Snapping under stress

Written by Eric on May 14, 2009 in: Uncategorized |

So what will the Army do with Sgt. John M. Russell, accused of killing five fellow soldiers last week at a military stress clinic in Baghdad?
Or, more to the point, what should it do?
Five deployments into combat zones created more stress than Russell could handle, his family’s chaplain told me in a phone conversation from Germany.
“If this individual could have had some objective way of measuring the stress he was un-der, the outcome would have been different,” Phil Davis said in a telephone interview from the big Army base in Bamberg, Germany. “And that’s why I say to his wife and everyone else that this was a very avoidable tragedy.”
Now Russell has been charged with five counts of murder.
According to the Army Times, Russell, of Sherman, Texas, was scheduled to return home in three months from his third tour of duty in Iraq.
He previously was deployed for six months in 1996 to Serbia and for seven months in 1998 to Bosnia.
“When the full story comes out, we’ll see that he was just a normal guy put into an abnor-mal situation,” Davis told me.
The Army has initiated an AR 15-6 investigation to determine whether there are adequate mental health care resources available in Iraq, the Army Times reported.
“From all accounts, he was not showing any signs of stress (before his last deployment),” Davis said. “His family is a happy family, and everything had been going well.
“The Army inquiry is under way because — from all accounts — there was no indication of the tragedy about to happen.”
Davis said stress can disorient a deployed service member’s mind, increasing the perceived magnitude of problems.
“It’s a pretty accurate guess that he felt threatened by someone and that his thought proc-ess made the unreal real,” Davis said. “As he played and replayed the requirements he had in a place where he was not being treated well, it became more and more intolerable.
“He had no way of putting a perspective on it, (or) the tools he needed to distance himself from those problems,” Davis said. “They became a personal affront to him.”
Davis is working with soldiers at Bamberg to provide those tools.
One of them is the mind-body bridging technique advocated by Stanley Block in his book, “Come to Your Senses.” Davis worked with Block at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
One aspect of that technique is using the senses — listening, smelling, seeing and touching your environment instead of wrestling with your thoughts.
A second aspect is accepting the things that a person can’t change and consciously lower-ing expectations of what to expect in certain situations.
Davis said he is seeking a grant that will allow military health professionals to create a mental health database at Bamberg. The database will show the prevalence of combat-induced disorders and the success of various therapies in treating them.
But the final question is ultimately the first: What should the Army do with Russell? Should he be locked away for murder by a military system that trains its members to kill? Or should he be treated for the emotional disorders that resulted from five tours of duty in combat zones?
You know the answer as well as I do: treatment.