The Wounded Platoon
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: In the past five years, Fort Carson, Colorado, has seen 36 of its soldiers commit suicide.
RYAN KREBBS: I thought that my time in this place was over and I didn't want to live anymore.
ANNOUNCER: Seventeen have been charged or convicted of murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter.
PROSECUTOR: The defendant pulled out the .357 Magnum and fired one shot.
ANNOUNCER: What happened in Iraq?
JOSE BARCO, Gunner, Third Platoon: We were trigger-happy.
BRUCE BASTIEN: There was a whole bunch of people who killed people that they weren't supposed to.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: Looking back on it, it looked like I was going crazy. And I just wonder how no one could see that.
ANNOUNCER: What happened when they came home?
Sgt. HECTOR RODRIGUEZ, Squad Leader, Third Platoon: They still had Iraq inside of them.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: You just feel like everybody's against you. And if you don't know them, they're your enemy.
ROBERT ALVAREZ, Psychotherapist, Colorado Springs: Are we going to have more murders, more suicides, more crime? The answer to that is probably yes.
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE investigates the invisible wounds of war.
ROBERT UDERO, Therapist: We give up part of our morality to go to war. It allows us to survive. It allows us to kill.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, The Wounded Platoon.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I didn't even want to come home. You just felt naked and totally vulnerable unless you were armed. Like, I mean, we all carried guns. There would be a huge group of us and everyone in the group would have a gun.
NARRATOR: In November 2007, four soldiers back from Iraq went out drinking.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I was a real bad alcoholic. I spent all my savings my first month back just drinking.
NARRATOR: They had all served together in Baghdad during the surge.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I, like- I was having, like, a total mental breakdown. I lost control.
NARRATOR: By the next morning, one of them was dead. Kevin Shields had been shot three times at point-blank range and left by the side of the road. Two of his fellow soldiers would be convicted of conspiring to murder him. The other, a decorated infantry gunner, would be found guilty of accessory to murder.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I decided to do some things I shouldn't have been doing, and it all just came tumbling down like a house of cards, one thing after another. I got locked up, and I've been here ever since.
[Kit Carson Correctional Facility Burlington, Colorado]
NARRATOR: Kenny Eastridge is now two years into a 10-year prison sentence. He once had a promising military career ahead of him. From a poor Kentucky background, Eastridge had joined the infantry at the age of 19 and excelled as a soldier.
[Filmed by members of Eastridge's platoon]
SOLDIER: Hey good job, Eastridge. Good soldier. Good guy. Congratulations on everything. You had a hell of a last couple of months.
NARRATOR: He was mentored by a charismatic and experienced sergeant, Sean Huey.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: He was kind of like a father figure to us. He saw potential in me and he wanted me to be a soldier, and he knew I could do it.
NARRATOR: Huey was the most popular sergeant in his platoon, especially with the lower ranks.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: He was a good guy. He was one of those guys that, like- he always was doing something crazy. Everybody was laughing at him. When he was our squad leader, we were the best squad in the battalion.
NARRATOR: Huey and Eastridge were both members of Third Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st battalion, 506th infantry, the regiment known as the "Band of Brothers." In Iraq, the 42 men of Third Platoon won a reputation as a brave and lethal team.
Stationed in the desert in the heart of the Sunni triangle, their job was to patrol the highway every day, to draw out insurgent attacks and find improvised explosive devices, IEDs. The soldiers called their mission "Mad Max."
JOSE BARCO, Gunner, Third Platoon: All we do at Mad Max, we just run up and down this highway, right? And this highway is, like- like, it's dangerous. It's, like, IEDs everywhere on this highway. So we just run around waiting to get hit, and then we react to the contact, you know?
[Filmed by members of Eastridge's platoon]
SOLDIER: Damn! Shit!
SOLDIER: Big IED!
NARRATOR: In a year, Third Platoon's battalion encountered more than a thousand roadside bombs. They captured 1,800 Iraqis and sent 500 to the prison at Abu Ghraib. Two months into its tour, the platoon suffered its first death.
The soldiers who were there that day are now scattered across the United States. After five years, they are still haunted by what happened.
[Parker, Colorado 2009]
RYAN KREBBS: November 11th, 2004. That was horrible, the worst day of my life. I still think about that shit every single day.
NARRATOR: Ryan Krebbs, nicknamed "Doc," was Third Platoon's combat medic.
RYAN KREBBS: Yeah, I just want, like, vines, and like, overgrowth drooping off the stars and-
TATOOIST: Were you thinking more like jungly or more like ivy or-
NARRATOR: He is now in the process of retiring from the Army.
RYAN KREBBS: Ivy.
NARRATOR: Krebbs was first to the scene when a car bomb plowed into a platoon checkpoint on Veterans Day, 2004.
RYAN KREBBS: I'm still having nightmares, flashbacks. There's nothing but smoke and dust everywhere. And I remember looking over to the left and seeing two kids completely just torn apart. And I kept running through the smoke, and the first guy I saw was, you know, Sergeant Huey, covered in blood. His uniform was just covered in blood. And that's about all I remember of that incident.
NARRATOR: Kenny Eastridge was yards away from the blast.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: It was pretty terrible. There was a few of us that were just really close to Sergeant Huey. I remember seeing lots of body parts laying down the alley. When we first ran up, I seen Sergeant Huey laying on the ground. He was doing, like, a dead fish thing, like, where he's gasping for air. And he was pale. He was real pale. And I remember my buddy, Barco, the whole front end of the car blew off and pinned him against a concrete wall.
NARRATOR: Jose Barco is now serving time in prison. On that day five years ago, fellow soldiers remember him lifting the wreckage of a car and freeing two other soldiers. He was on fire at the time. The wounded were loaded onto a truck.
JOSE BARCO: There was people everywhere in this vehicle. And they were all hurt. And they were all yelling and crying and screaming in agony and that. I was quiet, for the most part. I didn't feel any pain. And then when I heard all that sunk in- well, hold up. I'm hurt, too. And then as soon as I looked down, I saw I was hurt. The pain just, like, crept up on me, and then I started screaming, too.
NARRATOR: Seven soldiers from Third Platoon were badly wounded. Sergeant Huey was in the worst shape. The medic, Doc Krebbs, tried to save his life, but shrapnel had severed a major artery.
RYAN KREBBS: People don't die like they die in the movies. They turn very pale. And when they actually do die, there's, like, a look in their eyes. You can tell that there's nothing behind their eyes anymore. It's just a dead look.
NARRATOR: The bomb that killed Huey devastated the soldiers of Third Platoon. Two experienced sergeants were sent home to recover from their injuries. Jose Barco was evacuated to a special burn unit in Texas. Kenny Eastridge had lost a leader who believed in him.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I remember, like, the next day after we lost him, we had to go right back out. You know, you still have to do your job, even if your buddy dies. I was wishing that somebody would get out of line. I was, like, "I will just destroy everything."
