, wearing gang colors or claiming to be members of gangs. In one of the incidents, a student’s family member may have been a gang member, he said.

¶ Earlier this year, Kadena Air Base on Okinawa established a joint service task force to investigate gang-related activity involving high school teens linked through the Web site

Last year, the U.S. Army conducted 11 felony investigations into gang activity, one of those being the death of Johnson, said Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) in Virginia. Three of the incidents, including the Johnson case, took place in Europe, Grey said.

 “We investigate all credible reports of gang activity,” Grey said, adding that CID has programs to combat gang activity in the Army.

Soldiers are reluctant to talk openly about gang problems. However, Spc. Bautista Kylock, 21, of the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment in Vilseck, Germany, said last week that there are gang members within his unit.

Kylock blamed recent violence around Vilseck on soldiers affiliated with the Crips and Bloods street gangs.

Scott Barfield, a former Defense Department gang detective at 2nd Cav’s last duty station, Fort Lewis, Wash., told the Sun-Times earlier this year that he had identified more than 300 soldiers at the base as gang members.

“I think that’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

However, Vilseck Provost Marshal Maj. Robert Ray said there is not a big gang problem in Vilseck and he has no information on gang members within 2nd Cav.

“The military comes from all walks of lives, from rich to poor, and with that comes the ‘society,’” Ray said. “Are there members of the military that belong to gangs? No doubt about it. But the military is not rampant with gang members.

 “The military chain of commands do not tolerate things like that and do their best to weed out problems,” he said.

There are no official statistics on gang membership in the military, but some experts have estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of the U.S. military are gang members, Simon said. That compares with just 0.02 percent of the U.S. population believed to be gang members, she wrote.

“Gang membership in the U.S. armed forces is disproportional to the U.S. population,” she added.

Jim Kouri, vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, wrote recently that, in addition to the Gangster Disciples, other Chicago gangs such as the Latin Kings and Vice Lords have infiltrated the military along with neo-Nazi groups.

Although there are no numbers to back it up, Simon believes gang member presence in the U.S. military is increasing.

 “The U.S. Army has reported an increase in gang-related activity in the military, although their numbers are low,” she said.

Gang-related activity in the military is highly underreported, and the Army is the only branch of the military that collects gang-related statistics, she wrote.

“It’s often in the military’s best interest to keep these incidents quiet, given low recruitment numbers and recent negative publicity. The relaxation of recruiting standards, recruiter misconduct and the military’s lack of enforcement (gang membership is not prohibited in the Army) have compounded the problem and allowed gang member presence in the military to proliferate,” Simon said.

NOTE:  René Enriquez, a member of the Mexican Mafia for 17 years and Al Valdez, PhD, and internationally known gang expert wrote the following in their book "Urban Street Terrorism:

Military Training

"There is some controversy today regarding gang members entering the military.  United States Armed Forces are trying to prohibit gang members from joining the military.  However, gang membership is not illegal in the United States and membership alone cannot be used by the military to exclude or prevent gang members from joining.  The military is attempting to control and report gang members and their activity by encouraging enlisted personnel to report the presence of gang members within all branches of the military, especially the National Guard, Army and Marine Corps.  Most enlisted gang members have not undergone any formal debriefing process and still display gang behaviors, symbols and loyalties while enlisted.

Most Sureño and Mexican Mafia gang members have no military experience; however, there are a few Mexican Mafia and Sureño gang members who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Their training trickles down in terms of the implementation of tactical techniques, which are utilized in a variety of ways, particularly during hits on prison yards. Flanking, ambush, and diversions are frequently employed when Sureños and Carnales perform these assaults/murders."

 The following videos are positive indicators of gangs existing in the military and how the military training is being used.

Gangs in the Military - Armed and Dangerous - Part 1



Gangs in the Military - Armed and Dangerous - Part 2




The following video describes gangs with military training, how gangs are recruited into the military and the dangers facing law enforcement. 


Gangs in the military - A threat to national security




More Videos - a short commercial may precede the videos




Gangs Reported to Have Military-Trained Members

Gang Name Type of Gang
18th Street Gang Street
Aryan Brotherhood Prison
Asian Boyz Street
Bandidos OMG
Black Disciples Street
Bloods Street
Crips Street
Florencia 13 Street
Gangster Disciples Street
Hells Angels OMG
Latin Kings Street
Mexican Mafia (La Eme) Prison
Mongols OMG
MS 13 Street
Norteños Street
Outlaws Motorcycle Club OMG
Sureños Street
Vagos OMG
Vice Lords Street

Source: National Gang Intelligence Center.


Indicators of Gang Activity

When attempting to identify gang members, it is important to remember that no one identifier is proof that the person is positively a gang member.  Most law enforcement agencies use a minimum of two or more identifiers to validate a person as a gang member.

What investigators, recruiters, NCO's and Officers should look for


Street gang tattoos, are worn by the gang members for several reasons:

  • To identify themselves to others as a member of a particular gang
  • Frequently worn to intimidate others

These gang tattoos may include one or more symbols that the gang has adopted as something unique and are used to identify the gang and it’s members. Other gang tattoos might be a tear drop worn under an eye, spider webs to indicate prison time, or a popular phrase such as "Thug Life."

Examples of gang tattoos

Gang Colors

Gang members, along with types of clothing and tattoos, have traditionally worn colors as a means of identifying themselves and the gang with which they are affiliated. 

The two most widely known gang colors are red, worn by the Bloods, and blue, worn by the Crips. The Sureños (Sur 13, Sur) and the Norteños (Norte 14, Norte) are not gangs. They are Hispanic gangs in Northern and Southern gangs California who united as Northerners and Southerners.


Graffiti, is often the first indication that street gangs are active in your military unit or military community. Graffiti is the newspaper, the billboard, the Internet of the world of street gangs and serves to mark the gang's power and status.

How To Decipher Graffiti


Gang Signs and Symbols

Symbols are an important part of the gang culture - to both street gangs and prison gangs.  They are used to identify a particular gang or to intimidate gangs and disrespect rival gangs.  They may be seen as graffiti, as tattoos or as drawings on personal property such as civilian caps, back packs, or other items.

Symbols may be seen in many forms. Some are known universally, such as a heart, a pyramid, a walking cane or a five or six pointed star. These symbols have all been adopted by gangs and have become nationally known symbols used to represent certain gangs.

The following link will display posters containing examples of symbols used by various gangs. 



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Robert Walker

This page was last updated on 03/14/2014

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