ANTIDEPRESSANTS, ETC: FT CARSON Soldier (Eastridge) Multiple Murders

Eastridge showed up for duty shortly before the brigade shipped out. He was happy to be there. He never felt more alive than when he was in a war zone.

“It’s almost like a religious experience to see a battlefield,” he said. “To hear the explosions — to see a person bleeding out and die — see everything on fire and smell the smoke and burning flesh. It makes you truly realize what it is to be alive. Combat is the biggest rush you can have.”

Since the start of his first deployment, he had covered himself in tattoos.

On his arm was a memorial to his sergeant killed by a car bomb. On his wrists were red dotted “kill lines” marking where, if needed, he could slit them. On his arm were the twin lightning bolts of the Nazi SS. Wrapping his neck like a collar were the words “BORN TO KILL, READY TO DIE.”

If the Army had followed its own rules, he would not have returned to Iraq for another tour.

Army regulations bar anyone with a pending felony from deploying.

Eastridge was awaiting trial for putting a gun to his girlfriend’s head. He said his commanders knew it.

But when the young soldier showed up and begged his sergeant to let him go back to Iraq, they did. The Army was evasive about if, and why, commanders knowingly deployed Eastridge with a felony hanging over his head.

Eastridge said there was a reason the unit wanted him back. He was one of the best gunners in the battalion.

Soldiers said he was “surgical” with a machine gun and utterly fearless.

“He was really good. If I had 10 Eastridges, my job would be a lot easier,” said his platoon sergeant, Michael Cardenaz.

Eastridge had the most kills of anyone in his company, Cardenaz said.

He was exactly the type of soldier to have in the Heart of Darkness.

Not even the veterans were prepared for how bad Baghdad would be, Eastridge said.

At one point, the unit was losing a soldier a day to the hospital or the morgue.

At first, Eastridge said, he enjoyed the intensity of it. He had a competition going with Bressler to see who could kill more bad guys. His final count, he said — and his sergeant confirmed — was about 80.

But after a few months, the raids, gore and constant threat of roadside bombs started to get to him. He couldn’t sleep. He was on edge all the time. Doctors at the base diagnosed him with PTSD, depression, anxiety and a sleep disorder. They gave him antidepressants and sleeping pills and put him back on duty.

When he went back to the doctors a few weeks later saying the pills were not working, his medical records show, they doubled his dose.

In the spring of 2007, as part of the surge to take back Baghdad, the 500 Lethal Warriors were moved out of their central base into 100-soldier Combat Outposts, known as COPs, scattered in the neighborhoods.

“Once we got to the COPS, it was way worse,” Eastridge said. “We would have mortars and rocket fire and drive-bys every single day.”

. . . Often, his squad would come in from an all-night mission, pull off their body armor, get attacked and have to slap their armor right back on and go out. Sometimes, he said, they wouldn’t sleep for days.

Eastridge’s Iraqi translator introduced him to Valium as a way to relax. At first, he would just take a couple before missions. Then he was taking a couple all the time. Then he was taking a lot more.

Eastridge started to crumble around the same time.

He had been a decorated soldier during his first tour. But in the second, his judgment melted away.

He started searching medicine cabinets for Valium while raiding houses.

Then he started stealing cash and weapons from civilians, which he said he would sell back to the Shiite militia.

He was disciplined by his battalion for stealing once, he said, after he ransacked a house, but only because it belonged to a well-connected man. Most of the time, he got away with it.

He was disciplined again when he flipped out on patrol. Someone shot at his squad from a nearby farmhouse. Eastridge fired about 20 grenades into the house, then stormed in and said he found a farmer and his two dogs in the back and spotted a shell casing from an AK-47 on the ground.

Eastridge demanded to know where the shooter was.

The man said he didn’t know.

Eastridge shot one of the man’s dogs, then asked where the shooter was.

The man said he didn’t know.

Eastridge shot the man’s other dog.

His lieutenant told him he needed to cool off and go sit in the truck.

On the way out, Eastridge passed the man’s herd of a dozen goats. He leveled them with a machine gun. Then he ordered a private to shoot the man’s two cows. Then he shot his horse.

“I was really (expletive deleted) losing it,” Eastridge said, shaking his head.

The Army hasn’t supplied disciplinary records for Eastridge or several other soldiers requested under the Freedom of Information Act, but Eastridge’s account was confirmed by his platoon sergeant.

Eastridge went on one more mission.

He was the gunner manning the M240 machine gun on a Humvee — a big gun that shoots 600 rounds per minute. He said he was ordered to guard the street while the rest of his platoon searched a house.

Eastridge said he told his lieutenant he was going to kill people as soon as the officer was out of sight. Then he asked the driver to put some heavy-metal “killin’ music on.”

His lieutenant laughed and walked off, Eastridge said.

Families were out playing soccer and barbecuing. Eastridge said he just started shooting. He pumped a long burst of rounds into a big palm tree where a few old men had gathered in the shade.

People started running. They piled into their cars and sped away. There was a no-driving rule in effect in the neighborhood, so, Eastridge said, he put his cross hairs on every car that moved.

“All I could think of was car bombs, car bombs, car bombs, and I just kept shooting,” he said.

Orders came over the radio to cease fire, he said, but he kept yelling, “Negative! Negative!”

Eastridge said he shot more than 1,700 rounds. When asked how many people he killed, he said, “Not that many. Maybe a dozen.”

He was court-martialed a short time later on nine counts, including drug possession and disobeying orders. Killing civilians wasn’t one of them.

For that, he said, he was put on guard duty.

Then, in August 2007, sergeants found him with 463 Valium pills in his laundry and a naked female soldier in his bed, according to court testimony. His staff sergeant confronted him about the woman, and Eastridge lashed out, according to his mother, Leanne Eastridge, screaming that he would kill the sergeant, suck out his blood and spit it at his children. Eastridge was court-martialed for disobeying orders and drug possession and sent to a prison camp in Kuwait for a month.

This spring, Eastridge said it was funny that sex and drugs were what got him court-martialed, considering the things he did in Iraq, “Things that can never be told, but that everybody knew about and approved of — basically war crimes.”

He got a health screening as part of the court-martial. Doctors diagnosed him with chronic PTSD, antisocial personality disorder, depression, anxiety and hearing loss. In late September 2007, his commanders decided he was too unstable and dangerous to stay in Iraq, so the Army sent him back to Colorado Springs.

http://www.gazette.com/articles/iframe-59065-eastridge-audio.html

Print Story | E-Mail Story | Font Size

Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home

Comments 118 | Recommend 56

July 26, 2009 3:30 PM
THE GAZETTE

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraqeight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor’s Note)

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.

Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.

Marquez’s 3,500-soldier unit — now called the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team — fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq, taking the most casualties of any Fort Carson unit by far.

Back home, 10 of its infantrymen have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006. Others have committed suicide, or tried to.

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

But in the vicious confusion of battle in Iraq and with no clear enemy, many said training went out the window. Slaughter became a part of life. Soldiers in body armor went back for round after round of battle that would have killed warriors a generation ago. Discipline deteriorated. Soldiers say the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians lurked in the ranks. And when these soldiers came home to Colorado Springs suffering the emotional wounds of combat, soldiers say, some were ignored, some were neglected, some were thrown away and some were punished.

Some kept killing — this time in Colorado Springs.

Many of those soldiers are now behind bars, but their troubles still reach well beyond the walls of their cells — and even beyond the Army. Their unit deployed again in May, this time to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, near Khyber Pass.

This month, Fort Carson released a 126-page report by a task force of behavioral-health and Army professionals who looked for common threads in the soldiers’ crimes. They concluded that the intensity of battle, the long-standing stigma against seeking help, and shortcomings in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment may have converged with “negative outcomes,” but more study was needed.

Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

More killing by more soldiers followed.

In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

Soldiers from other units at Fort Carson have committed crimes after deployments — military bookings at the El Paso County jail have tripled since the start of the Iraq war — but no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. The vast majority of the brigade’s soldiers have not committed crimes, but the number who have is far above the population at large. In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.

Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?

And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who took command of Fort Carson in the thick of the murders and ordered marked changes in how returning soldiers are treated, said he hopes so.

“When we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do about it. That is what we are trying to do here,” Graham said in a June interview. “There is a culture and a stigma that need to change.”

Under his command, nearly everyone — from colonels to platoon sergeants — is now trained to help troops showing the signs of emotional stress. Fort Carson has doubled its number of behavioral-health counselors and tightened hospital regulations to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation. Graham has also volunteered Fort Carson as a testing ground for new Army programs to ease soldiers’ transition from war to home.

Eastridge, an infantry specialist now serving 10 years for accessory to murder, said it will take a lot to wipe away the stain of Iraq.

“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. … If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

Satan’s throne

The violence started to take root in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, where the brigade landed in September 2004.

“It was actually beautiful. There were lots of palm trees,” said Eastridge, who is a working-class kid from Kentucky who had never really been anywhere before he joined the Army.

But, he said, “the situation was ugly.”

It was a little more than a year after President George W. Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner to announce the end of major combat operations. But the situation was growing worse. Rival militias of Sunnis and Shiites were gaining strength. Looting had crippled cities. And in a war with no clear front or enemy, the average monthly body count for U.S. soldiers was up 25 percent from a year earlier.

The brigade was in the worst of it.

None of it bothered Marquez.

In high school, he had been a co-captain on the football team and had run track. After graduation, he joined the infantry because the Army commercials full of guns and helicopters looked like the coolest job in the world.

Eastridge felt the same way. He was the closest thing to a criminal in the group of soldiers later arrested for murder. He was trying to get his life together after growing up with a mother addicted to cocaine. He had been arrested for reckless homicide when he was 12, after he accidentally shot his best friend in the chest while playing with his father’s antique shotgun. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to counseling. After that, his record had been clean.