NARRATOR: Eastridge got his wish. After Huey's death, the war escalated. The soldiers of Third Platoon say their battalion killed more than 700 insurgents. But it came at a cost. By the end of the tour, Third Platoon had suffered more casualties than any other in their company.
In the summer of 2005, after a year in Iraq, Third Platoon came back to the United States. Their new home was Fort Carson, on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. Since the start of the Iraq war, this city has experienced an unprecedented murder spree. In the last five years, 14 Fort Carson soldiers have been charged or convicted in 13 murders and manslaughters.
On Friday nights, downtown is full of soldiers from Fort Carson, some trying to forget what they've experienced, others celebrating their homecoming. Hector Rodriguez was the most experienced sergeant in Third Platoon. As the men returned from their first tour, he was worried that his younger soldiers would get into trouble.
Sgt. HECTOR RODRIGUEZ, Squad Leader, Third Platoon: I gave them a speech before we came back, and I said, "Look, guys, you've been on deployment for a year, and that's pretty much like caging a wild animal and letting it go free." They still had Iraq inside of them, and I think a lot of that kind of caused problems for them because they couldn't let it go.
NARRATOR: The soldiers of Third Platoon hit the bars of Colorado Springs as soon as they got home.
RYAN KREBBS: In the first six months, you know, you're just happy to be home. And then after that six months, problems started- depression, anxiety, paranoia, getting the feeling that you're in Iraq all over again, seeing people that you know died in Iraq in crowds, constantly checking the rooftops as you're walking down the street. Oh, man!
[www.pbs.org: What's known about PTSD]
NARRATOR: Since 2002, the number of Fort Carson soldiers diagnosed each year with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has risen from 26 to 1,120, a rise of over 4,000 percent.
[Fort Carson Training Grounds]
TRAINER: Be aggressive. When you make contact, tear it up. Action and violence is what we're here to do, right? OK.
NARRATOR: In 2005, the leadership at Fort Carson wasn't prepared for the epidemic of psychological problems amongst its troops. All returning soldiers were asked if anything was troubling them from their time in combat, but many in Third Platoon say they feared they would be ridiculed if they owned up to emotional problems.
RYAN KREBBS: It just seemed like if you came forward at Fort Carson, you were going to take it in the ass. It was very easy to convince people that I didn't need help. Like, all I had to do was come in and say, you know, "I'm fine, need to move on," and they seemed to accept that and say, "OK, you're good to go. See you later."
NARRATOR: The commander of Third Platoon's battalion acknowledges that stigma within the Army was a barrier for those who needed help.
Col. DAVID CLARK (Ret.), Commander, 1/506 Infantry: I think that it is a natural thing for a man who's a soldier, who's a combat veteran, to think in his mind, "If I'm having a problem that indicates that I have a weakness, that will reflect poorly on me." It's- you know, it's just it's- it's- I think that's all perfectly natural. I don't think there's anything weird about that. Is it a stigma, and is it real? Yes. Absolutely. And we need to get over that. Will we ever? Probably not.
NARRATOR: Almost all the soldiers of Third Platoon told Fort Carson doctors that they didn't need help. But off duty, many of them were seeking solace elsewhere. David Nash was just 19 when he arrived at Fort Carson. Two months later, he was a cocaine addict.
[www.pbs.org: Read each soldier's story]
DAVID NASH: When we first come home to Colorado, I slept with a .45 in my ceiling and a knife right next to the .45. I know of me and a few other people that were just, like, "I'll be damned if I'm going to be- if I survive a year in Iraq and become a victim, you know, of some gangster or wannabe gangster on the streets," you know? It's, like, if the mujaheddin can't get me, then I'm damn sure ain't going to let no gangster get me, you know? It's an impossibility.
NARRATOR: In Iraq, David Nash was known as the platoon slacker. He was notorious for being asleep when he should have been on a mission. But he was an excellent marksman, and his superiors thought he had the potential to be a good soldier. That all changed when he came home to Fort Carson. He says he felt paranoid and unsafe, and the only thing that calmed him down was cocaine.
DAVID NASH: My problem was, at that point in time, that's all I wanted to do was drugs. I didn't care about nothing anymore. They give you the sense of, like, everything's peaceful, you know? So if your mind was wandering before and you had trouble shutting it off, all of a sudden, oddly enough, you know, you're giddy as all hell whenever you snort cocaine, but at the same time, you're just kind of, like, "Oh, everything's great," you know?
NARRATOR: The number of Fort Carson soldiers failing drug tests rose by 3,000 percent in the first three years of the Iraq War.
ROBERT ALVAREZ, Psychotherapist, Colorado Springs: I think a lot of soldiers came back and they were trying to suppress the PTSD. And one of the ways you suppress it is by doing cocaine, doing alcohol, doing illegal drugs, trying to distract your mind from dealing with the symptoms of PTSD.
NARRATOR: Robert Alvarez is a Marine veteran and a psychotherapist. He has treated many Fort Carson soldiers who've had drug problems after their tours of duty.
ROBERT ALVAREZ: We ought to be asking why and we need to keep asking them why until we get to the root cause of why- you know, not because "I like it," not because "I'm addicted to it," not because it's available, but because "I have a problem with dealing with life since I come back from this war. I have problems with nightmares. I have problems with friends. I have problems with my job. And so when I go to cocaine, I don't have problems anymore."
NARRATOR: Nash failed two Army drug tests. He says he then asked his commanders for help dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
DAVID NASH: That's when I come to the conclusion that maybe I had some sort of a problem, you know, because I couldn't kick it on my own. I was trying and I couldn't. And I told them, I said, "Look here, I think I got a problem." And they said, "Well, you didn't tell us that the first time." And I said, "What difference does it make if I told you the first time or this time? Like, "I'm still telling you."
NARRATOR: The commander of Third Platoon's battalion says he doesn't remember Nash asking for help.
Col. DAVID CLARK: I have no recollection of David Nash ever telling me he had PTSD and needed help. And if I had- if he had, I would have- I would have sent him to get help.
NARRATOR: Nash's medical records show that he did alert Fort Carson doctors to his PTSD symptoms. In a questionnaire, he told them he was having "nightmares," was constantly "on guard," felt "numb," and was worried he would "hurt or lose control" with someone. The assessment concluded he was a "current risk for harm to self or others."
Shortly afterwards, Nash was discharged from the Army with no PTSD diagnosis and what's called an "other than honorable" discharge. This meant he was ineligible for medical care from the Veterans Administration. His commander thought he deserved the misconduct discharge.
Col. DAVID CLARK: If an individual thinks that it's natural to come back and to lean on drugs and alcohol as a self-medication- self-medicating process instead of going to seek help, he's wrong-minded. He's- he's not thinking through that very clearly. The Army can't cure all the ills of society. The Army has got to be the Army and the Army has got to train on and be ready to fight our country's fights. You've still got a mission to do. You can't do it with this guy. He came from society. He needs to go back to society.
