Carson Soldiers Say Iraq Horrors Led to Crimes

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the Associated Press

Carson Soldiers Say Iraq Horrors Led to Crimes

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Soldiers from an Army unit that had 10
infantrymen accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter after
returning to civilian life described a breakdown in discipline during
their Iraq deployment in which troops murdered civilians, a newspaper
reported Sunday.

Some Fort Carson, Colo.-based soldiers have had
trouble adjusting to life back in the United States, saying they
refused to seek help, or were belittled or punished for seeking help.
Others say they were ignored by their commanders, or coped through drug
and alcohol abuse before they allegedly committed crimes, The Gazette
of Colorado Springs said.

The
Gazette based its report on months of interviews with soldiers and
their families, medical and military records, court documents and
photographs.

Several soldiers said unit discipline deteriorated while in Iraq.

"Toward
the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated," said Daniel Freeman.
"You came too close, we lit you up. You didn't stop, we ran your car
over with the Bradley," an armored fighting vehicle.

With each
roadside bombing, soldiers would fire in all directions "and just light
the whole area up," said Anthony Marquez, a friend of Freeman in the
1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. "If anyone was around, that was
their fault. We smoked 'em."

Taxi drivers got shot for no reason,
and others were dropped off bridges after interrogations, said Marcus
Mifflin, who was eventually discharged with post traumatic stress
syndrome.

"You didn't get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong," he said.

Soldiers
interviewed by The Gazette cited lengthy deployments, being sent back
into battle after surviving war injuries that would have been fatal in
previous conflicts, and engaging in some of the bloodiest combat in
Iraq. The soldiers describing those experiences were part of the
3,500-soldier unit now called the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade
Combat Team.

Since 2005, some brigade soldiers also have been
involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic
violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

The unit
was deployed for a year to Iraq's Sunni Triangle in September 2004.
Sixty-four unit soldiers were killed and more than 400 wounded - about
double the average for Army brigades in Iraq, according to Fort Carson.
In 2007, the unit served a bloody 15-month mission in Baghdad. It's
currently deployed to the Khyber Pass region in Afghanistan.

Marquez
was the first in his brigade to kill someone after an Iraq tour. In
2006, he used a stun gun to shock a drug dealer in Widefield, Colo., in
a dispute over a marijuana sale, then shot and killed him.

Marquez's
mother, Teresa Hernandez, warned Marquez's sergeant at Fort Carson her
son was showing signs of violent behavior, abusing alcohol and pain
pills and carrying a gun.

"I told them he was a walking time bomb," she said.

Hernandez said the sergeant later taunted Marquez about her phone call.

"If
I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,"
Marquez told The Gazette in the Bent County Correctional Facility,
where he is serving a 30-year prison term. "But after Iraq, it was just
natural."

The Army trains soldiers to be that way, said Kenneth
Eastridge, an infantry specialist serving 10 years for accessory to
murder.

"The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct:
Kill everybody, kill everybody," he said. "And you do. Then they just
think you can just come home and turn it off."

Both soldiers were
wounded, sent back into action and saw friends and officers killed in
their first deployment. On numerous occasions, explosions shredded the
bodies of civilians, others were slain in sectarian violence - and the
unit had to bag the bodies.

"Guys with drill bits in their eyes," Eastridge said. "Guys with nails in their heads."

Last week, the Army released a study of soldiers at Fort Carson
that found that the trauma of fierce combat and soldier refusals or
obstacles to seeking mental health care may have helped drive some to
violence at home. It said more study is needed.

While most unit soldiers coped post-deployment, a handful went on to kill back home in Colorado.

Many returning soldiers did seek counseling.

"We're
used to seeing people who are depressed and want to hurt themselves.
We're trained to deal with that," said Davida Hoffman, director of the
privately operated First Choice Counseling Center in Colorado Springs.
"But these soldiers were depressed and saying, ‘I've got this anger, I
want to hurt somebody.' We weren't accustomed to that."

At Fort
Carson, Eastridge and other soldiers said they lied during an Army
screening about their deployment that was designed to detect potential
behavioral problems.

Sergeants sometimes refused to let soldiers
get PTSD help or taunted them, said Andrew Pogany, a former Fort Carson
special forces sergeant who investigates complaints for the advocacy
group Veterans for America.

Soldier John Needham described a
number of alleged crimes in a December 2007 letter to the Inspector
General's Office of Fort Carson. In the letter, obtained by The
Gazette, Needham said that a sergeant shot a boy riding a bicycle down
the street for no reason.

Another sergeant shot a man in the head
while questioning him, lashed the man's body to his Humvee and drove
around the neighborhood. Needham also claimed sergeants removed
victims' brains.

The Army's criminal investigation division interviewed unit soldiers and said it couldn't substantiate the allegations.

The Army has declared soldiers' mental health a top priority.

"When
we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do
about it. That is what we are trying to do here," said Maj. Gen. Mark
Graham, Fort Carson's commander. "There is a culture and a stigma that
needs to change."

Fort Carson officers are trained to help troops
showing stress signs, and the base has doubled its number of
behavioral-health counselors. Soldiers seeing an Army doctor for any
reason undergo a mental health evaluation.

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