A former platoon leader for the US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians described the allegations as "100% out of character" for the man he said was as a model soldier who saved other troops' lives.
Captain Chris Alexander said Robert Bales, 38, worked as a stock trader before the September 11 attacks motivated him to enlist in the army.
"I've always admired him for that - he had a good thing going, and he dropped it to serve his country," Capt Alexander said.
Bales enlisted about two months after 9/11 and had served with the 3rd Stryker Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state since September 11, 2002. He became a staff sergeant in April 2008, following his second deployment in Iraq. He went to Iraq one more time before his fourth deployment, to Afghanistan.
Capt Alexander was Bales' platoon leader during one of his Iraq missions. He described Bales as "one of the best guys I ever worked with".
"He always made sure his team was ready, that they were briefed on the mission, that the equipment was checked," Capt Alexander said. "Anything he was given to do, you never had to worry about it getting done and done well."
Military officials claim that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base last Sunday, Bales crept away to two villages, shooting his victims and setting many on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children, and 11 belonged to one family.
Bales is in custody at a maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but had not yet been charged. Capt Alexander said that while serving with Bales, he saw no evidence that he had any more difficulty dealing with the stresses of battle than anyone else. If the accusations against Bales were true, "it's 100% out of character for him", he said.
"I'm not a psychologist, but you don't go from being a solid NCO (non-commissioned officer) to this unless there are extenuating circumstances," Capt Alexander said. "He is not some psychopath. He's an outstanding soldier who has given a lot for this country."
Capt Alexander added Bales distinguished himself in battle more than once, describing one incident in which Bales' unit was driving in Mosul and Bales saw a man aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at them. Bales shouted to warn the unit, then shot the man as he fired the RPG, causing it to sail over the unit's vehicle. "Bales didn't let his guard down," Capt Alexander said. "There's no doubt he saved lives that day."