NARRATOR: Since he was discharged, Nash has been wandering around the United States, finding work as a welder when he can get it. He's still in touch with another veteran of Third Platoon, who was also discharged for taking drugs. He now lives in a trailer park in Texas.
JOSH BUTLER: Got back, got in trouble. Had this whole drug test on Friday. Thought we had plenty of time to do whatever we wanted to, so got a little cocaine, did it. Then the next thing you know, Monday morning, we had a 99 percent drug test and failed it. I was geared [sp?] up, you know? We didn't do much of shit after that.
DAVID NASH: No, I-
JOSH BUTLER: Go to formation and that was it.
DAVID NASH: I kind of quit going to formation, actually.
NARRATOR: Josh Butler was no angel before he joined the Army. He was kicked out of high school for smoking marijuana in 10th grade. Since he was thrown out of the Army, he's had more problems with alcohol and drugs, and he's served time in jail for beating his wife.
JOSH BUTLER: I was pretty mean and aggressive. It was like somebody flipped a light switch, turned me into this super-asshole. I slapped her up in her face and pushed her down on the ground that day, and I shouldn't have. Stupid. Sorry, you know? But I did it.
NARRATOR: Back in Iraq, Butler was decorated for his part in capturing the fifth most wanted man in the country, Saddam Hussein's half-brother. But like many of his fellow soldiers, Butler never recovered from the trauma of the platoon's first death, the suicide attack that killed the popular sergeant, Sean Huey.
JOSH BUTLER: Doc Krebbs was trying to push on, you know, where he was hit at to stop the bleeding. I was holding his nose and doing rescue breathing and just trying to- screaming at him, you know, talking to him and trying to get him to snap out of it or say something or whatever. But he never did.
Me and Doc Krebbs and Eastridge got these tattoos to remember Sergeant Huey by. It's just an M16 and a helmet, the dog tags and the boots. Now every time someone asks me what this tattoo is, I can take a minute and tell them about Sergeant Huey. It just gives me a chance to tell people about him because he was my friend. Wish he was still here.
NARRATOR: In all, 15 out of 42 soldiers from Third Platoon left the Army after a single Iraq tour. Four were kicked out for failing drug tests. One was sent to prison for driving while drunk and fleeing the scene of an accident. Five were medically discharged. Five left the Army because their service had ended.
As the platoon geared up for its second Iraq tour, Kenny Eastridge was now one of its most experienced soldiers. But he was getting drunk every night.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I remember I had all kinds of problems when I got back, you know? And I just tried to deny it, I guess, and I tried to function as long as I could without help. You just feel like everybody's against you. If they weren't there with you, then they're your enemy. And if you don't know them, they're your enemy and they're out to get you. Everybody is.
NARRATOR: This wasn't the first time Kenny Eastridge had suffered from psychological problems. When he was just 12 years old, he'd shot and killed his best friend while playing a video game. He'd claimed it was an accident, but pled guilty to reckless homicide. His juvenile record should have disqualified him from military service, but the Army was hard pressed for recruits. He'd been granted a waiver.
Soldiers with criminal backgrounds have proved a mixed blessing for the Army.
Brig. Gen. STEPHEN XENAKIS (Ret.), Military Psychiatrist: On the one hand, there seem to be more problems with the soldiers who've been granted waivers. On the other hand, those are- there's more heroism among the soldiers who have been granted waivers. I think they're risk takers. And because they're risk takers, they're more likely to be heroic. They're also more likely to do something dumb.
NARRATOR: As the battalion prepared to head back to Iraq in fall 2006, Eastridge was arrested for assault after pointing a gun at his girlfriend's head in a drunken argument. It looked like his war was over. Military regulations state that a soldier who has a pending criminal charge may not deploy. But the unit was now short of soldiers. Two weeks before Third Platoon headed out, Eastridge's new company commander decided to take him.
INTERVIEWER: With a pending criminal assault charge against him, why did you say it was all right for him to go back to Iraq?
Cpt. JOSEPH SCHWANKHAUS, Company Commander, 2006-08: I vaguely remember kind of the circumstances around his pending assault charge, to the best of my knowledge, although those charges, I believe, were going to be, from what we were told by the prosecutor, dropped. And I believe that decision- that's what led to the decision of him deploying with the company.
NARRATOR: In fact, the assault charge was never dropped. Eastridge's lawyer thinks he was deployed because the Army was short of boots on the ground.
SHEILAGH McATEER, Kenny Eastridge's Attorney: The military knew that Kenny Eastridge had problems. But he was a good soldier. He was a soldier. They needed manpower. Somebody should have picked it up that Kenny Eastridge was struggling and Kenny Eastridge was out of control. I mean, you pick up a menacing case- and that's a fairly violent offense. It's taking a handgun and threatening his girlfriend. And you know, telltale signs were all over the place. The truth of the matter is, is you took a broken soldier and you sent him back.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror. This will require increasing American force levels, so I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
NARRATOR: The soldiers of Third Platoon were sent back into combat after just one year at home. The military now acknowledges this is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate.
Gen. PETER W. CHIARELLI, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army: Our ultimate goal is a minimum of one year deployed, two years back home. We have not reached it with all units. It's a supply and demand problem. I cannot do anything about the demand. I only have a finite supply, and when the demand goes up and orders are given, we provide the soldiers.
NARRATOR: The United States was making a last ditch effort to regain control of a chaotic country, an effort now known as "the surge." The surge was not only an increase in troop numbers but also a change of tactics on the ground. For the soldiers who fought in it, the surge meant more time out of their armored vehicles and intense combat. Some of the soldiers of Third Platoon were happy to be back.
JOSE BARCO: I wasn't scared. If there was, like, a street or an intersection or a road where- most likely, where we'd get kind of contact from I was- I was always put there. "Oh, put Barco in the danger- the most dangerous spot." Put me in the most dangerous spot.
[El Paso County Jail Colorado Springs]
NARRATOR: Jose Barco is now serving a 52-year prison sentence. Once upon a time, he was one of the platoon heroes. After the suicide attack that killed Sergeant Huey on their first tour, fellow soldiers remember him helping the wounded, despite being badly burned himself.
Sgt. TIM STRICKLIN, Platoon Sergeant: Specialist Barco, he was wounded with me. I really cared for that kid. He was a really good soldier, a really good person. You know, we kind of traveled from hospital to hospital together. It kind of worked out that way because we both kind of needed- he had some, you know, serious burns, and you know, with the shrapnel I took, we kind of ended up in the same room in Germany. I kind of looked at him like a little brother, you know, just because of everything we went through.
NARRATOR: He was offered retirement with a full medical pension, but he turned it down.