Felons cannot join the Army unless they get a waiver from a recruiter. Eastridge said he called a dozen until one told him, “Son, it looks like you just need someone to give you a chance.”

Like Marquez, Eastridge wanted to join the infantry because, he said, “that’s where you get to do all the awesome stuff.”

After basic training, the Army sent both men to South Korea.

They were in different battalions of what became the 4th Brigade Combat Team. Marquez was in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment; Eastridge, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Both were foot soldiers. Both were surrounded by other young, gung-ho GIs with no battle experience. And both learned in the spring of 2004 that they were going to Iraq.

“We thought it would be cool. It was what we signed up for,” Marquez said.

It turned out not to be cool at all.

Ramadi, where Marquez landed, had a population the size of Colorado Springs but had no dependable electricity, let alone law and order. Sewage ran in rubble-choked streets. The temperature sometimes rose to 120 degrees.

And when roadside bombs blew civilians to bits, soldiers said, packs of feral dogs fought over the scraps.

Pat Dollard, a documentary filmmaker embedded in the area at the time, wrote that it looked like “Satan had punched a hole in the Earth’s surface, plopped down his throne, and set up shop.”

Marquez was assigned to hunt terrorists in the city. Eastridge patrolled the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah. With him was Bressler, a quiet, friendly gunner later arrested with Eastridge for murder.

Going on a mission usually meant tramping house to house in dust-colored camouflage, loaded down with rifles, pistols, body armor, ammo, grenades and water to fight the incessant heat.

Soldiers went out day and night, knocking on doors — sometimes kicking them in. They set up checkpoints. They seized weapons. They clapped hoods over suspected insurgents. They rarely found terrorists, but the terrorists found them.

A few days into the deployment, a sniper’s bullet killed Marquez’s lieutenant. Then another friend died in a car bombing. Then another.

Combat brigades always take higher casualties than the rest of the Army because they fight on the front lines, but, even by those standards, the 3,500-soldier brigade got pummeled. Sixty-four were killed and more than 400 were injured in the yearlong tour, according to Fort Carson — double the average for all Army brigades that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the insurgents learned their craft, attacks became more gruesome.

A truck loaded with explosives careened into Eastridge’s platoon, killing his squad leader, blowing fist-size holes in his platoon sergeant and pinning the burning engine against the baby of the unit, Jose Barco.

Bombs meant to kill soldiers shredded anyone in the area. Women had their arms ripped off. Old men along the road were reduced to meat.

“It just got sickening,” said David Nash, a then-19-year-old private and Eastridge’s best friend. “There was a massive amount of hate for us in the city.”

One of the jobs of the infantry was to bag Iraqi bodies tossed in the streets at night by sectarian murder squads.

“First thing in the morning, all we would do is bag bodies,” Eastridge said. “Guys with drill bits in their eyes. Guys with nails in their heads.”

Eastridge said he was targeted by snipers twice. Both bullets smashed against walls so close to his face that they peppered his eyes with grit. He laughed at his luck. He loved being a soldier.

In February 2005, Eastridge was in the gun turret of his Humvee when it drove over an anti-tank mine. A deafening flash tore off the front end. Eastridge woke up a few minutes later, several feet from the smoking crater.

He sucked it up. He was bandaged up and sent back on patrol. He said cerebral fluid was leaking out of his ear.

That was the job of the infantry. Eastridge’s battalion was created in World War II and became known as the “Band of Brothers.” It parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In Vietnam, it helped turn back the Tet Offensive and take Hamburger Hill.

Men who heard the stories of past glory almost never got a chance for their own in Iraq. The enemy was invisible. The leading cause of death was hidden roadside bombs.

Sometimes, Marquez felt his only purpose was to drive up and down roads in an armored personnel carrier called a Bradley to clear away hidden bombs.

To unwind, soldiers spent hours playing shoot-’em-up video games. They even played one based on their own unit in Vietnam. They said it offered a release. They could confront a clearly defined enemy. They could shoot, knowing they had the right guy. They could win.

In Ramadi, Marquez and other soldiers said, it felt like they were losing.

“It just seemed like the longer we were there, the worse it got,” said Marquez’s friend in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Daniel Freeman.

Freeman was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb, but the most rattling thing, he said, was driving through the eerie calm, knowing an improvised explosive device, or IED, could kill every soldier in a Humvee without warning, or maybe just smoke one guy in the truck, leaving the others to wonder how, and why, they survived.

Hatred and mistrust simmered between soldiers and locals. Locals who waved to them one day would watch silently as they drove toward an IED the next.

“I’m all about spreading freedom and democracy and everything,” said Josh Butler, another soldier in the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “But it seems like the Iraqis didn’t even want it.”

Soldiers said discipline started to break down.

“Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,” Freeman said. “You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.”

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and “just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.”

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

“It was just a free-for-all,” said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. “You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.”

Soldiers later told El Paso County sheriff’s deputies investigating Marquez for murder that, in Iraq, he got his hands on a stun gun similar to the one he later used on the Widefield drug dealer. They said he used it to “rough up” Iraqis.

Stun guns are banned by the Geneva Conventions. Using one is a war crime, but four soldiers interviewed by The Gazette said a number of soldiers ordered the stun guns over the Internet and carried them on raids. The brigade refused to make other soldiers who served during the tour available for interviews. The Army said it destroys disciplinary records after two years, so it has no knowledge of whether soldiers in the unit were punished.

After 10 months, Marquez said, all he wanted to do was go home.

In June 2005, with a month to go, his platoon was walking across a field when a sniper’s bullet smashed through his best friend’s skull under the helmet.

The platoon circled its guns and grenade launchers, Marquez said, and “tore that neighborhood up.”

That night, Marquez got hit. His squad had just finished hosing his friend’s blood out of their Bradley when they were called out on another mission. They loaded into two Bradleys and rolled toward downtown Ramadi.

Marquez was riding in the dark, cramped rear of the lead Bradley. In a flash, a blast tore through the floor. The engine exploded. Diesel fuel spewed everywhere in a plume of fire. Marquez said he watched the driver scramble out screaming, flames leaping from his clothes.

Marquez and the others clambered into the dark street, rifles ready. Another bomb slammed them to the ground.

Then came a flurry of bullets spitting across the dirt. Marquez was hit four times in the leg.

As blood spurted from his femoral artery, Marquez said, he raised his grenade launcher to return fire and realized the storm of bullets had come from the heavy machine gun on the other Bradley, which had just come around the corner.

“They must have seen our Bradley on fire, figured it was an attack and thought we were all dead,” he said this spring, shaking his head, “then just started shooting.”

According to the Army, two soldiers died. Marquez said three others were wounded. Brigade commanders didn’t make anyone familiar with the incident available.

Marquez was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He was still bleary on morphine on the Fourth of July weekend that he was told Bush was coming to award him a Purple Heart.

[Message clipped]  View entire message

458 total views, 1 views today

ANTIDEPRESSANTS, ETC.: FT CARSON Soldier (Marquez) Murder

“We’re used to seeing people who are depressed and want to hurt themselves. We’re trained to deal with that,” she said. “But these soldiers were depressed and saying, ‘I’ve got this anger, I want to hurt somebody.’ We weren’t accustomed to that.”
MARQUEZ:

Marquez started destroying himself with the pills that were supposed to help him.

For his injuries, he said, doctors at Evans prescribed him 90 morphine pills, 90 Percocets, and five fentanyl patches every three weeks.

“They were for pain,” he said. “And I still had pain. But, mostly, I was using them to get high.”

He could not get Iraq out of his head. Doctors prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, but he said they didn’t help. He was saving up Percocet, then downing a handful on an empty stomach.

He said he started trading his morphine with other soldiers for an antipsychotic called quetiapine and an anti-anxiety drug called clonazepam. Improper use of either can cause psychotic reactions, anxiety, panic attacks, aggressiveness and suicidal behavior, but, Marquez said, injured soldiers traded them like children in a lunchroom swapping desserts.

“It was real common among the guys who were hurt,” Marquez said.

At one point, Marquez said, he ate his three-week supply of meds in half the time, then went back to Evans claiming he had lost his pills.

He started not showing up for duty. He took more pills. He bought more guns and kept them his in his car, he and other soldiers said.

It was no secret. Sergeants later told police that Marquez had showed off his stash of weapons.

Print Story | E-Mail Story | Font Size

Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home

Comments 118 | Recommend 56

July 26, 2009 3:30 PM
THE GAZETTE

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraqeight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor’s Note)

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.

Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.

Marquez’s 3,500-soldier unit — now called the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team — fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq, taking the most casualties of any Fort Carson unit by far.

Back home, 10 of its infantrymen have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006. Others have committed suicide, or tried to.

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

But in the vicious confusion of battle in Iraq and with no clear enemy, many said training went out the window. Slaughter became a part of life. Soldiers in body armor went back for round after round of battle that would have killed warriors a generation ago. Discipline deteriorated. Soldiers say the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians lurked in the ranks. And when these soldiers came home to Colorado Springs suffering the emotional wounds of combat, soldiers say, some were ignored, some were neglected, some were thrown away and some were punished.

Some kept killing — this time in Colorado Springs.

Many of those soldiers are now behind bars, but their troubles still reach well beyond the walls of their cells — and even beyond the Army. Their unit deployed again in May, this time to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, near Khyber Pass.

This month, Fort Carson released a 126-page report by a task force of behavioral-health and Army professionals who looked for common threads in the soldiers’ crimes. They concluded that the intensity of battle, the long-standing stigma against seeking help, and shortcomings in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment may have converged with “negative outcomes,” but more study was needed.

Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

More killing by more soldiers followed.

In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

Soldiers from other units at Fort Carson have committed crimes after deployments — military bookings at the El Paso County jail have tripled since the start of the Iraq war — but no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. The vast majority of the brigade’s soldiers have not committed crimes, but the number who have is far above the population at large. In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.

Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?

And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who took command of Fort Carson in the thick of the murders and ordered marked changes in how returning soldiers are treated, said he hopes so.

“When we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do about it. That is what we are trying to do here,” Graham said in a June interview. “There is a culture and a stigma that need to change.”

Under his command, nearly everyone — from colonels to platoon sergeants — is now trained to help troops showing the signs of emotional stress. Fort Carson has doubled its number of behavioral-health counselors and tightened hospital regulations to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation. Graham has also volunteered Fort Carson as a testing ground for new Army programs to ease soldiers’ transition from war to home.

Eastridge, an infantry specialist now serving 10 years for accessory to murder, said it will take a lot to wipe away the stain of Iraq.

“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. … If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

Satan’s throne

The violence started to take root in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, where the brigade landed in September 2004.

“It was actually beautiful. There were lots of palm trees,” said Eastridge, who is a working-class kid from Kentucky who had never really been anywhere before he joined the Army.

But, he said, “the situation was ugly.”

It was a little more than a year after President George W. Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner to announce the end of major combat operations. But the situation was growing worse. Rival militias of Sunnis and Shiites were gaining strength. Looting had crippled cities. And in a war with no clear front or enemy, the average monthly body count for U.S. soldiers was up 25 percent from a year earlier.

The brigade was in the worst of it.

None of it bothered Marquez.

In high school, he had been a co-captain on the football team and had run track. After graduation, he joined the infantry because the Army commercials full of guns and helicopters looked like the coolest job in the world.

Eastridge felt the same way. He was the closest thing to a criminal in the group of soldiers later arrested for murder. He was trying to get his life together after growing up with a mother addicted to cocaine. He had been arrested for reckless homicide when he was 12, after he accidentally shot his best friend in the chest while playing with his father’s antique shotgun. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to counseling. After that, his record had been clean.

Felons cannot join the Army unless they get a waiver from a recruiter. Eastridge said he called a dozen until one told him, “Son, it looks like you just need someone to give you a chance.”

Like Marquez, Eastridge wanted to join the infantry because, he said, “that’s where you get to do all the awesome stuff.”

After basic training, the Army sent both men to South Korea.

They were in different battalions of what became the 4th Brigade Combat Team. Marquez was in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment; Eastridge, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Both were foot soldiers. Both were surrounded by other young, gung-ho GIs with no battle experience. And both learned in the spring of 2004 that they were going to Iraq.

“We thought it would be cool. It was what we signed up for,” Marquez said.

It turned out not to be cool at all.

Ramadi, where Marquez landed, had a population the size of Colorado Springs but had no dependable electricity, let alone law and order. Sewage ran in rubble-choked streets. The temperature sometimes rose to 120 degrees.

And when roadside bombs blew civilians to bits, soldiers said, packs of feral dogs fought over the scraps.

Pat Dollard, a documentary filmmaker embedded in the area at the time, wrote that it looked like “Satan had punched a hole in the Earth’s surface, plopped down his throne, and set up shop.”

Marquez was assigned to hunt terrorists in the city. Eastridge patrolled the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah. With him was Bressler, a quiet, friendly gunner later arrested with Eastridge for murder.

Going on a mission usually meant tramping house to house in dust-colored camouflage, loaded down with rifles, pistols, body armor, ammo, grenades and water to fight the incessant heat.

Soldiers went out day and night, knocking on doors — sometimes kicking them in. They set up checkpoints. They seized weapons. They clapped hoods over suspected insurgents. They rarely found terrorists, but the terrorists found them.

A few days into the deployment, a sniper’s bullet killed Marquez’s lieutenant. Then another friend died in a car bombing. Then another.

Combat brigades always take higher casualties than the rest of the Army because they fight on the front lines, but, even by those standards, the 3,500-soldier brigade got pummeled. Sixty-four were killed and more than 400 were injured in the yearlong tour, according to Fort Carson — double the average for all Army brigades that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the insurgents learned their craft, attacks became more gruesome.

A truck loaded with explosives careened into Eastridge’s platoon, killing his squad leader, blowing fist-size holes in his platoon sergeant and pinning the burning engine against the baby of the unit, Jose Barco.

Bombs meant to kill soldiers shredded anyone in the area. Women had their arms ripped off. Old men along the road were reduced to meat.

“It just got sickening,” said David Nash, a then-19-year-old private and Eastridge’s best friend. “There was a massive amount of hate for us in the city.”

One of the jobs of the infantry was to bag Iraqi bodies tossed in the streets at night by sectarian murder squads.

“First thing in the morning, all we would do is bag bodies,” Eastridge said. “Guys with drill bits in their eyes. Guys with nails in their heads.”

Eastridge said he was targeted by snipers twice. Both bullets smashed against walls so close to his face that they peppered his eyes with grit. He laughed at his luck. He loved being a soldier.

In February 2005, Eastridge was in the gun turret of his Humvee when it drove over an anti-tank mine. A deafening flash tore off the front end. Eastridge woke up a few minutes later, several feet from the smoking crater.

He sucked it up. He was bandaged up and sent back on patrol. He said cerebral fluid was leaking out of his ear.

That was the job of the infantry. Eastridge’s battalion was created in World War II and became known as the “Band of Brothers.” It parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In Vietnam, it helped turn back the Tet Offensive and take Hamburger Hill.

Men who heard the stories of past glory almost never got a chance for their own in Iraq. The enemy was invisible. The leading cause of death was hidden roadside bombs.

Sometimes, Marquez felt his only purpose was to drive up and down roads in an armored personnel carrier called a Bradley to clear away hidden bombs.

To unwind, soldiers spent hours playing shoot-’em-up video games. They even played one based on their own unit in Vietnam. They said it offered a release. They could confront a clearly defined enemy. They could shoot, knowing they had the right guy. They could win.

In Ramadi, Marquez and other soldiers said, it felt like they were losing.

“It just seemed like the longer we were there, the worse it got,” said Marquez’s friend in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Daniel Freeman.

Freeman was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb, but the most rattling thing, he said, was driving through the eerie calm, knowing an improvised explosive device, or IED, could kill every soldier in a Humvee without warning, or maybe just smoke one guy in the truck, leaving the others to wonder how, and why, they survived.

Hatred and mistrust simmered between soldiers and locals. Locals who waved to them one day would watch silently as they drove toward an IED the next.

“I’m all about spreading freedom and democracy and everything,” said Josh Butler, another soldier in the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “But it seems like the Iraqis didn’t even want it.”

Soldiers said discipline started to break down.

“Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,” Freeman said. “You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.”

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and “just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.”

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

“It was just a free-for-all,” said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. “You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.”

Soldiers later told El Paso County sheriff’s deputies investigating Marquez for murder that, in Iraq, he got his hands on a stun gun similar to the one he later used on the Widefield drug dealer. They said he used it to “rough up” Iraqis.

Stun guns are banned by the Geneva Conventions. Using one is a war crime, but four soldiers interviewed by The Gazette said a number of soldiers ordered the stun guns over the Internet and carried them on raids. The brigade refused to make other soldiers who served during the tour available for interviews. The Army said it destroys disciplinary records after two years, so it has no knowledge of whether soldiers in the unit were punished.

After 10 months, Marquez said, all he wanted to do was go home.

In June 2005, with a month to go, his platoon was walking across a field when a sniper’s bullet smashed through his best friend’s skull under the helmet.

The platoon circled its guns and grenade launchers, Marquez said, and “tore that neighborhood up.”

That night, Marquez got hit. His squad had just finished hosing his friend’s blood out of their Bradley when they were called out on another mission. They loaded into two Bradleys and rolled toward downtown Ramadi.

Marquez was riding in the dark, cramped rear of the lead Bradley. In a flash, a blast tore through the floor. The engine exploded. Diesel fuel spewed everywhere in a plume of fire. Marquez said he watched the driver scramble out screaming, flames leaping from his clothes.

Marquez and the others clambered into the dark street, rifles ready. Another bomb slammed them to the ground.

Then came a flurry of bullets spitting across the dirt. Marquez was hit four times in the leg.

As blood spurted from his femoral artery, Marquez said, he raised his grenade launcher to return fire and realized the storm of bullets had come from the heavy machine gun on the other Bradley, which had just come around the corner.

“They must have seen our Bradley on fire, figured it was an attack and thought we were all dead,” he said this spring, shaking his head, “then just started shooting.”

According to the Army, two soldiers died. Marquez said three others were wounded. Brigade commanders didn’t make anyone familiar with the incident available.

Marquez was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He was still bleary on morphine on the Fourth of July weekend that he was told Bush was coming to award him a Purple Heart.

Marquez’s sister, who was visiting, didn’t want to see the president because she was so angry about the war and her brother’s wounds, but Marquez was honored.

“I had gotten hurt, but it is part of the job. I wasn’t mad at nobody,” Marquez said.

He was in the hospital for three months and had 17 surgeries so he could keep his leg. Marquez was being medically discharged from the Army and could have stayed at the hospital, but he transferred to Fort Carson on Sept. 13, 2005, to spend his remaining months with his war buddies, who had just returned from Iraq.

He eventually learned to walk without a cane, but other wounds proved harder to heal. He started having nightmares about the war. He felt worthless and crippled, depressed and angry. On a visit home to California, he made his mom put away all his high school sports trophies.

The only things that made him feel better were the pain pills the doctors prescribed for him — and only if he took too many.

‘Kumbaya period’

Post-traumatic stress disorder is like a roadside bomb.

The symptoms can remain hidden for months, then explode. They can cripple some soldiers and leave others untouched. And just like bombs disguised as trash or ruts in the road, PTSD can look like something else.

In many cases, it looks like a bad soldier. In addition to flashbacks and nightmares, Army studies say, symptoms can include heavy drinking, drug use, domestic violence, slacking off at work or disobeying orders.

