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October 26, 2004

The Trials of Julian Goodrum


by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Lieutenant Julian Goodrum is the picture of an American soldier: a young man with quintessentially good looks and a friendly smile, despite the hell he has been through for the last two years. Goodrum served honorably in the first Gulf War, and on his return joined the U.S. Army Reserve. A 13-year Army veteran, he received a very unusual direct commission to lieutenant, and in February 2003 was called up to active duty and transferred from his military police unit to the 2/12 Transportation Company, where he took charge of a platoon preparing for war.

Today he faces charges of fraternization and being absent without leave. These charges could result in imprisonment or dishonorable discharge if the investigating officer recommends proceeding with a court martial.

The prosecution believes it has a clear case. According to the charges, Lieutenant Goodrum conducted an affair with his platoon sergeant in Iraq. Following his redeployment to the U.S. in June 2003, an investigating officer recommended that he receive an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment, which creates a black mark on a soldier's record but cannot result in jail time). The Army further accuses Goodrum of going AWOL from Fort Knox in November 2003, until he turned himself in at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in February of this year. The prosecutor, Captain Wright, summed it up in her closing statement this evening: an open and shut case, with serious charges – AWOL, fraternization, and dereliction of duty.

As it turns out, nothing is so simple.

Described in his service records as a strong, outstanding leader, when Goodrum arrived at 2/12 Transportation he identified a number of serious problems and took steps to correct them, including complaining to his commanding officer, and when no action was taken, to the inspector general. What were the problems he pointed out? Serious ones. The transportation unit deployed ill equipped and conducted long-range missions into Iraq, in some cases covering thousands of miles over several days. Though the unit had good maintenance crews and most of the trucks were running, they had no radios, no heavy weapons, no armor, no medics, and the first-aid bags were missing many of the supplies required.

According to testimony provided by one of the other platoon leaders, they were sent on these missions without any maps. They came under rocket attacks, routine roadside bombs, direct rifle fire and other attacks. Because they had no radios, they couldn't call for support or medevacs for injured soldiers. The platoon leaders made repeated requests for additional support, but no response was received. Eventually 22-year-old Sergeant Kenneth Harris, one of Goodrum's soldiers, was crushed between two vehicles after a long convoy plagued by breakdowns.

Lieutenant Eisley, the other platoon leader, testified that their company commander, Captain Fisher, disliked Goodrum, and "was going to get him."

Captain Fisher did. According to the testimony, rumors of liaisons between the male and female soldiers in the unit were rife, including one that Goodrum and his platoon sergeant were conducting an affair. Captain Fisher opened an investigation, questioning soldiers within the platoon and taking sworn statements.

Ultimately, the fraternization charge rests on the statements of three soldiers. The first, that Goodrum and his platoon sergeant were "sitting close to each other," was directly contradicted by a statement taken from Sergeant Harris before his death. The second two statements were taken from two soldiers accused of committing adultery with each other. Worse, according to Lieutenant Eisley, the company commander threatened one of those soldiers with court-martial if he didn't sign a statement implicating Goodrum. Eisley later confronted his commander over the issue, and when he received no response, filed a complaint with the inspector general at Camp Doha.

By that time, Goodrum was back in the United States, pending surgery. Reassigned to a medical hold unit at Fort Knox, Ky., the key moment in the case happened on Oct. 29, 2003, when he was quoted in a United Press International article regarding terrible healthcare conditions for soldiers at Fort Knox on medical hold. A few days later, on Nov. 7, Goodrum saw the physician's assistant at Fort Knox and requested care, saying he was having a "breakdown."

He was turned away. A handwritten note in his medical record says, "Col. Stevens does not want this patient on medical hold."

Goodrum drove home to Knoxville and was hospitalized by a civilian doctor for PTSD and depression.

The Army claims Goodrum's inpatient care constituted being absent without leave, and they have cut off his pay and benefits. However, Army regulations say when a soldier is treated by a civilian doctor, Army medical personnel are required to contact the civilian provider for medical consultations. Colonel Stevens and others testified today that no medical professional ever consulted with Goodrum's civilian doctor.

At the recommendation of his civilian doctor, Goodrum went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in February. Walter Reed diagnosed him with severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and recommended he be medically retired from the military. Unfortunately, the medical board process has been halted until the court martial is resolved.

The case raises a number of key issues. First, why did the transportation unit deploy without the proper equipment in the first place? Why didn't they have maps, body armor, heavy weapons, or other necessary equipment? What happened to the numerous complaints filed with the inspectors general by the junior officers in this company regarding severe problems within the unit? The defense raised a sad point – Goodrum's commander, Captain Fisher, produced a 65-page report on his investigation into allegations of improper conduct with a noncommissioned officer, but only a two-page investigation into the death of Sergeant Harris.

At Fort Knox, why was Goodrum denied psychiatric care? According to testimony at today's hearing, the base only had one part-time and two full-time psychiatrists, with no inpatient psychiatric program. The care simply wasn't available, and procedures to manage civilian care in such cases were not followed.

Following the closing statements of the prosecutors and defense, the investigating officer indicated he would be in touch with both parties regarding his recommendations. Once those are made, it will be up to the commanding general at Walter Reed to make the final determination of Lieutenant Goodrum's fate. If he chooses a general court-martial, this decorated veteran of two wars may face not only prison time and dishonorable discharge, but being cut off from the psychiatric care he will likely need for the rest of his life.

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Charles Sheehan-Miles, a 1991 Gulf War veteran, is executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.

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