JOSE BARCO: I wanted to go back because I felt- felt like I let somebody down, my unit. You know, I knew- I knew it wasn't like that. It wasn't my fault that we all got hurt. But still, I wanted to- it was something- it felt incomplete, you know? The mission hasn't been accomplished.
NARRATOR: Third Platoon's battle space was an al Qaeda stronghold in southern Baghdad. One of their jobs was to collect the corpses of Iraqis murdered in sectarian violence.
JOSE BARCO: You know, we ran into, like, groups- like, mass executions, with their hands tied behind their backs and everybody shot in the head, like, side by side. It's not like seeing a dead body while you're walking, you know, to the grocery store here. It's not- it's not like that. It was Iraq. You know, it was- it's kind of, like, acceptable to see that there and not- not really care about it. It got to the point, really, it was like seeing a dead dog or a dead cat laying on the- it just got to that point.
NARRATOR: The surge was a strategic success, but for the young soldiers of Third Platoon, there was a psychological cost.
Col. DAVID CLARK: They were more exposed to the elements and to the bad guys and to the horrors of the battlefield for longer periods of time without a break, and that's got to have an impact. It's going to. It did have an impact. There's no- clearly, no doubt about it. Is that- is that a reason not to do the surge? No. The surge worked. We had- we needed to do the surge.
War's a dangerous thing, and there's going to be repercussions from the actions, whether they're successful or not. And some of those are going to be us dealing with troops that have psychological problems that they bring back with them. I don't know if there's any way around that. You got to do what you have to do.
NARRATOR: Throughout 2007, Third Platoon's battalion experienced a casualty rate eight times higher than other Fort Carson units. As the death count rose, the survivors became numb.
JOSE BARCO: In Iraq, you've got to be numb. There was this one time that we got in a huge firefight, and we didn't have room for our casualties in our trucks to take them to the hospital. And these casualties, there were, like, four or five of them that were dead, and there were soldiers that we knew personally. We piled the trunk of our vehicles with dead American soldiers, just throw them in there. They were hanging out of the trunk. You couldn't even close the trunk.
You can't not be numb because if you're not numb in those moments, you're going to go crazy. You- you're going to go crazy, you know? I guess it just follows me.
NARRATOR: The surge took time to work. Third Platoon's deployment was extended from a year to 15 months.
Gen. PETER CHIARELLI: No one wanted to go to a 15-month deployment, but 15-month deployments were a requirement, given the demand on soldiers at that time in the theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan. It's a simple math problem, and that is not a problem that I can control or that the Army can control.
[Filmed by members of Third Platoon, 2007]
SOLDIER: Yeah, we fucked this place up.
NARRATOR: By fall 2007, the soldiers of Third Platoon had spent 26 of the last 39 months in Iraq. Morale was low.
SOLDIER: Hello, you fucking insurgent bitch!
NARRATOR: On one day of intense combat, Doc Krebbs was the closest medic to the scene of a massive roadside bomb.
RYAN KREBBS: The images of it, you know- the guy in the back seat was basically just a flak vest with boots on the floorboard of the Humvee. There was nothing that I could tell of him left.
NARRATOR: Krebbs started behaving irrationally. He stopped loading his weapon when he was out on patrol. He realized he was a danger to his fellow soldiers, so he went to talk to an Army psychiatrist on base.
RYAN KREBBS: I came clean and I told that guy that, "Hey, I'm not loading my weapon anymore. I'm also having this problem, I'm also having this problem. I wanted them to recognize that I had a problem and to say "He can't go outside the wire anymore."
NARRATOR: The psychiatrist declared Krebbs fit for duty.
RYAN KREBBS: I mean, it was, like, "All right." After your hour session, "Go on back. Put your boots on. Let's go." You know what I mean? Just - it blew my fucking mind. I shouldn't have been allowed to go outside the wire.
NARRATOR: Krebbs wasn't the only soldier who was unraveling.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I was having, like, a total mental breakdown. Every day, we were getting in battles and never having a break, it seemed like. It was just crazy. I just got to where I couldn't take it. I tried to go to mental health, and they put me on all kinds of meds, too, and I was still going out on missions. Like, they had me on Ambien, Remeron, Lexapro, Celexa, all kind of different stuff. They tried different medications at different doses and nothing would work.
NARRATOR: Before the Iraq War, American soldiers in combat zones were not allowed to take prescription medications because it was difficult to get the drugs and the doctors to supervise their use to the front lines.
But by the time of the surge, improved supply lines meant that more than 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. These drugs enable the Army to keep soldiers with post-traumatic stress on the battlefield.
Col. GEORGE BRANDT, Head of Behavioral Health, Fort Carson: PTSD is a very difficult disorder to treat. I can't change the days that occurred, the events that occurred. I can't go back and affect the memories until they start talking about them. What I use medications for is to treat very specific side effects. I don't want somebody in helplessness mode in a combat environment. I want to make sure that I don't have, you know, someone with suicidal thoughts where everyone's armed. I want to be able to manage that effectively. If I can treat it there and optimize the recovery, that's valuable.
NARRATOR: But some civilian psychiatrists are concerned that these could be inappropriate drugs for a war zone. Doctor Joseph Glenmullen has studied Kenny Eastridge's prescriptions from his time in Iraq.
Dr. JOSEPH GLENMULLEN, Harvard Medical School: All of these antidepressants now carry, in recent years, a black box warning. The black box warning for these antidepressants says that they can make people suicidal and a variety of other side effects that include insomnia, anxiety, agitation, irritability, hostility, impulsivity and aggression, all of which obviously could become critical in a combat situation.
NARRATOR: Eastridge was also prescribed Ambien, a sleeping medication.
Dr. JOSEPH GLENMULLEN: Ambien is one of a new class of sleeping pills all of which now carry a warning that they have alcohol-like effects and can make people less inhibited and specifically warn that people should not perform hazardous occupations while on the drugs.
INTERVIEWER: Being in the Army is a hazardous occupation?
Dr. JOSEPH GLENMULLEN: Well, I would think that being in a combat zone would be considered a hazardous occupation.
RYAN KREBBS: Everybody was on Ambien. Everybody. It was hard to find somebody that wasn't taking Ambien. It helps you sleep and it also- I mean, it gets you pretty high. You get body high. You have trouble remembering things. It lowers your inhibitions, all of that stuff. They shouldn't give soldiers Ambien in Iraq.
INTERVIEWER: Should the Army be prescribing these medications with those kind of side effects in theater?
Gen. PETER W. CHIARELLI, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army: I've got to trust that our mental health care professionals downrange would not prescribe those drugs if they felt that there would be issues with those drugs in theater. But I do know that drugs, when properly administered, can be very effective at working at some of the issues we've seen with our soldiers.
NARRATOR: The warnings on these medications state that patients should be closely monitored for potential side effects. But the tactics of the surge meant that Third Platoon was often based in a small Combat Outpost in an abandoned house away from the main base.
