After the Shooting Has Stopped

<B>David Martin</B> Reports On Soldiers Battling Post-Traumatic Stress

Of all the thousands of attacks against American troops in Iraq, none was larger than the one last spring against a 26-truck convoy hauling an emergency supply of fuel to Baghdad International Airport.

Hundreds of insurgents lay in ambush for the convoy and then attacked along a two-kilometer front. For most of the Americans, it was their first taste of combat. It was over in about an hour but for some of the survivors, the aftershocks of combat are still wreaking havoc long after the shooting has stopped. Correspondent David Martin reports.
It's been a year since Jarob Walsh and the rest of his fuel convoy were ambushed on the road to Baghdad Airport. He took a round in the foot.

"I knew my foot was broken. It felt like it was broken. But I didn't, I didn't know why or what had happened," says Walsh. "Everything was just happening so fast and my heart was pounding so hard, I couldn't hear anything; just hearing my heart. So I was just -- I was scared."

It was the largest ambush of the war, and when it was over, two American soldiers and six civilian drivers were dead.

"They attacked our convoy," says driver Thomas Hammill, who was captured but later managed to escape. Another driver, Cpl. Keith Matthew Maupin, is still missing.

Maupin was taken hostage and the insurgents later released a video purporting to show his execution, although he is still officially listed as captured. Those facts are chilling enough, but facts and still photos of bullet-riddled tankers don't begin to tell the story.

To understand the impact this one ambush had on the 35 Americans who survived it, you need to listen to a badly-shaken Spc. Jacob Brown, as he recorded this poor quality home video immediately afterwards: "It was pretty bad . . . My driver got hit in the leg . . . There's three people we don't know about. Six people got medivaced. We know one guy burnt to death."

Walsh was one of the 11 wounded. While he was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors made another diagnosis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"I'd only heard about PTSD with Vietnam vets, and I thought that I was too young to get it," says Walsh. "I didn't think that I would be old enough to have it. … They said I had an extreme case of PTSD."

Some of the symptoms included irritability and impatience. And Walsh said he loses his temper a lot: "I don't know why, but I do. Just can't put up with anything anymore."

According to Dr. Robert Ursano, the government's leading expert on PTSD, it's more widespread than you might think. "PTSD, in many ways, may be the common cold of psychiatry, that perhaps everyone, over a lifetime, has been exposed to a life-threatening event of some kind, motor vehicle accident or hurricane, a tornado," says Ursano.

"But do you find people who just don't want to admit that they have PTSD?" asks Martin.

"Individuals with mental disorders frequently are frightened about talking about the problems that they have, frequently feel like they need to hide them," says Ursano.

Does every soldier who's been in combat get some degree of PTSD?

"Everyone exposed to a life-threatening event will change in some way," says Ursano. "And for some, we may see chronic unremitting disorders."

Within days of the ambush, Walsh wrote a detailed account of what happened. But when you ask him about it now, there are things he either can't remember or doesn't like to talk about. Why?

"I spent the last 10 months in therapy trying to forget about the attack," says Walsh.

But if Walsh's memories of that day are accurate, you can understand why he doesn't want to talk about it. "There were two little kids on a bridge, one was probably about 7, the other was 10 and they both had weapons," says Walsh. "One of 'em was holding his weapon upside down which I had never, I mean, he was holding it by the clip, a banana clip upside down, and the other kept firing off rounds at the truck. I fired over their heads and they turned around and took off running . . . And later on I seen 'em again . . . and I fired and I hit one of 'em. I hit the younger one."

Where did he hit him? "I was aiming for his chest. I believe I got him in the throat, which I wasn't even trying to," says Walsh. "The 7-year-old wasn't even firing his weapon. The one I actually got wasn't even firing."

A year after the ambush, Walsh was still in therapy at Walter Reed and he had a new girlfriend, Gail Koster.

Is it hard having a relationship with somebody who has PTSD?

"Sometimes," says Koster. "Just being able to figure out when it's a good day versus a bad day."

There was one very bad day last October. "He was just drunker than I'd ever seen him. I just never seen him that drunk. I have no idea what I said but something I said just triggered something and he knocked my feet out from under me," says Koster. "He had me in a chokehold and he was just on the ground just telling me, 'You're gonna get me in trouble, you're gonna get me in trouble.'"

Walsh is either unwilling or unable to explain why he snapped. "I really don't know what happened," he says. "I know we got in an argument, big argument down there. I really don't know. I couldn't tell ya. I can only tell you what I heard."
  • Rebecca Leung

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