Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a topic that is going to continue to be in the news as long as our country has men and women seeing live combat. This is also a topic I would like to keep closely as it impacts so many of us directly or indirectly.
Once again we are going to look at the unpleasant reality of soldiers who commit suicide. Almost one year ago I ran an article about the challenges faced at Fort Campbell and today and tomorrow I am doing so again.
It seems many who have difficulty accepting the reality of mental illness don’t have a real argument against PTSD. Possibly because our bravest and best so often are the ones suffering. Hopefully as the general population is educated about PTSD their views will soften in regards to other just as real illnesses. If you are interested the article I ran last year is located HERE. Allan
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Thousands of soldiers, their bald eagle shoulder patches lined up row upon row across the grassy field, stood at rigid attention to hear a stern message from their commander.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend addressed the 101st Airborne Division with military brusqueness: Suicides at the post had spiked after soldiers started returning home from war, and this was unacceptable.
“It’s bad for soldiers, it’s bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our Army and our country and it’s got to stop now,” he insisted. “Suicides on Fort Campbell have to stop now.”
It sounded like a typical, military response to a complicated and tragic situation. Authorities believe that 21 soldiers from Fort Campbell killed themselves in 2009, the same year that the Army reported 160 potential suicides, the most since 1980, when it started recording those deaths.
But Townsend’s martial response is not the only one. Behind the scenes, there has been a concerted effort at Fort Campbell over the past year to change the hard-charging military mindset to show no weakness, complete the mission.
There are Army doctors like Tangeneare Singh, reaching out to soldiers struggling silently from depression, trauma-related stress and other mental illnesses. There are staffers like Daina Cole, who tracks data collected from Fort Campbell’s soldiers, looking for evidence of problems.
And there are platoon sergeants like Robert Groszmann, trained to listen carefully to the soldiers under his command to detect signs of trouble. He knows that the Army must deal with the deadly issues of some of its fighting men and women, though some disdain this “touchy-feely Army stuff.”
“You have to get people to buy into this, because it really is a paradigm shift from the old Army that tells you to suck it up, rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine,” Groszmann said.
Spc. Adam Kuligowski’s problems began because he couldn’t sleep.
Last year, the 21-year-old soldier was working six days a week, analyzing intelligence that the military gathered while he was serving in Afghanistan. He was gifted at his job and loved being a part of the 101st Airborne Division, just like his father and his great uncle.
But Adam was tired and often late for work. His eyes were glassy and he was falling asleep while on duty. His room was messy and his uniform was dirty.
His father, Mike Kuligowski, attributes his son’s sleeplessness and depression to an anti-malarial medication called mefloquine that was found in his system. In rare cases, it can cause psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia, depression, hallucination and psychotic behavior.
But instead of getting medical help, Adam got push-ups. One time, he got angry, throwing his gun on the ground and telling his commander to send him to jail. He was given an Article 15 nonjudicial punishment for misconduct and assigned kitchen duty during his days off.
The final straw, his father said, was when his first sergeant threatened to take away his security clearance and take him off his intelligence job.
Adam wrote a note telling his dad, “Sorry to be a disappointment.” Then he shot himself inside a bathroom stall with his rifle.
When the Army closed their investigation into the soldier’s suicide, his father said an investigator told him that Adam’s problem was that he was unable to conform to a military lifestyle. Mike Kuligowski did receive a personal note from the general who was commanding the division at the time: “We don’t know why this happened,” he wrote.
Kuligowski was not appeased. “It reminds me that officers know absolutely nothing about the plights of the soldiers who are under their command,” he said. “What kind of leadership is that?”
But Robert Groszmann is convinced that the right kind of leadership is at hand.
Groszmann was one of the first NCOs to be trained in the Army’s new resiliency program at the University of Pennsylvania, part of the Army’s movement to provide more holistic training for today’s soldiers. The training emphasizes one-on-one conversations between leaders and soldiers about how to think positively, become more self-aware, build character and be prepared for stress.
The staff sergeant knows which soldiers in his unit are struggling. It’s the soldier who got arrested recently for a domestic situation and now faces criminal charges. Or the soldier whose father died during her deployment and left her with creditors looking for money.
It’s his job to step in and help them through these rough patches, because sometimes soldiers don’t have anyone but the Army to rely on, said Groszmann, a 30-year-old noncommissioned officer in the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.
The ingrained fear of admitting a weakness often comes from a soldier’s own peers – the tight-knit group of warriors that represent his or her military family, Groszmann said.
“That other specialist is going to eat you alive if he sees any weakness and that’s where it’s on people like me to say, ‘You guys need to lay off of him.'”