You can often see it coming, said the most recent commanding general of Fort Carson, if you know what to look for.

Soldiers usually go through a jubilant high for a few months after they come home, Graham said. He calls this time “the Kumbaya period.”

“Soldiers have served their country, they’ve made it back, they’re home. It’s all great. It’s later that problems start to surface,” Graham said.

Usually, problems don’t show up for three to six months, he said.

When the brigade landed in Colorado Springs, most soldiers had spent a year in Iraq and a year in South Korea. Most had saved several thousand dollars. Many were old enough to legally drink in the United States for the first time. They had survived the worst of Iraq, and they were jonesing to blow off steam.

All they had to do was go through a few post-deployment debriefings that Fort Carson still uses.

Soldiers sit through classes that warn them that troops often have unrealistically rosy notions of home. They are told to be understanding with spouses and loved ones. They are cautioned to be careful with drinking and driving, and they are warned that the time for carrying a gun everywhere ended in Iraq.

All personal guns must be stored in the post’s armory — not in soldiers’ barracks, not in their cars and not tucked in their belts.

Then Fort Carson screens every soldier for PTSD and other combat-related problems.

If there are no red flags, the soldier can go on leave. If there are, they are referred for further diagnosis, officials at Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital said.

The screening asks soldiers a long list of questions about the deployment: Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you depressed? Did you clear houses or bunkers? Were you shot at? Did you witness brutality toward detainees? Did you have friends who were killed?

“Did you shoot people? Did you kill people? Did you see dead civilians? Did you see dead Americans? Did you see dead babies? No. No. No. No.” Eastridge said, mimicking how he answered the questionnaire.

“I had seen and done all that stuff, but you just lie to get it over with.”

Several soldiers said the same: They lied because they didn’t want the hassle of more screening.

When the young infantrymen were set free in Colorado Springs, many packed Tejon Street bars such as Rendezvous Lounge and Rum Bay. When the bars closed, soldiers said, they often picked fights in the street.

By 2006, the police were being called to break up bar brawls almost every night. Extra police were assigned to the area.

The Colorado Springs Police Department doesn’t track the crime statistics of individual units, but according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, jail bookings of military personnel as a whole increased 66 percent in the 12 months after the brigade returned.

The “Kumbaya period” lasted about six months, soldiers said.

Eastridge said he blew through almost $27,000, mostly drinking at bars, but the first thing he did was buy guns: pistols, shotguns and an assault rifle similar to the one he carried in Iraq.

“After being in Iraq, it feels like everyone is the enemy,” he said. “You feel like you need a gun so they don’t come to get you.”

His friends all felt the same way.

Nash slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow.

Butler kept a Glock .40-caliber with him all the time, even when he rocked his newborn baby.

Marquez bought three pistols, a riot-style shotgun and an assault rifle like the one he carried in Iraq. He carried a pistol constantly, he said, even when he went to church.

His buddy, Freeman, said he bought himself a “big, scary” snub-nose .357 revolver.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without it,” he said. “I took it to the mall. I took it to the bank. I even had it right next to me when I took a shower. It makes you feel powerful, less scared. You have to have it with you every second of every day.”

Some returning soldiers, especially those with family members to notice their behavior, went into counseling.

More than 200 Fort Carson soldiers have been referred to First Choice Counseling Center, a private counseling service in Colorado Springs. Davida Hoffman, the director, said her counselors were unprepared for what they heard.

“We’re used to seeing people who are depressed and want to hurt themselves. We’re trained to deal with that,” she said. “But these soldiers were depressed and saying, ‘I’ve got this anger, I want to hurt somebody.’ We weren’t accustomed to that.”

In units that have seen the toughest combat in

[Message clipped]  View entire message

548 total views, no views today

ZOLOFT: FT CARSON – Soldier (Needham) Sucide Attempt, Murder

In March 2007, Needham went to the battalion’s doctor, saying he was “losing it” and needed a break, according to a summary of his service that he wrote. He was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft and sent back to work. In May, Needham said, he went back to the doctor and was again sent back to work. In June, according to medical records, he went again. And in September. Commanders always sent him back out on patrol, he said.

Around that time, he posted a note on his MySpace page: “I’m falling apart by the seams it seems the days here bleed into each other I have to find the will to live man I miss my brothers. These walls are caving in my despair wraps me in its web, I feel I’m sinking in, throw me a lifesaver throw me a life worth living. I’m a part of death I am death this is hard to admit but this shits getting old.”

A few nights later, on Sept. 18, Needham and a fellow soldier bought a contraband can of whiskey and tried to drink away their sorrows. Then Needham took out a gun and fired a shot at his head, his father said. The bullet missed. Needham was detained by his commanders for illegally discharging a firearm. After a few weeks of arguing by phone and e-mail, Needham’s father convinced the unit to let his son see a doctor. The soldier was diagnosed with severe PTSD and flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“What led him to the point of such deep despair that he would attempt suicide?” his father, a retired Army officer, asked. “I understand it. He was trained as a soldier. He was a good soldier, and his group was doing things he knew was wrong. And he was in this prolonged combat situation where they have all this armor and lifesaving technology to keep them alive, but mentally, they are in pieces.”

http://www.gazette.com/articles/iframe-59065-eastridge-audio.html

Print Story | E-Mail Story | Font Size

Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home

Comments 118 | Recommend 56

July 26, 2009 3:30 PM
THE GAZETTE

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraqeight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor’s Note)

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.

Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.

Marquez’s 3,500-soldier unit — now called the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team — fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq, taking the most casualties of any Fort Carson unit by far.

Back home, 10 of its infantrymen have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006. Others have committed suicide, or tried to.

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

But in the vicious confusion of battle in Iraq and with no clear enemy, many said training went out the window. Slaughter became a part of life. Soldiers in body armor went back for round after round of battle that would have killed warriors a generation ago. Discipline deteriorated. Soldiers say the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians lurked in the ranks. And when these soldiers came home to Colorado Springs suffering the emotional wounds of combat, soldiers say, some were ignored, some were neglected, some were thrown away and some were punished.

Some kept killing — this time in Colorado Springs.

Many of those soldiers are now behind bars, but their troubles still reach well beyond the walls of their cells — and even beyond the Army. Their unit deployed again in May, this time to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, near Khyber Pass.

This month, Fort Carson released a 126-page report by a task force of behavioral-health and Army professionals who looked for common threads in the soldiers’ crimes. They concluded that the intensity of battle, the long-standing stigma against seeking help, and shortcomings in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment may have converged with “negative outcomes,” but more study was needed.

Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

More killing by more soldiers followed.

In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

Soldiers from other units at Fort Carson have committed crimes after deployments — military bookings at the El Paso County jail have tripled since the start of the Iraq war — but no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. The vast majority of the brigade’s soldiers have not committed crimes, but the number who have is far above the population at large. In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.

Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?

And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who took command of Fort Carson in the thick of the murders and ordered marked changes in how returning soldiers are treated, said he hopes so.

“When we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do about it. That is what we are trying to do here,” Graham said in a June interview. “There is a culture and a stigma that need to change.”

Under his command, nearly everyone — from colonels to platoon sergeants — is now trained to help troops showing the signs of emotional stress. Fort Carson has doubled its number of behavioral-health counselors and tightened hospital regulations to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation. Graham has also volunteered Fort Carson as a testing ground for new Army programs to ease soldiers’ transition from war to home.

Eastridge, an infantry specialist now serving 10 years for accessory to murder, said it will take a lot to wipe away the stain of Iraq.

“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. … If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

Satan’s throne

The violence started to take root in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, where the brigade landed in September 2004.

“It was actually beautiful. There were lots of palm trees,” said Eastridge, who is a working-class kid from Kentucky who had never really been anywhere before he joined the Army.

But, he said, “the situation was ugly.”

It was a little more than a year after President George W. Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner to announce the end of major combat operations. But the situation was growing worse. Rival militias of Sunnis and Shiites were gaining strength. Looting had crippled cities. And in a war with no clear front or enemy, the average monthly body count for U.S. soldiers was up 25 percent from a year earlier.

The brigade was in the worst of it.

None of it bothered Marquez.

In high school, he had been a co-captain on the football team and had run track. After graduation, he joined the infantry because the Army commercials full of guns and helicopters looked like the coolest job in the world.

Eastridge felt the same way. He was the closest thing to a criminal in the group of soldiers later arrested for murder. He was trying to get his life together after growing up with a mother addicted to cocaine. He had been arrested for reckless homicide when he was 12, after he accidentally shot his best friend in the chest while playing with his father’s antique shotgun. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to counseling. After that, his record had been clean.

Felons cannot join the Army unless they get a waiver from a recruiter. Eastridge said he called a dozen until one told him, “Son, it looks like you just need someone to give you a chance.”

Like Marquez, Eastridge wanted to join the infantry because, he said, “that’s where you get to do all the awesome stuff.”

After basic training, the Army sent both men to South Korea.

They were in different battalions of what became the 4th Brigade Combat Team. Marquez was in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment; Eastridge, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Both were foot soldiers. Both were surrounded by other young, gung-ho GIs with no battle experience. And both learned in the spring of 2004 that they were going to Iraq.

“We thought it would be cool. It was what we signed up for,” Marquez said.

It turned out not to be cool at all.

Ramadi, where Marquez landed, had a population the size of Colorado Springs but had no dependable electricity, let alone law and order. Sewage ran in rubble-choked streets. The temperature sometimes rose to 120 degrees.

And when roadside bombs blew civilians to bits, soldiers said, packs of feral dogs fought over the scraps.

Pat Dollard, a documentary filmmaker embedded in the area at the time, wrote that it looked like “Satan had punched a hole in the Earth’s surface, plopped down his throne, and set up shop.”

Marquez was assigned to hunt terrorists in the city. Eastridge patrolled the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah. With him was Bressler, a quiet, friendly gunner later arrested with Eastridge for murder.

