TROOPS

The Washington Times Daily - - From Page One -

“The real is­sue here, which I’ve been track­ing for a long time, is 10 years of com­bat,” said mil­i­tary an­a­lyst Robert Magin­nis, a re­tired Army of­fi­cer.

“I see these kids who have been in com­bat year af­ter year af­ter year. It is tak­ing a real toll, not only med­i­cal, but be­ing able to sort out their lives. What this kid caved to I think could be an epi­demic. It is re­ally long term what we are do­ing to a gen­er­a­tion of vol­un­teers.”

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, is ac­cused of killing 16 Afghan civil­ians on March 11 in a night­time shoot­ing spree through three vil­lages near his base. He has been de­tained at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kan., since Fri­day.

His at­tor­ney, John Henry Browne, said late Mon­day that Sgt. Bales re­mem­bers very lit­tle about the night dur­ing which he is ac­cused of killing the vil­lagers and burn­ing some corpses.

Com­bat stress

Sgt. Bales, of Lake Tapps, Wash., had gone on three, year­long de­ploy­ments to Iraq, en­coun­ter­ing heavy fight­ing and wit­ness­ing death and de­struc­tion.

His ex­pe­ri­ence and those of thou­sands of his col­leagues are com­mon in what has be­come not only the long­est war but also the un­kind­est for troops, in terms of rest time in theater.

Fight­ing in­sur­gents and ter­ror­ists in Afghanistan and Iraq has been a nearly non­stop ex­er­cise in pa­trols, raids and fire­fights with no real bat­tle lines. Even at a for­ward op­er­at­ing base, sol­diers can be hit by a rocket, a suicide bomber or an Afghan who turns and starts shoot­ing Amer­i­cans.

The Army re­port, “Gen­er­at­ing Health and Dis­ci­pline In the Force,” notes that the av­er­age in­fantry­man in World War II in the South Pa­cific ex­pe­ri­enced a to­tal 40 days of com­bat dur­ing the en­tire war.

“In con­trast, the [op­er­a­tional tempo] in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade has re­mained per­sis­tently high, pro­vid­ing very few op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­di­vid­u­als to rest, ei­ther phys­i­cally or men­tally,” the re­port says.

Among the pro­fes­sion­als tak­ing note of the Army’s “epi­demic” of post- trau­matic stress dis­or­der are the lawyers who end up de­fend­ing sol­diers who com­mit ir­ra­tional acts. Take the case of Army Sgt. Joseph Boz­ice­vich. On his sec­ond tour of com­bat in Iraq, Boz­ice­vich turned his gun on his squad leader and an­other sergeant, killing them both at a base south of Bagh­dad in 2008.

Pros­e­cu­tors ar­gued that he snapped when the two sergeants crit­i­cized his per­for­mance, and a mil­i­tary jury last year con­victed him of two counts of pre­med­i­tated mur­der.

His at­tor­ney, Charles Git­tins, cited a PTSD di­ag­no­sis in ar­gu­ing that his client should be spared the death penalty. The jury sen­tenced him to life in pri­son.

“The stress of the com­bat en­vi­ron­ment and wit­ness­ing death and de­struc­tion on a daily ba­sis can be psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing,” Mr. Git­tins told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“When war fight­ers make re­peated de­ploy­ments, the chances of in­cur­ring se­ri­ous psy­chi­atric symp­toms sky­rock­ets and is re­flected in the thou­sands of cases of PTSD di­ag­nosed both in the mil­i­tary and by the [De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs] among the vet­er­ans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Neal Puck­ett, an­other prom­i­nent mil­i­tary de­fense lawyer, said: “It’s been my ex­pe­ri­ence in rep­re­sent­ing Marines and sol­diers since the war be­gan in late 2001 that fre­quent and ex­tended de­ploy­ments can wear down an in­di­vid­ual’s pa­tience and tol­er­ance for bore­dom as well as for dan­ger.”

“I be­lieve that vet­er­ans of three, four and even five de­ploy­ments are markedly dif­fer­ent than the peo­ple they were be­fore their first tour,” Mr. Puck­ett said. “The ser­vices have been con­cerned about this for sev­eral years, but I be­lieve they have failed to ef­fec­tively deal with it.”

Dis­trust all around

In Sgt. Bales’ case, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have said he was drink­ing al­co­hol be­fore the ram­page, and records show he owes $1.5 mil­lion in a decade­old ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing that found him guilty of se­cu­ri­ties fraud.

Mr. Browne, the at­tor­ney who met Sgt. Bales for the first time Mon­day, said his client gave a pow­er­fully mov­ing ac­count of what it is like to be on the ground in Afghanistan.

“You read about it. I read about it. But it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent when you hear about it from some­body who’s been there,” Mr. Browne told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “It’s just re­ally emo­tional.”

Last year, a be­hav­ioral sci­en­tist at­tached to the U.S. com­mand in Kabul is­sued a re­port, “A Cri­sis of Trust and Cul­tural In­com­pat­i­bil­ity.” Au­thor Jef­frey Bordin culled the find­ings of both Amer­i­can and Afghan fo­cus groups to con­clude that each side dis­trusts the other.

One sol­dier said of Afghan se­cu­rity forces: “We are al­ways sen­si­tive to their re­li­gious prac­tices, but if there’s a work pro­ject that needs to be done, you can count on it also be­ing their prayer time.”

A pre­vi­ous study of Afghan civil­ians in eastern por­tion of the coun­try near the Pak­istani bor­der re­vealed a “wide­spread level of ex­trem­ist re­li­gious thought,” in­clud­ing a be­lief that suicide bombers are mar­tyrs.

The re­port said one rea­son of­ten cited by Afghan civil­ians for sid­ing with in­sur­gents over govern­ment troops is “the lat­ter’s propen­sity to seize their lit­tle boys at check­points and sex­u­ally as­sault them.”

Mr. Bordin also un­cov­ered deep dis­trust of Afghan civil­ians. Amer­i­can sol­diers, he wrote, “were re­pulsed by the abuse and ne­glect they ob­served in how chil­dren are treated in Afghan so­ci­ety. U.S. sol­diers largely re­ported that they did not care for Afghan civil­ians due to these fac­tors as well as their sus­pected sym­pa­thies for the in­sur­gents.”

The com­mand au­tho­rized Mr. Bordin’s field study af­ter six U.S. sol­diers were killed by an Afghan in­sider in what the study later said was “one of the worse mass-mur­der in­ci­dents ever suf­fered by U.S. mil­i­tary forces.”

Seven U.S. ser­vice mem­bers were killed by Afghan se­cu­rity per­son­nel dur­ing last month’s protest of Amer­i­can sol­diers burn­ing Ko­rans that de­tainees had used to pass mes­sages.

Be­fore the Army com­pleted its land­mark “Gen­er­at­ing Health and Dis­ci­pline” re­search, it con­ducted a so-called “red book” assess­ment be­cause of the high num­ber of sui­cides and PTSD cases.

The Army said the red book “dis­cov­ered a grow­ing high-risk pop­u­la­tion of sol­diers en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal and high-risk be­hav­ior with in­creas­ingly more se­vere out­comes in­clud­ing vi­o­lent crime, suicide at­tempts and suicide, and ac­ci­den­tal death.”

Last year, 280,000 sol­diers sought help from be­hav­ior health prac­ti­tion­ers, the Army says.

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