Via Dana @ The Beav (who wishes our so-called liberal media would also have the courage to highlight the ugly truth re: what Canadian soldiers are facing in Afghanistan), Elizabeth Rubin in today’s New York Times Magazine:
One full-moon night I was sitting outside a sandbag-reinforced hut with Kearney when a young sergeant stepped out hauling the garbage. He looked around at the illuminated mountains, the dust, the rocks, the garbage bin. The monkeys were screeching. “I hate this country!” he shouted. Then he smiled and walked back into the hut. “He’s on medication,” Kearney said quietly to me.
Then another soldier walked by and shouted, “Hey, I’m with you, sir!” and Kearney said to me, “Prozac. Serious P.T.S.D. from last tour.” Another one popped out of the HQ cursing and muttering. “Medicated,” Kearney said. “Last tour, if you didn’t give him information, he’d burn down your house. He killed so many people. He’s checked out.”
As I went to get some hot chocolate in the dining tent, the peaceful night was shattered by mortars, rockets and machine-gun fire banging and bursting around us. It was a coordinated attack on all the fire bases. It didn’t take long to understand why so many soldiers were taking antidepressants. The soldiers were on a 15-month tour that included just 18 days off. Many of them were “stop-lossed,” meaning their contracts were extended because the army is stretched so thin. You are not allowed to refuse these extensions. And they felt eclipsed by Iraq. As Sgt. Erick Gallardo put it: “We don’t get supplies, assets. We scrounge for everything and live a lot more rugged. But we know the war is here. We got unfinished business.”
And, surprise, surprise, the overworked and over-medicated soldiers in question are apparently this close to going all My Lai on the Korengal Valley:
Just before I left, Kearney told me his biggest struggle would be holding his guys in check. “I’ve got too many geeking out, wanting to go off the deep end and kill people,” he said. One of his lieutenants wanted to shoot every Afghan in the face. Kearney shook his head. He wished he could buy 20 goats and let the boys beat and burn them and let loose their rage. He tried to tell them the restraints were a product of their success — that there was an Afghan government with its own rules. “I’m balancing plates on my goddamn nose is what I’m doing,” he said. “All it’s gonna take is for one of these guys to snap.”
Is that the march of Freedom™ I hear tramp-tramping over someone’s fragile psyche?
Related: Tara McKelvey on the dearth of effective mental health care available to US military veterans suffering from PTSD. As one veteran puts it, “I felt like I was dealing with a M-A-S-H episode. There is this comedy of errors, and it culminates with this guy going home and blowing his brains out. And they say, ‘Oh, well, he was depressed.”
One wonders if Iraqis and Afghans are “depressed”, too.
Update: Another dispatch from the Korengal Valley by Sebastian Junger, which takes place just before the events chronicled by Rubin.