Going on a mission usually meant tramping house to house in dust-colored camouflage, loaded down with rifles, pistols, body armor, ammo, grenades and water to fight the incessant heat.

Soldiers went out day and night, knocking on doors — sometimes kicking them in. They set up checkpoints. They seized weapons. They clapped hoods over suspected insurgents. They rarely found terrorists, but the terrorists found them.

A few days into the deployment, a sniper’s bullet killed Marquez’s lieutenant. Then another friend died in a car bombing. Then another.

Combat brigades always take higher casualties than the rest of the Army because they fight on the front lines, but, even by those standards, the 3,500-soldier brigade got pummeled. Sixty-four were killed and more than 400 were injured in the yearlong tour, according to Fort Carson — double the average for all Army brigades that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the insurgents learned their craft, attacks became more gruesome.

A truck loaded with explosives careened into Eastridge’s platoon, killing his squad leader, blowing fist-size holes in his platoon sergeant and pinning the burning engine against the baby of the unit, Jose Barco.

Bombs meant to kill soldiers shredded anyone in the area. Women had their arms ripped off. Old men along the road were reduced to meat.

“It just got sickening,” said David Nash, a then-19-year-old private and Eastridge’s best friend. “There was a massive amount of hate for us in the city.”

One of the jobs of the infantry was to bag Iraqi bodies tossed in the streets at night by sectarian murder squads.

“First thing in the morning, all we would do is bag bodies,” Eastridge said. “Guys with drill bits in their eyes. Guys with nails in their heads.”

Eastridge said he was targeted by snipers twice. Both bullets smashed against walls so close to his face that they peppered his eyes with grit. He laughed at his luck. He loved being a soldier.

In February 2005, Eastridge was in the gun turret of his Humvee when it drove over an anti-tank mine. A deafening flash tore off the front end. Eastridge woke up a few minutes later, several feet from the smoking crater.

He sucked it up. He was bandaged up and sent back on patrol. He said cerebral fluid was leaking out of his ear.

That was the job of the infantry. Eastridge’s battalion was created in World War II and became known as the “Band of Brothers.” It parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In Vietnam, it helped turn back the Tet Offensive and take Hamburger Hill.

Men who heard the stories of past glory almost never got a chance for their own in Iraq. The enemy was invisible. The leading cause of death was hidden roadside bombs.

Sometimes, Marquez felt his only purpose was to drive up and down roads in an armored personnel carrier called a Bradley to clear away hidden bombs.

To unwind, soldiers spent hours playing shoot-’em-up video games. They even played one based on their own unit in Vietnam. They said it offered a release. They could confront a clearly defined enemy. They could shoot, knowing they had the right guy. They could win.

In Ramadi, Marquez and other soldiers said, it felt like they were losing.

“It just seemed like the longer we were there, the worse it got,” said Marquez’s friend in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Daniel Freeman.

Freeman was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb, but the most rattling thing, he said, was driving through the eerie calm, knowing an improvised explosive device, or IED, could kill every soldier in a Humvee without warning, or maybe just smoke one guy in the truck, leaving the others to wonder how, and why, they survived.

Hatred and mistrust simmered between soldiers and locals. Locals who waved to them one day would watch silently as they drove toward an IED the next.

“I’m all about spreading freedom and democracy and everything,” said Josh Butler, another soldier in the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “But it seems like the Iraqis didn’t even want it.”

Soldiers said discipline started to break down.

“Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,” Freeman said. “You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.”

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and “just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.”

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

“It was just a free-for-all,” said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. “You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.”

Soldiers later told El Paso County sheriff’s deputies investigating Marquez for murder that, in Iraq, he got his hands on a stun gun similar to the one he later used on the Widefield drug dealer. They said he used it to “rough up” Iraqis.

Stun guns are banned by the Geneva Conventions. Using one is a war crime, but four soldiers interviewed by The Gazette said a number of soldiers ordered the stun guns over the Internet and carried them on raids. The brigade refused to make other soldiers who served during the tour available for interviews. The Army said it destroys disciplinary records after two years, so it has no knowledge of whether soldiers in the unit were punished.

After 10 months, Marquez said, all he wanted to do was go home.

In June 2005, with a month to go, his platoon was walking across a field when a sniper’s bullet smashed through his best friend’s skull under the helmet.

The platoon circled its guns and grenade launchers, Marquez said, and “tore that neighborhood up.”

That night, Marquez got hit. His squad had just finished hosing his friend’s blood out of their Bradley when they were called out on another mission. They loaded into two Bradleys and rolled toward downtown Ramadi.

Marquez was riding in the dark, cramped rear of the lead Bradley. In a flash, a blast tore through the floor. The engine exploded. Diesel fuel spewed everywhere in a plume of fire. Marquez said he watched the driver scramble out screaming, flames leaping from his clothes.

Marquez and the others clambered into the dark street, rifles ready. Another bomb slammed them to the ground.

Then came a flurry of bullets spitting across the dirt. Marquez was hit four times in the leg.

As blood spurted from his femoral artery, Marquez said, he raised his grenade launcher to return fire and realized the storm of bullets had come from the heavy machine gun on the other Bradley, which had just come around the corner.

“They must have seen our Bradley on fire, figured it was an attack and thought we were all dead,” he said this spring, shaking his head, “then just started shooting.”

According to the Army, two soldiers died. Marquez said three others were wounded. Brigade commanders didn’t make anyone familiar with the incident available.

Marquez was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He was still bleary on morphine on the Fourth of July weekend that he was told Bush was coming to award him a Purple Heart.

Marquez’s sister, who was visiting, didn’t want to see the president because she was so angry about the war and her brother’s wounds, but Marquez was honored.

“I had gotten hurt, but it is part of the job. I wasn’t mad at nobody,” Marquez said.

He was in the hospital for three months and had 17 surgeries so he could keep his leg. Marquez was being medically discharged from the Army and could have stayed at the hospital, but he transferred to Fort Carson on Sept. 13, 2005, to spend his remaining months with his war buddies, who had just returned from Iraq.

He eventually learned to walk without a cane, but other wounds proved harder to heal. He started having nightmares about the war. He felt worthless and crippled, depressed and angry. On a visit home to California, he made his mom put away all his high school sports trophies.

The only things that made him feel better were the pain pills the doctors prescribed for him — and only if he took too many.

‘Kumbaya period’

Post-traumatic stress disorder is like a roadside bomb.

The symptoms can remain hidden for months, then explode. They can cripple some soldiers and leave others untouched. And just like bombs disguised as trash or ruts in the road, PTSD can look like something else.

In many cases, it looks like a bad soldier. In addition to flashbacks and nightmares, Army studies say, symptoms can include heavy drinking, drug use, domestic violence, slacking off at work or disobeying orders.

You can often see it coming, said the most recent commanding general of Fort Carson, if you know what to look for.

Soldiers usually go through a jubilant high for a few months after they come home, Graham said. He calls this time “the Kumbaya period.”

“Soldiers have served their country, they’ve made it back, they’re home. It’s all great. It’s later that problems start to surface,” Graham said.

Usually, problems don’t show up for three to six months, he said.

When the brigade landed in Colorado Springs, most soldiers had spent a year in Iraq and a year in South Korea. Most had saved several thousand dollars. Many were old enough to legally drink in the United States for the first time. They had survived the worst of Iraq, and they were jonesing to blow off steam.

All they had to do was go through a few post-deployment debriefings that Fort Carson still uses.

Soldiers sit through classes that warn them that troops often have unrealistically rosy notions of home. They are told to be understanding with spouses and loved ones. They are cautioned to be careful with drinking and driving, and they are warned that the time for carrying a gun everywhere ended in Iraq.

All personal guns must be stored in the post’s armory — not in soldiers’ barracks, not in their cars and not tucked in their belts.

Then Fort Carson screens every soldier for PTSD and other combat-related problems.

If there are no red flags, the soldier can go on leave. If there are, they are referred for further diagnosis, officials at Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital said.

The screening asks soldiers a long list of questions about the deployment: Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you depressed? Did you clear houses or bunkers? Were you shot at? Did you witness brutality toward detainees? Did you have friends who were killed?

“Did you shoot people? Did you kill people? Did you see dead civilians? Did you see dead Americans? Did you see dead babies? No. No. No. No.” Eastridge said, mimicking how he answered the questionnaire.

“I had seen and done all that stuff, but you just lie to get it over with.”

Several soldiers said the same: They lied because they didn’t want the hassle of more screening.

When the young infantrymen were set free in Colorado Springs, many packed Tejon Street bars such as Rendezvous Lounge and Rum Bay. When the bars closed, soldiers said, they often picked fights in the street.

By 2006, the police were being called to break up bar brawls almost every night. Extra police were assigned to the area.

The Colorado Springs Police Department doesn’t track the crime statistics of individual units, but according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, jail bookings of military personnel as a whole increased 66 percent in the 12 months after the brigade returned.

The “Kumbaya period” lasted about six months, soldiers said.

Eastridge said he blew through almost $27,000, mostly drinking at bars, but the first thing he did was buy guns: pistols, shotguns and an assault rifle similar to the one he carried in Iraq.

“After being in Iraq, it feels like everyone is the enemy,” he said. “You feel like you need a gun so they don’t come to get you.”

His friends all felt the same way.

Nash slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow.

Butler kept a Glock .40-caliber with him all the time, even when he rocked his newborn baby.

Marquez bought three pistols, a riot-style shotgun and an assault rifle like the one he carried in Iraq. He carried a pistol constantly, he said, even when he went to church.

His buddy, Freeman, said he bought himself a “big, scary” snub-nose .357 revolver.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without it,” he said. “I took it to the mall. I took it to the bank. I even had it right next to me when I took a shower. It makes you feel powerful, less scared. You have to have it with you every second of every day.”