It was difficult for Army medical staff to keep a close eye on Eastridge's reaction to his medications. When the platoon was stationed at the Combat Outpost for more than a week, Eastridge says, his medications ran out.
Dr. JOSEPH GLENMULLEN: An additional risk of these drugs is withdrawal, withdrawal syndromes. The highest period of risk is in the early weeks or months after either starting the drug or changing the dose in either direction, up or down.
NARRATOR: It's impossible to say how much of Eastridge's behavior in Iraq was related to his prescription medications. He was also smoking marijuana and taking Valium, which he says he bought from the platoon's Iraqi translator.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: Looking back on it, I mean, it looks like I was going crazy.
[Filmed by members of Eastridge's platoon]
SOLDIER: I love watching this guy because he has no conscience at all.
SOLDIER: I don't think she wants to hug you, dude. I think she's scared.
SOLDIER: Why is she running away?
SOLDIER: Her husband.
SOLDIER: Go ask this guy if he wants a hug.
SOLDIER: I don't have to ask the guys. I just do this- [laughter]
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I just started overdoing it. I lost control.
NARRATOR: Back on base, Eastridge had fallen in with two other soldiers from his company who were also having trouble coping with the stresses of combat. Over time, it became a toxic friendship.
Louis Bressler had recently been devastated by the death of a close friend in his unit. He was suffering from chronic PTSD and was taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. Bruce Bastien, a medic, was looking for a way out of Iraq. He'd asked Eastridge to shoot a bullet through his arm so he could be sent home wounded. Eastridge agreed to do it, but he missed.
In August 2007, Eastridge was caught with 463 Valium pills in his room. He lost his temper and threatened to murder his lieutenant.
Sgt. HECTOR RODRIGUEZ, Squad Leader, Third Platoon: This kid went downhill very fast. I was, like, this is not the same person I went to Iraq with before. There's no way that this is the same guy.
NARRATOR: He was court-martialed on nine counts, including illegal possession of drugs and threatening an officer. Army doctors examined him and concluded he was suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress and "homicidal thoughts." These afflictions were "battle-related."
He was sent home under military escort to Colorado Springs. But when he got back, he escaped and went AWOL.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I was, like, "They're going to kick me out when I get back anyways and go through all this court stuff." So I was just, like, "Who cares?" I tried to get a job and just nothing was coming. Nothing would pan out. And I didn't want to wait. I was like, you know, I'm struggling, I don't have any place to live. I'm homeless.
NARRATOR: Eastridge hooked up with his two troubled friends from Baghdad. Louis Bressler had been sent home from Iraq after assaulting his sergeant. Bruce Bastien was home on leave and had been charged with assaulting his wife. Together, they planned to make some money.
911 OPERATOR: Colorado Springs 911. What's the address of the emergency?
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I had found a place that would hire me, but they wanted me to wait, like, three months. And I was just, like, you know, "I got to get money, so I'm just going to go take it from somebody else."
ERICA HAM: I just got hit! I just got hit! Help me please!
911 OPERATOR: OK, where are you?
NARRATOR: The soldiers picked their victim at random. Early one morning, a young woman was walking to a bus stop on her way to work.
ERICA HAM: It was, like, 5:45 in the morning, October 27, 2007. The car whooshes down there, and then three gentlemen got out of the car, started stabbing me. I didn't know I was stabbed, though.
They said, "Give me all your money." I said, "I don't have anything." They said-
911 OPERATOR: Was there any weapon involved?
ERICA HAM: Yeah, they had a gun. They said, "Get on the ground, bitch."
All I remember is they just told me to get on the ground and look the other way and pointed a nine revolver. I do remember what that gun looked like.
911 OPERATOR: Erica? Can you hear me?
ERICA HAM: There's blood all over the floor, sir. I'm in a red coat.
911 OPERATOR: OK.
NARRATOR: Bastien stabbed her six times. Eastridge was holding the gun to her head.
Eastridge had now been AWOL for a month. He decided it was time to go back to Fort Carson. By the Army's own rules, he should have gone into immediate psychiatric treatment for his PTSD, but he was processed out of the military that same day.
SHEILAGH McATEER, Kenny Eastridge's Attorney: Kenny was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, battle-related. And what do they do? They kick him out. They discharge him. They don't put him in treatment. They don't offer him anything other than to turn him out and release him on the streets of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
NARRATOR: A few days later, on November 30th, 2007, Eastridge headed out again with Bastien and Bressler. In a bar on Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, they met another soldier from their company. His name was Kevin Shields. It was his 24th birthday. He'd been sent home from Iraq with concussion injuries. The four soldiers got drunk. Then they piled into a car and drove around Colorado Springs smoking marijuana. They were all stoned and throwing up.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: I don't really want to go in to detail about it, you know? Just being where I am, I can't really talk about certain things and- but it was just way out of hand, you know? I didn't know it was going to happen like that. I didn't know it was going to happen at all. And then it did, so I had to go with it.
NARRATOR: The next morning, Kevin Shields's body was found by the side of a road in Westside, Colorado Springs. He'd been shot twice in the head. Police soon discovered that the victim had been drinking with Eastridge, Bastien and Bressler just before he was killed.
They were hauled in for questioning. Kenny Eastridge initially refused to say what had happened.
POLICE OFFICER: Do you want an attorney before we talk ? Is that what you're saying?
KENNY EASTRIDGE: Yeah, she told me to wait to talk to her before I talk to you guys anymore.
NARRATOR: Louis Bressler would not answer questions, either.
LOUIS BRESSLER: Can I just see my lawyer?
POLICE OFFICER: Is that what you want to do right now?
LOUIS BRESSLER: Yes, sir. I mean, I think.
NARRATOR: But Bruce Bastien was prepared to talk. He said that Bressler had opened fire on Kevin Shields after a drunken fight got out of control.
POLICE OFFICER: First shot, what does Shields do?
BRUCE BASTIEN: He just drops.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: Straight drop, straight to the floor.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: I don't know where he hit him first.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: All right? I heard it, and all of a sudden, I see the body fall to the ground. Kenny's in the back. He's [unintelligible] we're yelling, "Get in the fucking car."
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: "Get in the fucking car."
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: [unintelligible] jumps in the car real quick, shuts the door, and we fucking just peel off.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: I was, like, "What the fuck did you just do? Are you fucking stupid?" Louis, he's barely even talking because he's too busy throwing up.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
NARRATOR: FRONTLINE has acquired the unedited tapes of Bruce Bastien's police interviews, 14 hours in total. In them, he confesses to his role in a second murder of another Fort Carson soldier and to the assault of Erica Ham.
But he also makes extraordinary claims about more murders that he says were committed in Iraq during the surge. He says that Eastridge and other members of Third Platoon murdered Iraqi civilians, or "hajis" in soldier slang.
