I’ve stood in uniform for fallen comrades. Sometimes quietly, sometimes crying so hard it’s hard to remain in an upright position. I’ve grieved the men and women killed in hostility, saluted those took their own lives, and carried the caskets of those who died by aircraft failure.
On May 11, 2009, a Soldier in the United States Army serving near Baghdad opened fire on patrons of a mental health clinic. It was after this horrific tragedy that Admiral Mike Mullen (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) stated:
“It does speak to me about the need for us to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress.”
This statement should make that gentleman feel like a penny waiting for change. The democracy we fight for does not often fight back for us. For so long, innocent civilians have been the casualties of the War on Terror, and those that killed them were only doing so while “following orders.” The casualties that are seldom addressed are those whose minds have been warped, altered, or even destroyed by the catastrophic daily events that occur in war. Fifteen is the percentage of U.S. service members that return from Iraq with reported cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Eleven is the percentage of the same disorder, but in service members returning from Afghanistan. The actual number of cases is presumed to be much higher, although more than half of these never seek treatment.
The darkness and damage that can happen to the human mind when involved in combat is unexplainable. As I look around at the faces of my fellow soldiers and veterans, I see that damage. I see the wreckage that can be left behind us, shards in the wake of our inability to keep our heads on straight. The human psyche can take an incredible amount of bruising and battering. Before I joined the Army, I didn’t know that. Before I went to combat the first time, I didn’t truly understand it. After two tours of combat, I am plagued with the knowledge that with deprivation of sleep, or with combat stress (or the two combined), your mind begins to function in a way that is outside a normal sphere. After time, your mind begins to stretch reality, to mold it. There’s a part of your normally functioning mind that you’ll never get back. The memories play in your head like a movie, and without a healthy outlet, they can drive you mad.
While fratricide is unacceptable and devastating, while the nation screams for charges of murder to be placed, while Sergeant John M. Russell will never again have a night of peaceful sleep, please remember that sometimes those who give selflessly lose everything.