Some returning soldiers, especially those with family members to notice their behavior, went into counseling.

More than 200 Fort Carson soldiers have been referred to First Choice Counseling Center, a private counseling service in Colorado Springs. Davida Hoffman, the director, said her counselors were unprepared for what they heard.

“We’re used to seeing people who are depressed and want to hurt themselves. We’re trained to deal with that,” she said. “But these soldiers were depressed and saying, ‘I’ve got this anger, I want to hurt somebody.’ We weren’t accustomed to that.”

In units that have seen the toughest combat in Iraq, one in four soldiers can screen positive for PTSD, the director of psychiatry at Walter Reed, Dr. Charles Hoge, said in an e-mail interview.

“Many soldiers continue to be able to perform their duties very well despite having significant symptoms,” Hoge wrote. But others show what he called “serious impairment,” and the worse the combat and the longer units are exposed, the worse the effects.

The affliction is as old as war itself.

Eric Dean, an author in Connecticut who specializes in war’s psychological toll, reviewed records from the Civil War for his 1997 book, “Shook Over Hell,” and found the same surge of crime and suicide that Fort Carson has seen.

“They have been in every war,” he said. “They never readjusted. They ended up living alone, drinking too much.”

They were “the lost generation” of World War I. They are the veterans of Vietnam who disproportionately populate homeless shelters and prisons today.

[Message clipped]  View entire message

720 total views, 1 views today

Over 81% Took An Antidepressant or ADHD Med Before Being Diagnosed Bipolar

WOW!! This certainly makes the connection between the use of these drugs and Bipolar Disorder obvious! But is this suppose to be a big surprise?!

From my new DVD, Bipolar, Shmypolar, Are You Really Bipolar or Misdiagnosed Due to the Use of or Abrupt Discontinuation of an Antidepressant?, let me give you a quick synopsis.

An ANTI-depressant is the opposite of a depressant and is what?

That is correct. It is a stimulant.

What is bipolar? It is a continuous series of mild seizures.

What produces seizures? STIMULANTS, like antidepressants and amphetamines – Ritalin, etc.!

Chemically inducing Bipolar Disorder to create a whole new customer base for the new and high priced atypical antipsychotics is not the least bit difficult when you start patients out on stimulant medications, like Ritalin and antidepressants. That is especially true when given to a young patient with yet growing and developing, and therefore more vulnerable, brain!

Ann Blake-Tracy, Executive Director,
International Coalition for Drug Awareness
www.drugawareness.org & www.ssristories.drugawareness.org
Author: Prozac: Panacea or Pandora? Our
Serotonin Nightmare and audio: Help! I Can’t
Get Off My Antidepressant ()

Sixth sentence reads: “During the year before the new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, youths were commonly diagnosed as having depressive disorder (46.5%) or disruptive behavior disorder (36.7%) and had often filled a prescription for an antidepressant (48.5%), stimulant (33.0%), mood stabilizer (31.8%), or antipsychotic (29.1%].”

http://psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/60/8/1098

Psychiatr Serv 60:1098-1106, August 2009
doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.60.8.1098
© 2009 American Psychiatric Association

Article

Mental Health Treatment Received by Youths in the Year Before and After a New Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., Stephen Crystal, Ph.D., Tobias Gerhard, Ph.D., Cecilia S. Huang, Ph.D. and Gabrielle A. Carlson, M.D.

Dr. Olfson is affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10032 (e-mail: mo49@columbia.edu ). Dr. Crystal and Dr. Huang are with the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, and Dr. Gerhard is with the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, both at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Dr. Carlson is with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, New York.

OBJECTIVE: Despite a marked increase in treatment for bipolar disorder among youths, little is known about their pattern of service use. This article describes mental health service use in the year before and after a new clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder. METHODS: Claims were reviewed between April 1, 2004, and March 31, 2005, for 1,274,726 privately insured youths (17 years and younger) who were eligible for services at least one year before and after a service claim; 2,907 youths had new diagnosis of bipolar disorder during this period. Diagnoses of other mental disorders and prescriptions filled for psychotropic drugs were assessed in the year before and after the initial diagnosis of bipolar disorder. RESULTS: The one-year rate of a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder was .23%. During the year before the new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, youths were commonly diagnosed as having depressive disorder (46.5%) or disruptive behavior disorder (36.7%) and had often filled a prescription for an antidepressant (48.5%), stimulant (33.0%), mood stabilizer (31.8%), or antipsychotic (29.1%). Most youths with a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder had only one (28.8%) or two to four (28.7%) insurance claims for bipolar disorder in the year starting with the index diagnosis. The proportion starting mood stabilizers after the index diagnosis was highest for youths with five or more insurance claims for bipolar disorder (42.1%), intermediate for those with two to four claims (24.2%), and lowest for those with one claim (13.8%). CONCLUSIONS: Most youths with a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder had recently received treatment for depressive or disruptive behavior disorders, and many had no claims listing a diagnosis of bipolar disorder after the initial diagnosis. The service pattern suggests that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is often given tentatively to youths treated for mental disorders with overlapping symptom profiles and is subsequently reconsidered.

Related Article:
August 2009: This Month’s Highlights Psychiatr Serv 2009 60: 1009. [Full Text] [PDF]

681 total views, no views today

ANTIDEPRESSANT: Psychiatrist Goes Nuts: Diagnosed Bipolar as They All Are!

Paragraphs 6 through 9 read: “Munn lost his license to practice psychiatry in Montana in 2003, after having an ongoing sexual relationship with one of his patients. His marriage dissolved around the same time. Already being treated for depression, Munn’s condition was rediagnosed, and with the help of counseling and medicine, he rebuilt his life into one where he’s succeeding while living with a mental illness.”

“Anti-depressants didn’t help the manic side of Munn’s bipolar disorder. At times his thoughts raced. He didn’t sleep. He had grandiose ideas ­ like how to fix the entire mental health system in the state of Montana.”

“And he believed he could do anything he wanted.”

“’I felt rules didn’t apply to me. That would be grandiosity,’ he said. ‘But they do. And that’s accepting that you have a mental illness’.”

http://www.helenair.com/articles/2009/08/02/top/55lo_090802_mh2.txt

Psychiatrist brings himself back from the brink of suicide

By JOHN HARRINGTON – Independent Record – 08/02/09

Eliza Wiley Independent Record – Nathan Munn has fought back from some very low places. Rather than ending his life, the psychiatrist chose to seek treatment for his bipolar disorder and began a new career teaching psychology courses and developing a mental health direct care program at University of Montana-Helena.
In 2003, with his career and home in very public shambles, Nathan Munn nearly committed suicide.

But rather than end his life, the psychiatrist chose not to pull the trigger one fateful night. He subsequently got treatment, including psychotherapy and medications, for his bipolar mood disorder.

Now, Munn is an instructor at the University of Montana-Helena, teaching psychology courses and developing a mental health direct care program that trains students how to be direct caregivers, counselors and other types of mental health professionals.

“I’m really thankful for my job at UM-Helena,” said Munn, 49, in a candid interview last week. “And I hope that my story can be of some inspiration along with my teaching. It’s my intention that I’m still helping in the community, but now with education as opposed to direct providing of psychiatric care.”

Munn admits somewhat nervously that his past is still “hard to talk about.” He chooses his words carefully, often pausing between sentences. He’s told his humbling story before, and maybe it’s getting a little easier ­ but not much. Remorse hangs deep in his eyes.

Munn lost his license to practice psychiatry in Montana in 2003, after having an ongoing sexual relationship with one of his patients. His marriage dissolved around the same time. Already being treated for depression, Munn’s condition was rediagnosed, and with the help of counseling and medicine, he rebuilt his life into one where he’s succeeding while living with a mental illness.

Anti-depressants didn’t help the manic side of Munn’s bipolar disorder. At times his thoughts raced. He didn’t sleep. He had grandiose ideas ­ like how to fix the entire mental health system in the state of Montana.

And he believed he could do anything he wanted.

“I felt rules didn’t apply to me. That would be grandiosity,” he said. “But they do. And that’s accepting that you have a mental illness.”

Mental illnesses are by no means limited to those on the fringes of society. Millions of Americans of all walks of life ­ blue collar and white, laborers and professionals ­ live daily with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar mood disorder and other diagnosable and treatable conditions.

Mike Larson of Dillon is director of the State Bar of Montana’s Lawyer Assistance Program, which was created in 2006 after several attorneys committed suicide in Missoula.

“Lawyers, from the first call in the morning to the last e-mail at night, are busy dealing with everyone else’s problems,” Larson said. “So what do they do when their own problems kick in?”

Larson said that from a population of 2,800 members of the bar in Montana, he takes calls from eight to 10 new clients a month, around a third of which are related to mental illness, with another third dealing with chemical dependency. He said many lawyers are reticent to call the program, either out of fear that others will learn of their treatment and their careers will suffer, or from simple denial.

“There are a lot of stereotypes out there about what mental illness is, and there’s that whole component of not wanting to be under the stigma of mental illness,” Larson said.

For Munn, day-to-day life means a regimen of a mood-stabilizing drug and an anti-depressant, acknowledgement of and taking responsibility for the mistakes he made and a resolve to move forward knowing the illness will likely be with him for the rest of his life.

“It’s not like there’s one day that you no longer have a mental illness,” he said. “On appropriate treatment, it can be in remission. And you stay on your meds and you do the psychological work necessary, and you move forward.

“I hate to say it because it sounds like it’s bragging, but it takes courage. You have to face this, you face what you did, you face having a mental illness, and you accept other aspects of your life.”

Munn doesn’t hide from his condition, and hopes that sharing his story will comfort others who find themselves in similar positions.