BRUCE BASTIEN: Most of it's all murder. All of it, really. It's easy to get away with that kind of [unintelligible]
POLICE OFFICER: Right.
BRUCE BASTIEN: You can just do it and be, like, "Oh, he had a gun. I don't know."
POLICE OFFICER: Right.
BRUCE BASTIEN: I mean, nobody really looks into it. They're like, "Fuck it. It's just another dead haji."
POLICE OFFICER: Right.
BRUCE BASTIEN: And there's stuff like that, and there's just straight up, like- just straight killings, like, just driving down the road, "Fuck it. Shoot somebody."
POLICE OFFICER: It's like you know this information is not going to help you, right?
BRUCE BASTIEN: Yeah. Fuck it. I'm fucked anyway, so-
POLICE OFFICER: So if you make up this information, you'll be charged for that. You know that.
BRUCE BASTIEN: Oh, yeah.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
BRUCE BASTIEN: Oh, yeah. I know.
POLICE OFFICER: So I don't have any times, any dates, anything like that. I just have you saying that, yes, Eastridge popped off at people driving down the road.
BRUCE BASTIEN: Yeah. There's a whole- a whole bunch of people in the unit have done stuff like that and killed people they weren't supposed to.
NARRATOR: Kenny Eastridge says he did not murder civilians in Iraq. Rather, he says that unarmed Iraqis were killed accidentally when Third Platoon was on patrol.
KENNY EASTRIDGE: Civilians die in combat. Like, you know, they run around, like, in firefights, and some of them get killed by accident, stuff like that. It doesn't really matter to me at all, either. They're all hajis to me. Like, if I see a dead haji, it doesn't make it better that it's a civilian or that it's an armed guy trying to kill me because to us, they're all- they're all guilty. You disassociate. To you, they're not even people, you know? They're not humans. They're not like us. They're not the same as us. It's how you look at them. They're hajis and we're not.
NARRATOR: When Army criminal investigators tried to question Eastridge about the allegations, he refused to talk to them. Later, the Army issued a statement that they were not "able to uncover any credible information or evidence to substantiate" Bastien's allegations. But Jose Barco told FRONTLINE that he often killed unarmed Iraqis during the surge.
JOSE BARCO: We were trigger-happy. We were pretty trigger-happy. Like, we'd- we'd open up on anything. We usually rolled with three or four trucks. One of them got hit and there was, like, any males around, we'd open up and we'd shoot at them. It was kind of like that. That's how- that's- that's pretty much- you know, they even didn't have to be armed.
We were just bragging like that. We'd be, like, "Well, I got one last week, all right? So it's not [unintelligible] We still- I still got you." We were keeping track. We were keeping scores.
NARRATOR: No soldier from Third Platoon has been charged with killing civilians in Iraq.
Louis Bressler and Bruce Bastien were eventually sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of Kevin Shields and a string of other crimes in Colorado Springs. Kenny Eastridge's attorney was able to get a plea bargain because Eastridge had no weapon when Shields was murdered. He was sentenced to 10 years.
The rest of Third Platoon came home from Iraq a few weeks after the murder of Kevin Shields. Many were haunted by what they had seen and done during the surge. Doc Krebbs was having hallucinations that Iraqi insurgents were trying to kill him. He tried to get help.
RYAN KREBBS: I talked to mental health, and the lady was a female colonel that I just didn't want to sit there and be, like, "Well, this happened in Iraq and this happened" because you have no fucking idea what Iraq's like. You know, a female officer, you're never going to know what it's like to be on the ground. And I just closed up and didn't want to talk to her. And so when she asked me, I was very basic and I said, "Yeah, I saw a couple of things and I'm having trouble sleeping."
NARRATOR: He was prescribed the powerful anti-psychotic medication Seroquel to help him sleep. But Krebbs had reached the end of his rope.
RYAN KREBBS: I tried to kill myself by swallowing a lot of Seroquel and drinking some vodka. I just couldn't take this shit anymore. I thought that my time in this place was over and I'd already done what I was supposed to do, and I didn't want to live anymore.
NARRATOR: Since the Iraq War began, at least 36 Fort Carson soldiers have committed suicide. The numbers are rising every year.
When Jose Barco got home he was suffering from nightmares, memory loss and sudden rages. He was diagnosed with PTSD at Fort Carson's hospital and prescribed multiple medications to deal with the symptoms.
JOSE BARCO: They gave me eight or nine different medications. For every symptom of PTSD, they had a medication for it. You know, you couldn't sleep, they'll give you something. You got nightmares, they'll give you something. You drank too much, they'll give you something for that. You know, they were just pulling medications out of nowhere.
NARRATOR: Fort Carson's hospital was now overwhelmed with soldiers suffering from psychological injuries sustained during the surge. To make matters worse, staffing levels for psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers were well below Army recommendations.
Capt. JUSTIN COLE, Head of Social Work, Fort Carson, 2006-09: We'd have a waiting room full of 30 soldiers waiting to be seen because they had an acute mental health crisis. Symptoms were being treated through the use of medication and medication management. You know, "Here's a prescription, fill the prescription, take your medications as prescribed, follow up with your physician, you know, with your psychiatrist - your psychologist, rather - in a month."
NARRATOR: Barco was sent for counselling at a private clinic in Colorado Springs because Fort Carson didn't have enough psychiatrists to treat its own soldiers. But after a couple of visits, he says he stopped showing up and stopped taking his medication. He was drinking heavily, and carrying weapons.
JOSE BARCO: It was a bad idea. We- I don't need to be, you know, around guns or anything like that. When people get back from Iraq, especially, like, the infantry guys, they buy out the gun stores. I didn't go- I just bought, like, a handgun or something like that. Crazy. I'm not gun crazy.
PROSECUTOR: On April 25th 2008, Jose Barco, the defendant in this case, went to a party-
NARRATOR: Four months after he got back from Iraq, Barco got into an argument at a party in Colorado Springs.
PROSECUTOR: The defendant then pulled out the .357 Magnum from his belt, pointed it in the air in a room full of 20 or 20 people-
NARRATOR: He was thrown out of the house after shooting at the ceiling. He drove off, and then circled back to the house. Six shots were fired from his car. One bullet narrowly missed a young man. Another hit a pregnant woman in the leg.
PROSECUTOR: We ask you to find him guilty on all counts.
NARRATOR: Barco was convicted on two counts of attempted murder. In sentencing, his lawyers would try to argue that the judge should take into account his combat injuries. After multiple concussions from roadside bombs, he'd been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.
It's estimated that more than 300,000 U.S. soldiers have suffered TBIs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doctors are still trying to understand their potential long-term effects.
Brig. Gen. STEPHEN XENAKIS (Ret.), Military Psychiatrist: TBI most sensitively affects executive functioning, that part of the brain that we use for judgment and we use for decision making when we are in situations of intense emotion. So if a person is affected, they don't have the controls that they had before.
