Stories from Soldiers in Iraq

The article “Iraq Comes Home” includes several first-hand accounts from US soldiers that returned from Iraq. It offers a perspective that our mainstream media usually filters out. I encourage you to read it, but be sure to have some tissue nearby.

The article begins with some 2004 statistics (no idea if they’re still current):

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004, 86 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed there. Some 77 percent reported shooting at the enemy; 75 percent reported seeing women or children in imminent peril and being unable to help. Fifty-one percent reported handling or uncovering human remains; 28 percent were responsible for the death of a noncombatant. One in five Iraq veterans return home seriously impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most of the article consists of personal stories from soldiers who’ve returned from Iraq. Here are a few excerpts.

Michael Goss:

I have PTSD. I know when I got it — the night I killed an 8-year-old girl. Her family was trying to cross a checkpoint. We’d just shot three guys who’d tried to run a checkpoint. And during that mess, they were just trying to get through to get away from it all. And we ended up shooting all them, too. It was a family of six. The only one that survived was a 13-month-old and her mother. And the worst part about it all was that where I shot my bullets, when I went to see what I’d shot at, there was an 8-year-old girl there. I tried my best to bring her back to life, but there was no use. But that’s what triggered my depression.

Sue Randolph:

The military says that they’re giving exit counseling and reintegration. What they’re calling reentry counseling, in my experience, was, “Don’t drink and drive. Pay your bills on time. Don’t beat your spouse. Don’t kick your dog.” All of these things that once you’ve reached a certain age, you’re supposed to know. None of it is, “If you have discomfort with dealing with crowds, if you don’t feel comfortable with your spouse, if you can’t sleep in a bed, if you don’t want to drive down the road because you think everything is a bomb, here’s what to do.” No psychological or de-stress counseling is involved in this reintegration to garrison. And that’s just if you’re staying in the Army. If you’re leaving the Army, you get, “Here’s how to write a resume.”

If you want to argue that there’s a propaganda element to virtually anything written about the war these days, I won’t disagree with you.

The article closes with some challenging questions:

We have no comprehension of the psychological cost of this war. I know kids in Iraq who killed themselves. I know kids that got killed. OK, that’s apparently the price of doing business. But multiply me by 2 million. If I’m fairly high-functioning, what about the ones that aren’t? They’re going back to small-town America, and their families aren’t going to know what to do with them. It’s like, what do we do with Johnny now?

Whether the war ends sooner or later, most of these soldiers will eventually return home. And how will they be treated when that happens?

I think it’s a mistake for them to be treated as heroes or villains. Such polarities imply conscious decision-making, but their stories frequently reveal a descent away from conscious thought. In war one’s thoughts become reactive instead of proactive. “Do as you’re told” replaces “think for yourself.” Survive replaces live.

Once you train someone to react unconsciously — to kill or be killed — how then do you restore that person to a higher state of consciousness? On a large scale, these people will be reintegrated through osmosis. The typical level of American consciousness won’t be of much help to them; it’s what they’re already being offered, and they reject it as useless.

The only practical way to help such people is to strive to be a more conscious person yourself, such that you positively influence everyone around you. For every soldier whose daily reality has become, “Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6,” we need others whose daily reality is rooted in forgiveness, acceptance, and gratitude.

Whatever the daily reality of the U.S. soldiers, however, there will be far greater challenges in store for the Iraqis. This is obvious, but it’s also something we cannot ignore. Whenever I see a bumper sticker that says, “Support our troops,” I substitute the thought, “Support our consciousness.” No one on this planet is undeserving of support.