The killing of five vets will sadly bring
PTSD to the surface... God Bless All Involved!
Where does the fault rest...
BAGHDAD – The U.S. miliary command launched an investigation Tuesday into whether
it offers adequate mental health care to its soldiers, a day after a sergeant finishing up his third tour of Iraq allegedly
shot and killed five comrades at a clinic on a U.S. base.
Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, of Sherman, Texas,
was taken into custody outside a mental health clinic at Camp Liberty following Monday's shooting and charged with five counts
of murder and one of aggravated assault, Maj. Gen. David Perkins said.
The case, the deadliest of the war involving
soldier-on-soldier violence, has cast a spotlight on combat stress and emotional problems resulting from frequent deployments
to battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up to one-fifth of the more than 1.7 million
who have served in the two conflicts are believed to have symptoms of anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. Some
studies show that about half of those who need help do not seek it.
Russell's father said his son, who joined
the Army in 1994 after a divorce and
minor scrapes with the law, felt poorly treated at the stress center. He said he hopes "we find he snapped because of the
pressure. He wasn't a mean person."
In Baghdad, Perkins told reporters that
Russell, a communications specialist assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion from Bamberg, Germany, was sent to the mental
health clinic by his superiors, presumably because of concern over his emotional state.
He said the commander had ordered Russell's
weapon taken away from him but somehow he got a new weapon, entered the clinic and opened fire.
Perkins declined to give a detailed account
of the shooting, saying the matter was under investigation.
However, a Pentagon official said in Washington that Russell had been escorted to the clinic,
but once inside argued with the staff and was asked to leave.
After he drove away, Russell apparently
seized his escort's weapon and returned to the clinic, the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation
The clinic was operated by the 55th Medical
Company, a Reserve unit headquartered in Indianapolis. Two of the victims were officers assigned to the clinic and the three
others were enlisted soldiers, Perkins said.
The Pentagon identified Cmdr. Charles Springle,
52, of Wilmington, North Carolina, as one of the victims of the shooting. The mother of Michael Edward Yates Jr. said two
men from the Army came to her Federalsburg, Maryland, home early Tuesday to tell say her 19-year-old son was killed.
In addition to the ongoing criminal investigation,
Perkins said the U.S. command had opened a formal inquiry into the "general availability" of health care for American service
personnel in Iraq, "specifically the
policies and procedures surrounding behavioral health services."
He gave no further details and did not say
how the investigation was being conducted.
The U.S. military has become increasingly
concerned about mental health in the ranks following a steady rise in suicides — which the Army says have increased
worldwide from at least 102 in 2006 to 140 last year. As of April, the Army had reported at least 48 suicides.
Thousands of other veterans are believed
to suffer flashbacks, nightmares or fits of anger as they attempt to readjust to civilian life.
"One thing if we've learned from this war,
we learned from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the previous wars, is not all injuries are physical," said Maj. Gen. Daniel
P. Bolger, commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
In Sherman, Wilburn Russell, 73, said he
believes counselors in the military stress center "broke" his son before the shootings.
The younger Russell was six weeks away from
completing his third tour in Iraq before Monday's shootings, the father told reporters Tuesday in front of the two-story suburban
home his son is buying with his wife.
Wilburn Russell said his son was treated
poorly at the military stress center. He said his son had e-mailed his wife, calling two recent days the worst in his life.
"I hate what that boy did," the elder Russell
said. "He thought it was justified. That's never a solution."
He said his son felt like "his life was
over as far as he was concerned. He lived for the military."
John Russell began his active military service
after a divorce and a series of minor criminal scrapes in his hometown, according to records in Grayson County, Texas.
His ex-wife obtained a temporary restraining
order against him and an order withholding earnings for child support. In February 1993, a month after the divorce decree
was issued, Russell was charged with misdemeanor assault but the matter was dropped, the records show.
A Pentagon official said Russell previously
served two one-year tours of duty in Iraq, one from April 2003 and another beginning November 2005. The official spoke on
condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
Russell, who had also served in the Balkans,
was due to leave Iraq within weeks, he confirmed. During his current tour, Russell was assigned to a command in charge of
security south of Baghdad.
To cope with the stress, the Army has set
up clinics on most major bases in Iraq, staffing them with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and other specialists.
Commanders, chaplains and others in leadership
positions are also trained to watch for signs of stress and refer soldiers to mental health professionals if needed.
However, some officials believe soldiers
are reluctant to take advantage of the facilities because of the stigma attached to counseling in a military culture that
promotes mental and physical toughness.
Last November, Army Secretary Pete Geren
said combating the stigma "is a challenge" throughout American society, especially in the Army "where we have a premium on
strength, physically, mentally, emotionally."
However, Bolger said the command was encouraging
soldiers to take advantage of clinics if they feel under stress.
"We've encouraged people to do self-referral,"
Bolger said. "We've actually encouraged them to say, `hey, we're not going to hold this against you, we'd rather have you
self-refer ... than have an incident that would be tragic."
Officials noted, however, that procedures
had been followed in the Russell case, with the commander removing his weapon and referring him to mental health professionals.
Associated Press Writers Paul Schemm in
Baghdad, Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Schuyler Dixon in Sherman, Texas, and Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this
Accused soldier's father says son 'broke'
SHERMAN, Texas – The Army sergeant accused
of killing five fellow soldiers in Iraq was typically not a violent person, but counselors "broke" him before the gunfire
erupted in a military stress center, his father said Tuesday. Wilburn Russell, 73, told reporters that his son, Sgt. John
M. Russell, was treated poorly at the stress center and had e-mailed his wife calling two recent days the worst in his life.
"I hate what that boy did," said the elder Russell, speaking in front of
the two-story suburban home his son is buying with his wife. "He thought it was justified. That's never a solution."
The 44-year-old soldier has been charged with murder and aggravated assault
in the Baghdad slayings Monday, which his father said came just weeks
before the end of his third tour of duty in Iraq.
His father said the younger Russell, an electronics technician, was at the
stress center to transition out of active duty. He said his son was
undergoing stressful mental tests that he didn't understand were merely tests, "so they broke him."
"His life was over as far as he was concerned. He lived for the military,"
the elder Russell said. "We're sorry for the families, too. It shouldn't have happened."
The soldier's son, John M. Russell II, said Tuesday that he has communicated
with his father by e-mail regularly. In the last message he received from him, on April 25, his father sounded normal and
planned to be back in Texas to visit in July.
"He's not a violent person," he said. "For this to happen, it had to be
something going on that the Army's not telling us about."
Sgt. Russell grew up in rural Grayson County and graduated from high school
in 1985. He entered the Army National Guard in 1988 and served until going on active duty in 1994.
He lives with his wife in Germany, where he's been for the better part of the past 10 to 15 years but comes home a couple times a year, his
Russell's ex-wife filed for divorce in 1991 and obtained a temporary restraining
order against him, alleging in the petition that he committed "acts of family violence."
The petition also cited an alleged incident in which he had a confrontation
with Denise Russell's mother.
"During this time, respondent physically attacked my mother, age 58, hitting
her on the shoulders and about the head," a petition affidavit stated.
There was no response Tuesday to a telephone call and a visit to Russell's
In 1993, a month after the divorce decree was issued, Russell was charged
with misdemeanor assault but the matter was dropped, records show.
Jack McGowen, listed as Russell's attorney for the divorce as well as the
threat case, said Tuesday he can't recall either matter.
Associated Press writers Danny Robbins and Jeff Carlton in Dallas, Pauline
Jelinek in Washington and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.