NARRATOR: Military Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis has studied how traumatic brain injuries can affect behavior. He thinks there may be a link between Barco's injuries and his crimes.
Gen. STEPHEN XENAKIS: We have someone who's been emotionally traumatized and they've got PTSD. They're anxious and they're depressed and they've got TBI, which means that they've got problems in decision making. They can't think as clearly. And they're really vulnerable to just reacting, overreacting, maybe doing something that they had done when they'd been in combat.
[www.pbs.org: Read Xenakis's interview]
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We are asking the court to impose a minimum sentence, given the situation Mr Barco has with his medical condition, mental health, and his service to this country. It is important to know he has a diagnosis of PTSD. He also has some traumatic brain injury from the numerous explosions he was subject to during his combat service in Iraq. So we are asking for a minimum sentence.
NARRATOR: The defense also presented extracts from Barco's medical records. But the judge was to rule that his injuries did not mitigate his crimes.
Judge LARRY SCHWARTZ, El Paso County Court: This was a stupid, angry and impulsive act. I expect young gang members who are at war with each other to do drive-by shootings. Somebody who has been in Iraq and who is a military veteran, I don't expect that type of behavior from. In fact, it brings considerable discredit upon the uniform that you wore to be engaged in that type of activity.
Accordingly, I have to impose a sentence that is appropriate to the level of crime you've committed. As to criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, I'll impose a 20-year Department of Corrections sentence. To the second count of criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, against Ginny Stefanic, I'll impose 32 years in the Department of Corrections. By operation of law, those sentence have to run consecutive to one another.
NARRATOR: Barco was sentenced to a total of 52 years behind bars. He will be eligible for parole in the year 2035.
By 2009, 17 Fort Carson soldiers had been charged or convicted of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder in four years. Spurred by public outrage, the Army's medical command conducted an investigation into 14 of the criminal soldiers.
OFFICER: [July 16, 2009] Good morning. This extremely in-depth study did not reveal any one single cause but rather a comprehensive list of individual predisposing factors, such as criminal behavior, drug and/or alcohol abuse, prior behavior health issues and barriers to seeking behavior health care.
NARRATOR: The study found that most of the 14 soldiers had experienced unusually intense combat in Iraq. Six of them had criminal records before they joined the military. Eleven of them had a history of substance abuse. Nine were taking prescription medications. The study concluded that leadership failures and barriers to seeking care may have contributed to the killings.
INTERVIEWER: Has anybody been held accountable for the failures that were found in the Army study?
Col. GEORGE BRANDT, Head of Behavioral Health, Fort Carson: You're asking for officers to be accountable for someone's choices on their private time, after hours, and a series of negative choices that may have set people up for failure, and the people that they hung with. I'm having trouble seeing a direct correlation to how a leader failed there.
INTERVIEWER: The failure is that they didn't put together the system robust enough to catch these things.
Col. GEORGE BRANDT: You know, if I'd fought this war before and had learned these lessons before, I might hold people accountable.
NARRATOR: Since the report was published, the authorities at Fort Carson have made changes in the mental health treatment of soldiers. The behavioral health unit has recruited more staff to deal with returning soldiers. Troops now undergo resiliency training before they deploy.
But there are concerns that not enough has changed since the study was released. Despite the recruitment drive, Fort Carson's hospital is still understaffed, with almost a quarter of psychiatry positions unfilled. And Third Platoon's brigade, now reflagged as the 2-12 Infantry, is just about to come home from yet another year of intense combat, this time in Afghanistan.
ROBERT ALVAREZ, Psychotherapist, Colorado Springs: 2-12 is now coming back from its third tour. And we're going to- and we're at capacity now and we're all wondering what's going to happen. You know, it's a scary thought, you know, what's going to happen in this community. Are we going to have more murders? Are we going to have more suicides? Are we going to have more crime? And I think the answer to that is probably yes.
NARRATOR: Most of the men of Third Platoon are now scattered over the United States, many of them civilians. Not all of the troubled soldiers have been abandoned by the Army. Six months after he got back from the surge, Doc Krebbs was transferred from Fort Carson to Fort Belvoir, Virigina, where he finally got proper help after three years of suffering from PTSD.
[www.pbs.org: Read their stories]
[Colorado Fall 2009
NARRATOR: It's now almost a year since Krebbs tried to kill himself. He's just retired from the military. The Army is providing him with disability payments as compensation for his PTSD. He's come up to the Rockies for a weekend with David Nash, his old friend from Third Platoon.
RYAN KREBBS: I'm very optimistic about the future now. I feel like I can actually go somewhere now. For the last year, I knew I wasn't going to be getting promoted or staying in the military. And you just feel like you're stuck and there's nothing you can do about it because there literally is nothing that you can do about it. And now that I'm out, it's- you know, I can go to school now. I can do what I want to do and actually do something with my life, other than go fighting wars I don't believe in.
DAVID NASH: Haji comes out of an alley, just, like, "Ka-ka-ka-ka," spray and pray. And not Sergeant Brooks, but the other guy- what's his name?
RYAN KREBBS: I forget his name, but he was badass!
DAVID NASH: He was- he was just like- he was just like quickdraw, Fa-boom! Wacow!"
RYAN KREBBS: Right between the eyes.
DAVID NASH: Drops him! I was, like, "What the fuck?"
RYAN KREBBS: That was fucking sick! [laughter]
NARRATOR: Krebbs credits his ongoing recovery to a therapy group he joined at Fort Belvoir.
RYAN KREBBS: That same guy, I saw him with his 9 mil out-
You didn't feel so alone or crazy any more, you know? A lot of times, you don't want to say anything to anybody because the shit that's going through your head, it's crazy. When you see that other people are also just as crazy as you are, it's a little comforting, I guess.
A lot of bodies just out in the street, just abandoned. And they were, you know, cut up pretty bad.
NARRATOR: Krebbs says he feels almost normal now. He's off all his medications. Other soldiers from Third Platoon are still looking for help.
NARRATOR: It's now four years since David Nash was thrown out of the Army. He's still unemployed. He smokes marijuana every day. He avoids crowds. He has no access to VA psychiatric treatment because of his misconduct discharge.
But his family wants him to get help for depression. Nash's aunt is taking him to a drop-in center for combat veterans. Any former soldier is eligible to talk to a therapist at a Vet Center.
[www.pbs.org: Information on Vet Centers]
ROBERT UDERO, Therapist: OK, let's start off with the military. You enlisted in the Army in October 6th, 2003. How come?
DAVID NASH: I wasn't going to do anything else.
ROBERT UDERO: Nothing else to do?
DAVID NASH: No.
NARRATOR: Like many in the platoon, Nash thinks his problems started five years ago, when Sergeant Sean Huey was killed at the beginning of the first tour.