“One of the main things I want to say is when you have a mental illness, you have to acknowledge that that’s there, and that you have it,” he said. “I have a bipolar disorder, I am not bipolar. It is something that I have, it is not something that I am. A lot of people say, ‘I am bipolar.’ Well, what does that mean? You don’t say, ‘I am congestive heart failure. I am sinusitis.’ It’s not who you are, it’s what you have.”

Just as there are ways to characterize people living with mental illness, there are productive ways to discuss the illnesses themselves, Munn said.

“(People) talked about the dark recesses of the mind. That’s not the way to talk about it,” he said. “The term ‘dark recess’ has such a negative connotation, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, that’s not it. They’re not dark recesses. It’s neuropathology. It’s limbic system disregulation. And it’s the cognitions, the thinking that goes along with it.

“That’s a tough thing for people to get, but I think it’s crucial for people to get that as they’re recovering from a mental illness, that our brains and our minds are the same thing. So when I have negative cognitions, when I’m thinking that people would be better off without me, that’s the psychological part.

“And that’s a key point for people, is that what you’re thinking psychologically and what your brain is doing physically, we don’t know how it’s the same function, but it is the same function. The subjective psychology that you’re feeling as a person with a mental illness, is the psychological aspect of the biological process, and yes, it is a real illness. The idea that a psychological illness is somehow not real is just absurd. That’s crazy.”

Many mental illnesses can be directly traced to chemical imbalances or other physical abnormalities in the brain. But having a mental illness can’t by itself be an excuse for any actions, good bad or otherwise.

“You don’t want to use it as an excuse to justify behaviors. You have to take accountability. Personal accountability is necessary for recovery, it just is,” he said. “It takes humility, it takes a lot of work, it takes compliance.

“I made huge mistakes. My choices were horrible. Despicable, really, is the term to use. I hurt a lot of people. I hurt patients that I had, the person herself and her family, and of course my family. I feel sorry and apologetic about that every day. Especially for my children, I feel horrible and always will.

“One of the points I would like to make is, yes, I have this bipolar disorder. To deny I do would be to deny I have a mental illness. But I also completely accept responsibility and accountability for my actions. And that’s a very important point: recovery requires personal accountability. Yes, I have a major mental illness, and yes, I am responsible for my actions. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Treating a mental illness isn’t a guarantee of happiness. Life still presents challenges, and treatment gives those suffering from mental illness a better chance at facing those challenges head-on and coming out ahead.

“Life has struggles, with or without a mental illness,” Munn said. “Having your mental illness treated doesn’t mean your life is wonderful. You’re still going to have the struggles that everyone has. But you’ll also have wonderful things. I’m a grandfather. And that’s wonderful. If I had killed myself, I wouldn’t have known this joy of having a granddaughter.

“You have to accept mental health care of various types, and you need to know that it’s worth it, that treatments are available, the science is there, people do recover, illnesses do go into remission. Of all chronic illnesses to have, having a mental illness is not bad. Treatments are available, and you can live a long, good life having your mental illness treated.”

Larson of the Lawyer Assistance Program acknowledged that people need to want to treat their illnesses.

“There are a lot of people out there that still need the help that haven’t come forward or recognized they need the help,” Larson said. “Not only are they in denial that they have a problem, they’re in denial that everyone knows they have a problem.”

And even if the disease goes into remission or becomes manageable, a person must be diligent, even when things are going well.

“It’s not something you mess around with. And that’s OK,” Munn said. “Mental illnesses are chronic illnesses. People have the idea that, ‘Oh no, I’m going to be on medications for life.’ Well yeah, you are. And that’s all right, you have a chronic illness. There are a lot of chronic illnesses, not just psychiatric ones. And people who have those, like type 1 diabetes, will be on insulin. It’s accepted. So it’s a chronic illness, you accept that.”

And the more acceptance there is, across a broader swath of Montana at large, the easier it will be for people to summon the strength to get the help they need, to confront the illness, and to assume the places so many of them deserve as productive members of society.

To view the complete series on mental health care services in Montana, click here.

John Harrington: 447-4080 or john.harrington@helenair.com.

549 total views, no views today

DEPRESSION MED: Suicide Attempt: Story on The Gap: Australia

Paragraph 11 reads: “Years later, Mr Ritchie encouraged a ‘‘nervous and confused’’ woman, sitting on a ledge, shoes by her side, to follow him home. Over tea and toast, she revealed she was unhappy with medication she had been prescribed for depression. Mr Ritchie’s wife suggested she seek a second opinion. ‘‘A couple of months later she came up the path with a bottle of French champagne. We later got a Christmas card from her, and a postcard. It said ‘I’ll never forget your important intervention in my life. I am well’.’’

http://www.smh.com.au/national/an-angel-walking-among-us-at-the-gap-20090731-e4f2.html

An angel walking among us at The Gap

’’People will always come here. I don’t think it will ever stop’’ … Don Ritchie. Photo: Marco del Grande

Kate Benson Medical Reporter
August 1, 2009

HE IS the watchman of The Gap. A former life insurance salesman who in 45 years has officially rescued about 160 people intent on jumping from the cliffs at Watsons Bay, mostly from Gap Park, opposite his home high on Old South Head Road. Unofficially, that figure is closer to 400.

Some, at his urging, quietly gathered their shoes and wallets, neatly laid out on the rocks, and followed him home for breakfast. Others, tragically, struggled as he grabbed at their clothes before they slipped over the edge.

Still others later sent tokens of thanks, a magnum of champagne or an anonymous drawing slipped into his letter box, labelling him ‘‘an angel walking among us’’.

Don Ritchie, 82, spends much of his time reading newspapers, books and scanning the glistening expanse of ocean laid out before him. His days of climbing fences are gone and he admits some relief that most visitors now carry mobile phones and are quick to contact the police if they see a lone figure standing too close to the edge, too deep in contemplation.

For its part, Woollahra Council has been campaigning for $2.5 million to install higher fences, motion-sensitive lights, emergency phones and closed-circuit television cameras, but Mr Ritchie is ambivalent.

‘‘People will always come here. I don’t think it will ever stop,’’ he says, with a shrug.

Some deaths have been recorded in his diary, others are eternally etched in his mind.

One summer evening he spotted a young man perched on a thin ledge, beyond the fence.

‘‘I went over and I tried to talk to him, asking him questions about where he was from. He wouldn’t talk much, just kept looking straight ahead. I was talking to him for about half an hour … thinking I was making headway. I said ‘why don’t you come over for a cup of tea, or a

beer, if you’d like one?’ He said ‘no’ and stepped straight off the side … his hat blew up and I caught it in my hand.’’ Later, Mr Ritchie discovered the 19-year-old had grown up next door, playing with his grandchildren.

Years later, Mr Ritchie encouraged a ‘‘nervous and confused’’ woman, sitting on a ledge, shoes by her side, to follow him home. Over tea and toast, she revealed she was unhappy with medication she had been prescribed for depression. Mr Ritchie’s wife suggested she seek a second opinion. ‘‘A couple of months later she came up the path with a bottle of French champagne. We later got a Christmas card from her, and a postcard. It said ‘I’ll never forget your important intervention in my life. I am well’.’’

Despite his bravery and compassion, Mr Ritchie has steered clear of the limelight. He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his services to suicide prevention but is all too aware that any publicity attracts more depressed and disturbed people.

In the weeks after the Channel 10 newsreader Charmaine Dragun jumped to her death outside his house in November 2007, Mr Ritchie’s wife is adamant six more followed.

‘‘But what do you do? Not talk about it?’’ he asks. ‘‘It’s the truth. It’s what goes on here.’’

It has long been a haunting dichotomy for rescuers, families and media. To speak out in a bid to have the area made safer, risking more people becoming aware of it, or to keep quiet, letting the deaths go on.

But for an anti-suicide campaigner, Dianne Gaddin, whose daughter Tracy jumped from The Gap in 2005, the answer is easy. If the issue is not aired, the problem will never be solved.

She has written four letters in the past month to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, urging him to act. While her pleas go unanswered, her desperation balloons. She knows Mr Ritchie will not be standing guard forever.

‘‘Sometimes just a smile and a greeting is all it takes to change the mind of the would-be suicider. I don’t believe people want to die, but living is just too hard. To me, Don is a guardian angel.’’

Lifeline: 131 114; Salvo Crisis Line 93312000; Beyond Blue 1300224 636.

331 total views, no views today

ANTIDEPRESSANT & ALCOHOL: In Pink Pajamas Woman Slashes Neighbor’s Tires: UK

Third paragraph from the end reads: “Stephen Constantine, defending, said: ‘Ms Fergus suffers from depression and this offending was a result of combining drink with her prescribed medication’.”

http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/Easington-tyreslasher-wore-pink-pyjamas.5509772.jp

Easington tyre-slasher wore pink pyjamas
Published Date:
30 July 2009
By Rob Freeth

A drunken woman dressed herself in pink pyjamas before going out at the dead of night to slash car tyres.

Joanne Fergus did not know the owners of the vehicles she damaged, Durham Crown Court heard.

Fergus, 25, of Glenhurst Road, Easington Village, admitted three charges of criminal damage on January 23 this year.

She has no previous convictions, but has police caustions for a public order offence and possessing a small quantity of amphetamine, and she received a penalty notice for being drunk and disorderly.

Judge Esmond Faulks sentenced Fergus to a nine-month supervision order, and ordered her to pay £282 compensation.

“You slashed the tyres of cars belonging to neighbours who had done nothing to you,” the judge told Fergus.

“It was a disgraceful thing to do and I hope you are ashamed of yourself.”

“A neighbour in Easington saw a figure crouched down beside a Jaguar car,” said David Wilkinson, prosecuting.

“He then saw a flash of metal, which was later confirmed to be a kitchen knife.

“The neighbour was able to tell police the person with the knife was a woman dressed in pink pyjamas.

“Officers cruised around the immediate area and the only house with a downstairs light on belonged to Fergus.

“She was wearing the pink pyjamas when she answered the door.”

