Alex Blum has spoken out about his transformation from soldier to bank robber
An Army Ranger who made a shocking turn to participate in an armed bank robbery has spoken out, blaming the elite force’s notoriously tough training for his descent into crime.
In the new book Ranger Games: A Story Of Soldiers, Family And An Inexplicable Crime, author Ben Blum delves deeply into what prompted his own cousin Alex Blum to participate in the 2006 robbery in Tacoma, Washington.
‘Before I joined the Army, I was vibrant, funny, easygoing, loving and independent,’ Alex told his cousin.
‘When I got my tan beret, I was a shell. I was an angry, testosterone-driven prick… I was unable to value human life.’
Alex was born in 1987 and grew up in Colorado. Ben remembers him as a ‘squeaky-clean, patriotic, rule-respecting kid’.
Obsessed with the Army from an early age, Alex enlisted shortly after graduation from high school and set his sights on becoming an Army Ranger, the elite special forces unit.
Alex was the getaway driver in this 2006 robbery of a Bank of America branch in Tacoma, Washington. He now admits he had prior knowledge and helped plan the heist
Alex describes the brutal training regimen of the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) at length, recalling a time when a drill sergeant forced a recruit to eat a box of ice cream sandwiches and then run until he vomited.
Forced to stay awake for some 30 hours straight preforming grueling physical tasks, Alex says he resorted to using hot sauce as eye drops and cutting himself to stay awake.
In April 2006, Alex reported to the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion, stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, where he fell under the spell of Specialist Luke Elliot Sommer.
The older soldier with combat experience led Alex’s fire team, obsessively drilling them on building infiltration tactics.
‘At nights and on weekends, they ventured into Tacoma with new eyes,’ Ben writes.
‘Every door was a potential breach point, every bar counter a red zone concealing hidden gunmen, every Denny’s dining room partitioned into lines of fire.’
Alex fell under the spell of Specialist Luke Elliot Sommer (left and right), who obsessively drilled his fire team on building infiltration tactics
Sommer also liked to play a sick game called ‘suicide check’ with the green privates.
The older soldier would toss a pistol to one of the junior soldiers. ‘The requirement then was to point it at your head and pull the trigger. To examine the chamber first was an insult, forbidden,’ Ben writes.
On August 3, 2006, Alex gave Sommer a ride to a Bank of America branch in Tacoma, and then through of something to impress the older soldier.
‘[Alex] charted out on a napkin how a Ranger team would hit the place, trying his best to impress the specialist with his tactical acuity,’ Ben writes.
The next day, Sommer knocked on his door and told Alex he needed a ride to the bank with three other men: a private named Chad Palmer and two friends, Tigra Robinson and Nathan Dunmall.
They piled into Alex’s Audi A4 and began strapping on body armor as he drove.
Though he later claimed he thought it was just a training exercise, Alex has now come clean about his role in what happened next.
‘[The] truth is this. I had full knowledge of the robbery before it happened,’ Alex said. ‘I did help plan some of it, and I knew what we were doing.’
The robbery went off with military precision, with two men watching the door wielding AK-47s
Sommer, the ringleader, vaulted over the counter with a laser-sighted Glock 19 and barked commands at the tellers, demanding high denomination bills with no dye packs or bait money
The robbery went off with military precision, with two men watching the door wielding AK-47s.
Sommer, the ringleader, vaulted over the counter with a laser-sighted Glock 19 and barked commands at the tellers, demanding high denomination bills with no dye packs or bait money.
In just over two minutes, the robbers made off with over $54,000.
Alex had remained in the car, driving around the area and later claiming he planned to abandon the plan, but returned to pick up the four bank robbers.
It didn’t take cops long to track down the would-be criminal masterminds.
Although they’d taken the rear license plate off of Alex’s car, they forgot to remove the front plate, and a witness jotted down the number.
A police evidence photo shows the arsenal investigators discovered in Sommer’s possession
Sommer fled to Canada, where he lived in his mother’s basement while facing extradition, and claimed that he’d intended to get caught in order to draw attention to alleged war crimes by US troops he’d witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those claims were dismissed as unfounded by Pentagon investigators, and Sommer was extradited, convicted, and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Alex served 16 months and was released on time served. Both soldiers were dishonorably discharged.
The new book has garnered critical praise as a novelistic, well-written true crime tale, but at least one reviewer has called Alex’s description of the Rangers into question.
‘The Ranger Indoctrination Program is undoubtedly brutal, desensitizing infantrymen to the realities of violence,’ writes Jennifer Senior for the New York Times.
‘But Blum also suggests, through extensive quotes from Alex, that it drains its graduates of their individuality and moral reasoning, and he never directly investigates the worst of Alex’s claims.’