US Soldiers in Iraq Can Find Stress Deadlier than Enemy

October 17th, 2008 - by admin

Emmanuel Duparcq / Agence France-Presse – 2008-10-17 00:27:09

BAGHDAD (October 14, 2008) โ€” In the early hours of September 14, US sergeant Joseph Bozicevich allegedly drew his rifle, aimed and shot to death two of his superiors on a military base south of the Iraqi capital.

According to several US media reports, Bozicevich, 39, allegedly killed staff sergeant Darris Dawson 24, and sergeant Wesley Durbin 26, because he could not bear being berated by them.

A US military statement said that “a US soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths. He’s being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate.”

Dawson’s step-mother Maxine Mathis later told newspaper in Pensacola in Florida that before the shooting he had complained to her and spoken of the impact the Iraq war was having on many young soldiers.

“Momma, I’m not so afraid of the enemy. I’m afraid of our young guys over there, because they’re so jumpy and quick to shoot,” Mathis quoted Dawson as saying.

Trauma, stress, fatigue, depression and tensions linked to family problems are taking their toll on US soldiers deployed in Iraq and are often more threatening than the Islamist insurgents they are expected to fight.

“We know that the stress of war, which includes repeated and long deployments, is having an effect on our soldiers and their families,” said Colonel Elspeth Cameron-Ritchie, a military psychiatrist based at US army medical command in Fort Detrick, located at Frederick, Maryland.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the number of US soldiers suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), leading to higher rates of suicides and divorce, according to military reports.

Nearly a fifth of American soldiers deployed in Iraq suffer PTSD, according to the US military’s website.

The cases of PTSD increased by almost 50 percent in 2007 among American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military said.

For Cameron-Ritchie “PTSD has gone up as the length of deployment has gone up, so we reported that to our leadership who has been able to reduce the length of deployment.”

The Bush administration has cut down the duration of deployment from 15 months at the start of 2007 to 12 months.

At the same time experts are examining ways of dealing with PTSD.

“We have a lot of programmes and strategies in place to minimise the effect of war. We made a commitment to raise the number of psychiatrists, social and mental health workers,” Cameron-Ritchie told AFP by telephone from her US headquarters.

An increase in the levels of divorce and suicide among soldiers are among the key concerns of the military.

A military report on the mental health of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan issued in May 2008 notes that “the suicide rate remains high on both theatres, higher than the normal rate in the army.”

The divorce rate in the US army at large rose from 2.3 percent in 2001 to 3.5 percent in 2008, according to military figures.

“Nearly 20 percent of soldiers deployed in Iraq say they have concerns or experience marital problems,” according

Specialist Shawn Woodward is among those whose marriage has collapsed.

“I’m going back to Massachusetts, to get a divorce, go back to college, start a new life,” Woodward said at the Speicher base north of Baghdad.

“There are many, many in this situation in the army. Deployments brings lots of stress on families.”

Of the nearly 4,490 US soldiers killed in Operation Freedom โ€” in and outside Iraq โ€” 862, or 19 percent were not killed by enemy fire, according to the independent website

It did not specify if they were died due to accidents, illness, suicide or friendly fire.

Some killings of Iraqi detainees by US soldiers have also been linked to PTSD such as the murder in May of Ali Mansur Mohammed who was first shot to death and then his face badly burnt by an incendiary device.

First Lieutenant Michael Behenna and Staff Sergeant Hal Warner have been both accused of premeditated murder, assault, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice in connection with Mohammed’s killing.

The pair faced pre-trial hearings separately in September and now await a decision of whether they will face a court martial for murder.

US soldiers have alleged in testimonies that Mohammed was killed to avenge two men who were killed in an attack a month earlier.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid, like you are afraid when you don’t control part of the situation,” one of Behenna’s deputies, Sergeant Milton Sanchez said.

A US officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the case was “pretty clear.”

“It’s a classic PTSD that came after the bomb attack,” the officer said.

“The soldiers have so much stress and responsibilities, and they are so young, sometimes it just pops up.”

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