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Soldiers from Iraq, Afghanistan Cope with Combat Stress

Soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan often face daily attacks and are under constant alert. Two counselors who work with traumatized soldiers talk about their coping mechanisms.

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  • KEME NZEREM, Guardian Newspaper Correspondent:

    Saturday, May the 19th. It's late afternoon in Baghdad. Photojournalist Sean Smith captures this image. Inside a Bradley armored car, six U.S. soldiers and their translator are burning to death.

    This is Sean's account of the horrific events of that day and the following two weeks. His footage starts with a rare moment of calm for Apache Company in Amiriyah, western Baghdad. Then, in the distance, an explosion.

    This is Fourth Platoon. They rush out to investigate. Sean films the soldiers as they discover the target of the blast, the Bradley upside-down and on fire. It's been blown up by a roadside bomb.

    But Fourth Platoon are too late to help their seven trapped colleagues. Live ammunition explodes inside the Bradley. Seconds later, and nervous, they raid a nearby house looking for the bomb-maker. They detain several men and leave them with interrogators.


    You've got grenades going off. You've got an IED blowing up your vehicle. And then you're expected to go back in those four to five hours and relax, to come back out and do another six hours. You just don't have time to do it. Your body never gets to come down. You're always on that heightened sense of alertness; you just don't have that rest.


    Forty-eight hours later, and Specialist Lake's unit are back in the neighborhood. They're conducting random house checks. They're jumpy, but this time all they find is a frightened and elderly woman.

    The Fourth Platoon finds nothing and leave, but the next morning this is what happened. Apache Company, Second Platoon, are now on patrol. They're suspicious a car circling their position might be a lookout for nearby snipers. Still nervous after the Bradley attack, they order the car to stop and, when it doesn't, they open fire.


    Oh, he's dead.


    No, he's moving.


    I don't know.


    They drag the driver through the nearest front yard and try to revive him. The soldier's attempts to keep the man alive fail. A neighbor turns up; she thinks she knows who he is.


    They say they hired that guy. And they say he's just a taxi driver, that guy who got shot.


    The man was killed because he failed to stop. Second Platoon Specialist Vassell was there that day.


    I challenge anybody in Congress to do my rotation. They don't have to do anything, just come hang out with me, and go home at the times I go home, and come stay here 15 months with me.


    The day starts with Second Platoon called to investigate a blast at an insurgent bomb factory. They pick their way through the rubble. Moments later, there's a secondary explosion.

    Chaos, debris, and flying shrapnel, an Iraqi soldier has taken the brunt of it. Neighbors, both children and adults, are hurt, too. The Americans set up an emergency first aid operation. They try and help the wounded. A young boy has shrapnel wounds in his face and his body.

    It's an ordinary day for the people of Baghdad and Apache Company.


    We're supposed to be on the way home right now. We were supposed to be flying home in six days. Six days. But because we have people up there in Congress with the brain of a 2-year-old who don't know what they're doing, they don't experience it.

    I challenge the president or whoever has us here for 15 months to ride alongside me. I'll do another 15 months, if he comes out here and rides along with me everyday for 15 months. I'll do 15 more months. They don't even have to pay me extra.