The court heard Fergus admitted she had been out slashing tyres, but could not say why she had done it.

“She had been drinking and was upset due to an argument with her boyfriend,” added Mr Wilkinson.

“One tyre on the Jaguar was found to be slashed, as well as two tyres on a Peugeot, and another two tyres on a Vauxhall Astra.”

Stephen Constantine, defending, said: “Ms Fergus suffers from depression and this offending was a result of combining drink with her prescribed medication.

“The incident was also borne out of a domestic argument with her boyfriend at the time.

“She can pay compensation, although her income from benefits is £120 a week, from which she has to look after herself and her young daughter.”

* Last Updated: 30 July 2009 12:44 PM
* Source: n/a
* Location: Sunderland

450 total views, 1 views today

ANTIDEPESSANTS: Death: 21 Year Old: Florida

Paragraph 20 reads: “Mr. Mott was discharged July 14. He went home with three prescriptions to treat depression, his family said ­ and a companion.”

Paragraphs 27 through 29 read: “In the wake of his death, his family searches for answers. Kathy Mott said she does not believe her son relapsed. She wonders if the antidepressants played a role in his death.”

“Now she wants others to be careful.”

“‘Just because it’s prescription drugs, doesn’t mean you can’t OD,’ she said.”

http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries/article1023489.ece

Track star Matthew Mott had started rehab
By Andrew Meacham, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, July 31, 2009
[LARA CERRI | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG ­ At a gathering held in his honor Wednesday at Northeast High School, Matthew Mott’s family and peers recalled the good times.

A former teammate showed off a large pink stuffed bunny rabbit, the unofficial mascot of the Northeast High track team, led by Mr. Mott and his twin brother, Jonathan. Others reminisced about late-night scavenger hunts and mud-wrestling in Mr. Mott’s back yard.

But it wasn’t good times that brought more than 140 people to Northeast’s cafeteria Wednesday ­ it was an unexpected death. Mr. Mott died of unknown causes early July 23, nine days after leaving an addiction treatment center. He was 22.

Mr. Mott literally ran through most of his life, competing with and against his brother. The brothers anchored a previously unremarkable Northeast track team, each earning second-team all-county honors in 2005. The next year, they helped take Northeast to its first state finals in more than two decades.

They trained together, worked out together. Jonathan won many races just a second or so ahead of Matthew, though sometimes it was the other way around.

“I don’t think they were competing against anybody else,” said Patty Parker, the boys’ aunt. “The competition was between those two.”

The boys took separate paths after their graduation in 2006. Jonathan Mott got a full track scholarship to Webber International University, where he remains.

Matthew Mott did not get the same offer. He enrolled in the Orlando Culinary Academy.

In the fall of 2006, after less than two weeks at the school, he called his aunt.

“He called in a panic,” said Parker, 40. He didn’t like it there, she said. Parker and her husband drove Mr. Mott back to St. Petersburg.

It is around this same time that friends began noticing changes in Mr. Mott’s behavior. Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky man with bleached blond locks had grown quieter, more reserved.

“He was the most upbeat, happy person,” said Ian Upson, 21. “He was always saying, ‘Let’s do this’ or ‘Let’s do that.’ Afterward, he just wanted to sit back and do nothing.”

Some of his friends and family members knew that Mr. Mott was taking the painkiller OxyContin. But they, like everyone else, were powerless to stop him.

“If you were around him, you knew,” said older brother Sam Mott.

Mr. Mott got a series of cooking jobs at places like the Don CeSar, the TradeWinds, Bascom’s Chop House and Derby Lane, his family said.

“He lost all of those jobs due to his addiction,” said his mother, Kathy Mott, 53.

With less money to buy OxyContin illegally, Mr. Mott resorted to Coricidin Cough and Cold medicine ­ or “Triple C” ­ an over-the-counter antihistamine that can be used as an intoxicant.

In June, Mr. Mott told his family he had had enough. His mother entered him in Fairwinds Treatment Center in Clearwater.

During a family visit to the facility, Mr. Mott seemed to have improved. He had gained weight. He was his old, animated self.

Mr. Mott was discharged July 14. He went home with three prescriptions to treat depression, his family said  and a companion.

Mr. Mott had met Genny Perry in treatment, and the two had formed an attraction. Perry and Mr. Mott lived with Kathy Mott. The two went to 12-step meetings together and separately.

Mr. Mott had gone to an AA meeting the night of July 22, then talked to his AA sponsor, his mother said. They stayed close to home the rest of the evening, Perry said, and fell asleep together at 3:30 a.m.

She awoke at 4 a.m. sensing something was wrong.

“He felt sweaty,” said Perry, 32.

Mr. Mott was snoring ­something he did not normally do, his mother said. Foam bubbled around his lips, his mother and Perry said.

Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he died at 4:40 a.m.

In the wake of his death, his family searches for answers. Kathy Mott said she does not believe her son relapsed. She wonders if the antidepressants played a role in his death.

Now she wants others to be careful.

“Just because it’s prescription drugs, doesn’t mean you can’t OD,” she said.

Learning the cause of death could take months, as the Pinellas County medical examiner awaits toxicology results.

At his celebration service Wednesday, family and friends spoke of Mr. Mott’s zest for life. A friend strummed a ukulele and sang a song. A priest extolled the value of Mr. Mott’s life and called it complete.

The audience listened in respectful silence.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Matthew

David Mott

Born: Feb. 20, 1987.

Died: July 23, 2009.

Survivors: brothers, Jonathan and Sam; parents, Kathy and Sam; aunts, Patty Parker and Barbara DuFault; extended family.

[Last modified: Jul 30, 2009 10:29 PM]

368 total views, no views today

ANTIDEPRESSANT: Man Threatens to Shoot Self: In Stand-Off with Police: …

Paragraph three reads: “She said he is taking medication to combat depression and that he had been drinking. The unnamed man allegedly told his wife he would resist if police responded, according to a news release.”

SSRI Stories Note: The Physicians Desk Reference states that antidepressants can cause a craving for alcohol and alcohol abuse. Also, the liver cannot metabolize the antidepressant and the alcohol simultaneously, thus leading to higher levels of both alcohol and the antidepressant in the human body.

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/hunterdon-county/express-times/index.ssf/2009/08/armed_raritan_township_man_thr.html

Armed Raritan Township man threatens to shoot himself, engages in hour-long standoff with police

by Express-Times staff
Monday August 03, 2009, 6:55 AM
Officials in Raritan Township spent more than an hour Sunday urging an apparently suicidal man to put down his weapons and surrender peacefully.

Raritan Township police were called to a single-family home in the township about 3:30 p.m. after a woman reported her husband had locked himself in the bedroom and was threatening to shoot himself. The woman told police her husband had several guns in the house and that at least two — a pistol and a rifle — were in the bedroom with him.

She said he is taking medication to combat depression and that he had been drinking. The unnamed man allegedly told his wife he would resist if police responded, according to a news release.

Police set up a safe perimeter around the house, evacuated neighboring homes and blocked off the road. Officers called the man, with the assistance of his brother. After an hour on the phone with him, he agreed to surrender. Police recovered two handguns and a rifle from the home.

The man was taken to Hunterdon County Medical Center for an evaluation. Charges against him are pending.

The Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, Flemington-Raritan First Aid and Rescue Squad and Raritan Township Department of Public Works assisted township police.

505 total views, 1 views today

DEPRESSION MED: Suicide: 14 year old girl: Ohio

Paragraphs 13 and 14 read: “After his daughter’s death, Weidlich went through a long bewildering search into why it happened.”

“She’d been on medication and in therapy for depression, but seemed to be responding.”

http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/article/20090729/NEWS01/907290321/1002/NEWS01

Speaker confronts teen suicide, depression
By LINDA MARTZ • News Journal • July 29, 2009

MANSFIELD — James Weidlich is finally comfortable telling strangers about his daughter’s suicide.Advertisement

The family discovered 14-year-old Savannah after she hung herself at home July 15, 2004, after battles with depression.

Weidlich, who once ran a landscaping and contracting business, says this year he committed to a full-time mission to open up public discussion of suicide.

It’s a topic many people find difficult to address, but Weidlich argues people should talk about it. “The cost of promoting the human comfort level is that people are dying,” he said.

“There is a huge amount of secrecy and denial. We have done a really good job of scaring people out of talking about their own mental health,” he said.

Weidlich, of Cambridge, brought his Families on Fire Mental Health Reality Crusade to Citichurch last week.

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he’ll offer free public talks at the Quality Inn on Ohio 97, near Bellville.

Weidlich described his daughter as a good kid and an athlete. “My daughter had a very inspiring personality and a sense of humor. Yet she had an illness that took her life.”

Young people come under tremendous pressure, he said. “It is a war zone for children, in our schools, on our playgrounds, in our streets.”

Weidlich believes adults must take responsibility for spotting the signs a young person is contemplating suicide. He also believes adults must take action.

“I never want a parent to say, ‘Just get over it’ or ‘I went through the same thing you’re going through, and I got over it. Just toughen up,’ ” he said.

Severe depression is a physical illness, like diabetes or heart disease, he said. It should be discussed openly and swiftly treated.

After his daughter’s death, Weidlich went through a long bewildering search into why it happened.

She’d been on medication and in therapy for depression, but seemed to be responding.

Weidlich, a single father, eventually found clues that indicated Savannah hadn’t been doing as well as he thought. He doesn’t want others to miss signs or ignore reality.

“That moment, on that night, in our house, is something that you do not want to experience,” he said.

Now, from a “Families on Fire” camper, he spreads his message. He strikes up conversations about suicide in coffee shops and churches statewide. Making ends meet is difficult given his mission, but he’s sticking to it.

“Depression-related suicide is the number one killer of our children. You absolutely have no excuse not to come and learn something.”

lmartz@nncogannett.com

419-521-7729

442 total views, no views today