April 21, 2014

Iraq Did Not Create the Fort Hood Shooter

There is an increasingly troubling narrative that essentially argues that service in Iraq and Afghanistan explains the criminal behavior at Fort Hood. This is an over simplification of most veterans with PTSD who will never commit a crime, but moreover a profound misunderstanding of the nature of counterinsurgency in Iraq. By doctrine we were deescalators of violence not perpetuators and we most often recognized that our best weapons "did not shoot." Any Iraq or Afghanistan veteran will tell you, if you take a couple of minutes to talk to them from time to time, that most tense situations in combat were dangerous situations caused by unidentified enemies and US forces refrained engagement because of a lack of positive identification. Units that departed from this course committed crimes, and were the exception.

The most tense moment for me occurred in just this way, and I have been hesitant to publicly discuss the night of my worst concussion because the situation got heated and there was some understandable personal tensions going on, though only momentary, and that I may seem like I am criticizing other people. That is not the case, I am going to describe an awful situation when everyone had the right intentions, and calmer heads prevailed. This will emphasize my roll because of the limits of my own memory, but I will assure that just as many or more times other soldiers, non commissioned officers of superiors played similar roles. You might assume the situation to be exceptional, but I think that day gets to the marrow of the US Army's, at company level, propensity to deescalate violence rather than perpetuate it in Iraq. The argument that we are more violent is a profound misunderstanding of what we did in Iraq, and more often we chose non violence. Anyone using our war as an excuse is exploiting a popular idea base on very little material evidence.

My worst of moment of Iraq was after a suicide bombing, but the second worse occurred after and IED blew up and convoy of Bradley's while my platoon was set in over-watch to prevent just such an attack. I have not now, nor will I ever feel like a greater failure, than watching a piece of dirt that I had personally been observing for six hours with multiple soldiers pulling rotations blow up right in front of me. In the moment I could not even see it. The force of the blast was faster than my brain's ability to process the image and I was thrown down a stairwell by over pressure. I fell face down and I came to face up, as if it were glitch in the matrix. It could not have been a second but I lost some consciousness. I was dizzy, very confused, but a Lieutenant with eyes on IED. The platoon of Bradley's was from another battalion passing through our area so they had no idea that Americans were occupying our building and mechanized and airborne units use different night optics. Concussed or not we could all die if we did not immediately mark our position in every way possible. Their fire discipline saved our lives, but we we would be tested the same way very quickly.

Local Iraqi Army or Policemen ran to to occupy a road block to the north of the attack, but their winter cloths made them hard to identify. Balaclavas and no helmets made friendly force identification nearly impossible, and created very tense moment with a few of my soldiers fearing an insurgent attack. Simultaneously on my radio, my company commander was very unhappy that bomb blew up right in may face. Why wouldn't he be. I certainly was not happy about it and to this day I second guess myself about that night. So while dealing with dizziness, disorientation and terrible situation I was simultaneously getting my ass chewed and preventing soldiers who wanted to fire on what they thought was a very legitimate threat to our security. These soldier were woken from sleep by bomb less that 50 meters away, so anger was par for the course, but the enemy did not usually sit in the middle of the street and gaggle up like Iraq soldiers so I wanted to take the time for confirmation. Everyone was angry from the lowest private to the battalion commander and tempers were hotter than they should have been on the radio, mine included. Not hotter than human beings woken up by a bomb at 4 AM though. However, despite all of anger and frustration everyone's actions were exemplary. My soldiers wanted to fire, but headed orders, I kept command and control until my platoon sergeant got on top of things and until a my commander was on the ground. After they were on top of it I actually put microphone up because I was getting really loopy and having trouble grasping the basic geographic layout.

People say that no one trains you for days like that, but the truth is I was trained precisely for days like that. My service in Iraq was more often events when I was attacked and had no clear enemy to engage so I waited for better opportunity rather than risking the lives of innocent people. So I cannot by any stretch of the imagination understand how Iraq, and the war I fought could be a source of anything, but level headed others centered decision making under the most adverse, frustrating and enraging situations. Frankly I am sick and tired of being compared to criminals because I have PTSD from all the days that I made the emotionally draining, but the ultimately least violent decisions only to be characterized as some non thinking killer with no human agency or power over my situation in Iraq and its aftermath. I was then and I am now, like the vast majority of other veterans, making the best of a far from ideal situation, and I am beyond frustrated that every-time another mass murder happens all people with mental illnesses are lumped together with an incredible minority of violent criminals. Especially in the wake of war of occupation and counterinsurgency that stressed nonviolent outcomes whenever they could be attained.