Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Five Dead As American NCO Fires On Own in Iraq

Yesterday in Camp Liberty near Baghdad a sergeant in the United States Army shot and killed five of his fellow soldiers following an altercation at a counseling center. Initial reports from Baghdad said that no other persons were hurt, but another report from the Pentagon states that another person was wounded. The shooting occurred at a stress clinic, where individuals dealing with combat stress or personal issues can go for help. Two of the dead were staff at the clinic, and the remaining three were soldiers there for treatment. The shooter was taken into custody by the military police. His identity and those of the dead have been withheld pending an investigation. At this time it remains unclear as to the relationship of the shooter to the victims, and to his motives in shooting them.

This information was taken from a report by Robert H. Reid of the Associated Press.


As told in the AP story, "fraggings" by military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are thought to be rare, though several are listed in the story. Fragging is a term that first was used during the Vietnam War, a name given to the act of deliberately killing one's fellow soldier in combat. As told in the AP story, fragging was NOT uncommon during the Vietnam War.

One of the most unnerving and haunting evenings of my life happened about 30 years ago. I was living in the Mountain West at the time, and was friends with a former Green Beret and Vietnam War vet....let's call him "Rob" for this piece.

Rob and I had a night of heavy drinking and partying. At a certain point we started telling details of our lives that few had heard before. Rod began telling me about his time in Vietnam. He became like an emotionless robot spilling out details that he needed to get off of his chest. Yes, he had been in combat, and yes he killed people. He didn't know the exact number. And there were times that prisoners were shot....and then used for target practice.

And there were fraggings. Rob didn't go into details here, but it was obvious that he had seen it, or was aware of it, or perhaps even participated in it himself. He told the story...and I believed him. It was one vet talking to another...this was no BS. I had known this guy for about a year, and there was one thing I knew about him- he wasn't a liar. We worked together, played together, and partied together. This stuff happened. And the reports of fraggings in Vietnam were true.

When I first heard of the shooting at Camp Liberty yesterday, I wasn't shocked. We keep sending are brave men and women into combat in multiple tours of duty in the Mideast- sometimes three or four times. So much is being demanded of these soldiers and marines that there has to be a breaking point at some time. We, as a nation, have demanded too much from too few, for way too long. We have tough economic times at home, but it pales in comparison to what our troops encounter everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our troops in the Middle East know of true hardship and sacrifice- for the most part, most of us in this country do not. Losing money in your 401 K doesn't compare with risking losing a limb or your life every second of everyday for a year or more...and then having to do it again.

The best of men and women sometimes do the worst of things while dealing with stress in their lives. How many husbands have slapped or humiliated their wives in a fit of anger? Or how many mothers have lost control and started shaking their infants out of frustration, sometimes with tragic results? Imagine a soldier or a marine dealing with combat stress everyday- there has got to be a tipping point.

Maybe the shooting yesterday was an isolated incident. Hopefully that is the case. But what about the cases of "friendly fire" that we hear of that take the lives of our troops? Could there have been "fragging" in some of those cases that have never been reported, or covered up? Obviously our military medical personnel can't do an autopsy and forensic tests on each combat death...only investigation can determine whether or not a friendly fire incident was a tragic accident, or if indeed there was deadly intent.

I'm saddened by this story...but even more saddened by the fact that our military men and women have been put in the position they are in for far too long, and in the case of those in Iraq, for all of the wrong reasons.

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