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January 12, 2007

Sick, Literally, of Fighting in Iraq

by Jim Lobe

Susan Tileston hasn't seen her son, Levi Moddrelle, in more than two years. Levi served in the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan and then Iraq, where he was stationed for almost a year. He returned home for Christmas in 2003, but wasn't the same.

"I don't know what happened to him in Iraq, but he came home very distressed," Tileston told Inter Press Service (IPS) from her home in Stanford, Kentucky.

Tileston said her son had scars on the back of his head that he refused to talk about. When he was supposed to return to nearby Fort Campbell on Jan. 31 for a second tour in Iraq, he disappeared.

"I haven't spoken to him on the phone," she said. "I've gotten no letters or other communications. He hasn't talked to his relatives or friends or any of his other uncles or cousins. He hasn't touched his bank account since Mar. 8, 2004."

In September 2004, Tileston listed her son as a missing person with the state of Kentucky, but all the police could find was a traffic citation from Florida.

Tileston told IPS she doesn't know where her son is, but she has an idea about why he's gone.

"He was providing protection to a contractor's convoy," Tileston said. "An eight-year-old kid with an AK (machine gun) was shooting at his convoy and he shot back and had to kill an eight-year-old kid and that's when he lost it."

Tileston suspects her son has developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can emerge after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. A person experiencing PTSD can lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.

Pentagon doctors estimate that 12 percent of the 1.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Newly revised Defense Department guidelines for service-members with "a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance" say they may be considered for duty downrange. It lists Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a "treatable" problem.

Many believe President George W. Bush's newly announced plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers to Iraq will involve the redeployment of soldiers suffering from severe trauma. Press reports indicate Bush wants to implement his "surge" by speeding up previously scheduled redeployments and extending the tours of soldiers already in the field of battle.

That reality has increasing numbers of soldiers taking matters into their own hands.

Between Christmas and New Year's 2006, five U.S. soldiers committed suicide after being informed they'd been ordered to serve an additional tour in Iraq. In Iraq itself, the military announced on Dec. 30 that soldier Michael Crutchfield of Stockton, California killed himself north of the capital, Baghdad.

The day of his death, he e-mailed his foster brother and confidant, Johnny Sotello, to relate his pain to the remnants of his family still living in the area.

"As you know, there are more people waiting for me to pull this trigger than there are waiting on my return to the states," Crutchfield wrote in a portion of the message, quoted by the Stockton Record.

"I'm done hurting. All my life I've been hurting... end this pain," Crutchfield wrote at the end of his two-page message.

For Kentucky mom Anita Dennis, the news of increased suicides is hardly surprising. In 2005, Dennis' son, Specialist Darrel Anderson, fled to Canada, saying he could no longer fight in what he called an "illegal war."

In 2004, Anderson says he was ordered to open fire on a car full of innocent civilians. The car had sped through a U.S. military checkpoint, and his commander said it was Army procedure to fire on any vehicle that ran through a traffic stop. Anderson refused the order.

"Darrel was so screwed up in the head when he came back from Iraq, that's why he had to go to Canada," Anderson's mother told IPS. "That was a desperate attempt to save his life because he could not face the military."

Anderson received the Purple Heart for taking shrapnel to protect the rest of his unit from a roadside bomb. Last October, he made the decision to turn himself in to military authorities, and under a special deal, is receiving treatment for his PTSD.

"There was a guy in Darrel's unit that when Darrel got wounded by the roadside bomb, this guy got so freaked out that every time they went out on a mission they left him there playing video games," Dennis said. "Darrel was like, 'This guy's messed up, shouldn't we call his parents? Shouldn't we be getting him treatment?'"

Dennis said her son's commanders refused because giving him treatment would be an admission that things weren't going well.

"So they left him there for three months playing video games," Dennis said.

Other times, the military's decision to keep mentally unstable soldiers in combat produces tragic results. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that an Army private charged with raping a young Iraqi woman and slaughtering her entire family last year was found to have "homicidal ideations" by a military mental health team three months before the attack.

According to the AP, Private First Class Steven Green told military psychiatrists he was angry about the war, desperate to avenge the death of comrades and driven to kill Iraqi citizens. The AP reports medical records show Pentagon doctors prescribed Green several small doses of Seroquel – a drug to regulate his mood – and directed him to get some sleep.

One month after the examination, Green reportedly again told his battalion commander that he hated all Iraqis. He also allegedly threw a puppy from the roof of a building and then set the animal on fire while on patrol. But through it all, he was kept on duty – manning a checkpoint in one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Through it all, the U.S. military kept him in combat.

Dennis told IPS that Green's case is not an isolated incident.

"I'm helping a girl whose son was diagnosed with a mental imbalance before he went into the Army," Dennis said, adding that private psychiatrists had told the 20-year-old man that he could not feel remorse and suffers from an inability to distinguish between right and wrong.

Now that young man is in boot camp.

"He was doing terrible, heinous acts and felt no remorse or guilt," Denis said. "He was in this treatment center and was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance and you've known it from birth because he's this weird kid. And now the Army is sending him to Iraq. The Army is letting anyone in right now, they're so desperate."

(Inter Press Service)

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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