DAVID NASH: And then all of a sudden, you just hear, "Boom!" and a big old mushroom cloud. And you're just, like- and then we go down there as fast as possible and try to revive Sergeant Huey. And he died once on the way to the hospital, and once at the hospital and they brought him back, and then he eventually died again. You know, I was, like-
ROBERT UDERO: How does it feel talking about it? How does it feel thinking about it?
DAVID NASH: I don't know. Just sad, I guess- I don't know, sad, angry-
ROBERT UDERO: I can see it in your face.
DAVID NASH: Homicidal, I don't know, something like that, you know? Drop a bomb on them. So he died.
ROBERT UDERO: You know, that's part of PTSD. That's dehumanizing the enemy. That's what we sacrifice. We give up part of our- our morality to go to war. We accept what the military gives us as our morality, our sense of right and wrong. It allows us to survive. It allows us to kill. The trick is coming back and living in a civilian world that doesn't have the same thoughts and feelings as we do, same memories.
DAVID NASH: I'm not completely stable. I'm kind of a- what do you call it? Like a- I'm like a tripwire. I don't know. It'll take, like a, you know, half a pound of pressure and that's it.
ROBERT UDERO: That's what PTSD's like. And it's common to feel that anger, that rage, that depression, that grief, that guilt, the dreams, the drinking, the drugging, the fighting. That's normal. What's abnormal was the trauma, was the situation, was the death, war. That's the best definition of PTSD I ever heard. It's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Don't feel normal, do you.
DAVID NASH: No.
ROBERT UDERO: But that reaction is normal. The war wasn't normal. Those traumas aren't normal.
DAVID NASH: It's only time that'll help you. You know, time is the biggest thing. The more time you have to cope with something, talking to people about it or something like that, and letting people know how you feel about it, then eventually, maybe you'll work yourself right.
NARRATOR: Nash is on a 2,000-mile journey from New Mexico to North Carolina. He's making his way across the country to visit the grave of Sergeant Huey for the first time.
DAVID NASH: We're going to get to Fayetteville and we're going to have us- have a reunion for everyone in Third Platoon as I knew it. And Sergeant Huey, our squad leader, we're going to go to his gravesite and pay tribute to him. And then we're all going to go to a bar and just, you know, hang out and get jolly.
I would like for everybody to be there, if it's possible. This'd be the first time I've seen some of them in, you know, three years, three-and-a-half years. I was only 20 years old then. I think I've matured somewhat, and I hope that they can kind of see it, too. And I'm not snorting cocaine every week or anything. I've all but quit drinking. All but. That's a bad phrase, ain't it.
[Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery North Carolina]
NARRATOR: It is now five years to the week after Sean Huey was killed in Iraq. Some of the platoon are reuniting at his grave to pay tribute to him. Huey's widow is meeting them all for the first time.
Many of them have led productive lives since Iraq. There's a nursing student, an engineer, a warehouse laborer, an Army weapons tester, a Special Forces captain, a drill sergeant, a firing range supervisor, a coal miner, and an unemployed welder, David Nash.
They've just heard that their old friend from the platoon, Jose Barco, has been convicted of attempted murder.
TIM STRICKLIN: Hear about Barco?
HECTOR RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I just found out.
TIM STRICKLIN: That kills me about him because when we got hurt, you know, him and, me were in Germany together. You know, the kid never let me live it down because when they were taking all the stuff out of my leg, I was screaming like a little girl because it was all dried in there. So I looked around this curtain, and he's on the other side of the curtain in the same room. He was, like, "Hey, go ahead, Sergeant. Don't worry about it. I won't say nothing." As soon as we get around to anybody, he starts, "Oh, he was screaming like a little girl!" I was, like, "All right, Barco." Yeah, we became pretty close. That's pretty bad, to hear what happened to him.
HEATHER HUEY: I'm crying. I'm sorry. Thank you guys for coming out. I didn't talk to Sean a lot while he was over there, so I didn't know a lot of you guys. But whatever you all did for Sean over there, thank you. I don't know what you all did. I don't know what part, but- obviously, he made an impact on you or you wouldn't be here. And I'm sure you all had the same impact on him. So thank you very much.
NARRATOR: Doc Krebbs couldn't face meeting Huey's family, so he didn't come to the reunion. He lives in Colorado with his wife and baby son, and returned to college in early 2010.
Josh Butler is unemployed in Alabama. He is currently wanted by the police for an old misdemeanor charge. He said he would come to the reunion but didn't show up.
Jose Barco is six months into his 52-year sentence. His lawyers are launching an appeal.
Kenny Eastridge is still in prison in Colorado. He is eligible for parole in 2012.
DAVID NASH: [at Sgt. Huey's gravesite] I just want you to know that given that a few of us did screw up when we got back, most of us are doing pretty good now. And me and Butler and Kenny still think of you very fondly and very often. So hopefully, we didn't disappoint too much. And we'll see you.
THE WOUNDED PLATOON
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
L. Christopher Smith
& Henry Scowcroft
The soldiers of Third Platoon
BBC Motion Gallery
WGBH Media Library & Archives
DIRECTOR OF BROADCAST
ON AIR PROMOTION
Michael H. Amundson
Sandy St. Louis
Maya Carmel, Entropy Media, LLC
WEBSITE ASSOCIATE DEVELOPER
Bill Rockwood, Entropy Media, LLC
WEBSITE ASSOCIATE RESEARCHER
WEB DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY
Sam Bailey, Entropy Media, LLC
SENIOR EDITORIAL CONSULTANT
Louis Wiley Jr.
A Mongoose Pictures Production for WGBH/FRONTLINE
In association with the BBC
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH/Boston,
which is solely responsible for its content.
© 2010 WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANNOUNCER: There's more of this report on our Web site, where you can watch the program on line, view the story of a platoon member who found a way to deal with his PTSD, read the interviews with military officials and experts, explore the story behind this film and the producer's journey tracking down the men of Third Platoon. Then join the discussion at PBS.or.
Next time on FRONTLINE: How inexperienced pilots-
JOHN PRATER, Pres., Air Line Pilots Assn.: They wanted to find a way of getting rid of that expensive employee-
ANNOUNCER: -and cutting corners on safety-
COREY HEISER, Colgan Pilot, 2005-09: We didn't move those airplanes, they didn't make any money.
ANNOUNCER: -and inadequate regulation-
MARY SCHIAVO, Plaintiff's Attorney: The FAA protects airlines.
ANNOUNCER: -led to a tragic crash that exposed the risks-
SCOTT MAURER, Father of Lorin Maurer: There are no survivors.
ANNOUNCER: -of Flying Cheap. Watch FRONTLINE.
FRONTLINE's The Wounded Platoon is available on DVD. To order, visit Shoppbs.org, or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS. [$24.99 & s/h]
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