U.S. soldier charged in comrades deaths showed stress

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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BAGHDAD - The U.S. military command launched an investigation Tuesday into whether it offers adequate mental health care to its soldiers, a day after a sergeant finishing up his third tour of Iraq allegedly shot and killed five comrades at a clinic on a U.S. base.
Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, of Sherman, Texas, was taken into custody outside a mental health clinic at Camp Liberty following Monday's shooting and charged with five counts of murder and one of aggravated assault, Maj.-Gen. David Perkins said.
The case, the deadliest of the war involving soldier-on-soldier violence, has cast a spotlight on combat stress and emotional problems resulting from frequent deployments to battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up to one-fifth of the more than 1.7 million who have served in the two conflicts are believed to have symptoms of anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. Some studies show that about half of those who need help do not seek it.
Russell's father said his son, who joined the army in 1994 after a divorce and minor scrapes with the law, felt poorly treated at the stress centre. He said he hopes "we find he snapped because of the pressure. He wasn't a mean person."
In Baghdad, Perkins told reporters that Russell, a communications specialist assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion from Bamberg, Germany, was sent to the mental health clinic by his superiors, presumably because of concern over his emotional state.
He said the commander had ordered Russell's weapon taken away from him but somehow he got a new weapon, entered the clinic and opened fire.
Perkins declined to give a detailed account of the shooting, saying the matter was under investigation.
However, a Pentagon official said in Washington that Russell had been escorted to the clinic, but once inside argued with the staff and was asked to leave.
After he drove away, Russell apparently seized his escort's weapon and returned to the clinic, the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
The clinic was operated by the 55th Medical Company, a Reserve unit headquartered in Indianapolis. Two of the victims were officers assigned to the clinic and the three others were enlisted soldiers, Perkins said.
The Pentagon identified Cmdr. Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., as one of the victims of the shooting. The mother of Michael Edward Yates Jr. said two men from the army came to her Federalsburg, Md., home early Tuesday to tell say her 19-year-old son was killed.
In addition to the ongoing criminal investigation, Perkins said the U.S. command had opened a formal inquiry into the "general availability" of health care for American service personnel in Iraq, "specifically the policies and procedures surrounding behavioural health services."
He gave no further details and did not say how the investigation was being conducted.

Organizations: Pentagon, Medical Company

Geographic location: U.S., Iraq, BAGHDAD Sherman, Texas Afghanistan Bamberg Germany Washington Indianapolis Wilmington, N.C. Federalsburg

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