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Youngest of JBLM’s ‘kill team’ soldiers released from Army prison

Andrew Holmes prior to his 2009-10 deployment with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Andrew Holmes prior to his 2009-10 deployment with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

The youngest of four soldiers convicted of murdering Afghan civilians during a deployment with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade five years ago was released from prison last weekend and has returned to his family in Boise.

Andrew Holmes, a former private first class, was sentenced to spend seven years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for killing an unarmed 15-year-old Afghan boy in an incident that Holmes and another soldier staged while on patrol in 2010. Holmes was released early for good behavior.

“I’m very happy to have my son home, and looking forward to Andy moving forward with his life,” Forest Holmes, his father, told The Idaho Statesman. “Hopefully he’ll make the best of the opportunity he’s being given.”

Holmes said his son had earned his barber’s certificate during his incarceration, so the 2008 Centennial High graduate has a job skill that he can use to begin building a new life.

“He’s got a good outlook. It was definitely a challenge, but he has a good outlook going forward,” Forest Holmes said.

He said his son is looking forward to spending time with family, including his mother and grandmother. He arrived Sunday in Boise, his family wrote on a Facebook support group it created for the soldier in 2010.

A GoFundMe account created in early October to help defray the cost of Holmes’ travel home raised $1,450 from 20 contributors.

Holmes was one of a dozen soldiers from JBLM’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who came home from Afghanistan in May 2010 accused of various incidents of misconduct at a forward base in Kandahar province. Five the soldiers were accused of participating in a “kill team” that murdered three Afghans, though the Army dropped murder charges it had filed against one of the men.

Holmes was 19 when he shot an unarmed boy standing in a poppy field. A photograph of Holmes holding his victim later was published by Rolling Stone and Der Spiegel magazines, making him an international face of the crimes.

At his sentencing in September 2011, Holmes said a higher-ranking soldier, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, had commanded him to shoot the boy, Gul Mudin.

“I could see his hands were empty,” Holmes said in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “I could see he didn’t have a weapon.”

Holmes said in court that he fired six to eight rounds with his automatic machine gun. “I’ve regretted it ever since,” he said.

Morlock was a volatile soldier from Alaska who carried out unjustified killings on patrol at the urging of “kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.

Gibbs was sentenced to life in prison for orchestrating the murders of three Afghan civilians. Gibbs pleaded not guilty to the murders and maintains his innocence in the killings, although he has admitted that he bullied other soldiers and collected body parts of people he shot. Morlock is at Leavenworth on a 24-year sentence.

The fourth soldier convicted of a killing with Gibbs was the former Spc. Adam Winfield. Winfield had tried to alert his father about Gibbs months before joining members of his platoon in shooting a civilian. Winfield provided crucial testimony against Gibbs and was released from prison in 2012.

A pretrial agreement capped Holmes’ incarceration at seven years. He received 499 days of credit for time served.

News Tribune staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.

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