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tv   Frontline  PBS  January 26, 2011 4:00am-5:00am EST

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>> tonight on frontline... in the past six years, fort carson, colorado, has seen at least 36 of its soldiers commit suicide. >> i thought that my time in this place was over and i didn't want to live anymore. >> 18 have been charged or convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. >> the defendant pulled out the .357 magnum and fired one shot. >> what happened in iraq? >> we were trigger happy. >> there's a whole bunch of
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people who killed people they weren't supposed to. >> what happened when they came home? >> you just feel like everybody's against you, and if you don't know them, they're your enemy. >> frontline investigates the invisible wounds of war. >> we give up part of our morality to go to war. it allows us to survive, it allows us to kill. >> tonight, "the wounded platoon." >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan.
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committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund. >> i didn't even want to come home. you just felt naked and totally vulnerable, unless you were armed.
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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. >> 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. >> i had, like, a.... i had, 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
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gunner, would be found guilty of accessory to murder. >> 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. >> narrator: kenny eastridge is now two years into a ten-year prison sentence. he once had a promising military career ahead of him. from a poor kentucky background,
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eastridge had joined the infantry at the age of 19 and rose quickly through the ranks. >> hey, good job, eastridge. good soldier. good guy. congratulations on everything. you had a hell of a last couple of months. >> thank you, sir. >> all right. you guys go ahead and congratulate specialist eastridge. ( applause ) >> narrator: he was mentored by a charismatic and experienced sergeant, sean huey. >> 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. ( laughter ) >> narrator: huey was the most popular sergeant in his platoon, especially with the lower ranks. >> he was a good guy. he was one of those guys that, like... he always was doing something crazy that everybody was laughing at. >> kick his ass, eastridge!
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all over the l-t. >> when he was our squad leader, we were the best squad in the... in the battalion. >> narrator: huey and eastridge were both members of third platoon, charlie company, first 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." >> 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
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this highway. so, we just run around waiting to get hit, and then we react to the contact, you know. >> narrator: in a year, third platoon's battalion encountered more than 1,000 roadside bombs. >> ( bleep ) >> damn! >> narrator: 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. >> november 11, 2004. that was horrible.
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worst day of my life. i still think about that ( bleep ) every single day. >> narrator: ryan krebbs, nicknamed "doc," was third platoon's combat medic. >> yeah, i just want, like, vines and, like, overgrowth drooping off the stars. >> were you thinking more, like, jungley or more like... like ivy...? >> narrator: krebbs was first to the scene when a car bomb plowed into a platoon checkpoint on veterans day, 2004. >> 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
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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: seven soldiers from third platoon were badly wounded. sergeant huey was in the worst shape. doc krebbs, tried to save his life, but shrapnel had severed a major artery. >> people don't die like they die in the movies. they turn very pale. 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.
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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. >> 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." ( gunfire ) >> nararrator: 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.
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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 six years, 15 fort carson soldiers have been charged or convicted in 14 murders and manslaughters. on friday nights, downtown is
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full of soldiers from fort carson-- some trying to forget what they've experienced, others celebrating their homecoming. ( music playing ) ( siren wailing ) >> narrator: the soldiers of third platoon hit the bars of colorado springs as soon as they got home. >> in the first six months, you know, you're just happy to be home. and then, after that six months, i just... 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
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as you're walking down the street. ( chuckles ) oh, man. >> narrator: between 2002 and 2009, the number of fort carson soldiers diagnosed each year with post-traumatic stress disorder, or ptsd, rose from 26 to 1,120, a rise of over 4,000%. >> be aggressive. when you make contact, tear it up. action and violence is what we are here to do, right? okay. all right, it's all yours. >> narrator: in 2005, the leadership at fort carson wasn't prepared for the epidemic of psychological problems amongst its troops. >> whatever weapons system you're engaging a target... >> narrator: 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
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emotional problems. >> 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 a... you know, it's just... 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.
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>> 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... 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% in the first three years of the iraq war. nash failed two army drug tests. he says he then asked his commanders for help dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. shortly afterwards, nash was discharged from the army, with
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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 at the time thought he deserved the misconduct discharge. >> 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.
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>> 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. >> 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: as the battalion
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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? >> i vaguely remember kind of the circumstances around his pending assault charge. to the best of my knowledge, though, those charges, i believe, were going to be-- from what we were told by the prosecutor-- dropped. i believe that decision...
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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. >> the military knew that kenny eastridge had problems, but he was a good solider. 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. >> narrator: the soldiers of third platoon were sent back into combat after just one year at home.
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the military now acknowledges this is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate. >> 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." ( gunfire ) the surge was not only an increase in troop numbers, but also a change of tactics on the ground.
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for the soldiers who fought in it, the surge meant more time out of their armored vehicles, and intense combat. ( gunfire ) some of the soldiers of third platoon were happy to be back. >> i wasn't scared. if there was, like, a street or an intersection or a road where... most likely where we would get some kind of a contact from, i was always put there. "oh, put barco in the danger... the most dangerous spot." put me in the most dangerous spot. >> narrator: jose barco is now serving a 52-year prison sentence. once upon a time, he was one of the platoon heroes. >> ( laughs ) hi. are you recording me? you better not be recording me, yet. >> narrator: after the suicide attack that killed sergeant huey on their first tour, fellow soldiers remember him helping the wounded, despite being badly burned himself.
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he was offered retirement with a full medical pension, but he turned it down. for its second tour, third platoon was stationed in a baghdad neighborhood controlled by al qaeda. ( gunfire ) one of their jobs was to collect the corpses of iraqis murdered in sectarian violence. >> we ran into, like, groups, like mass executions, with their hands tied behind their backs and everybody shot in the head, 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.
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it was iraq, you know. 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... 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. >> 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. that did have an impact. there's no... clearly, no doubt about it. is that a reason not to do the surge? no, the surge worked. we needed to do the surge. war is a dangerous thing, and there is going to be repercussions from... from the actions, whether they're successful or not.
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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. >> in iraq, you've got to be numb. there was this one time that we got in a huge fire fight, and we didn't have room for our casualties in our trucks to take them to the hospital. we piled the trunk of our vehicles with dead american soldiers, just throw them in there. 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. >> yeah, we ( bleep ) this place up. >> narrator: by fall 2007, the soldiers of third platoon had
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spent 26 of the last 39 months in iraq. morale was low. >> hello, you ( bleep ) insurgent bitch! >> narrator: some of the soldiers were starting to fall apart. >> 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. they had me on ambien, remeron, lexapro, celexa, all kind of different stuff. they tried different medications and different doses, and nothing would work. >> narrator: before the iraq war, american soldiers in combat zones were not allowed to take psychiatric medications. but by the time of the surge,
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improved supply lines meant that more than 20,000 us troops in afghanistan and iraq were taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. these drugs enable the army to keep soldiers with post- traumatic stress on the battlefield. >> 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 a helplessness mode in a combat environment. i want to make sure that i don't have, you know, someone with suicidal thoughts where everyone is armed. i want to be able to manage that effectively. if i can treat it there and optimize their recovery, that's valuable. >> narrator: but some civilian psychiatrists are concerned that these could be inappropriate drugs for a war zone.
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dr. joseph glenmullen has studied kenny eastridge's prescriptions from his time in iraq. >> 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. >> i got stairs. >> narrator: eastridge was also prescribed ambien, a sleeping medication. >> 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.
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>> interviewer: being in the army is a hazardous occupation? >> well, i would think that being in a combat zone would be considered a hazardous occupation. >> everybody was on ambien. everybody. it was hard to find somebody that wasn't taking ambien. helps you sleep, and it also... i mean, it gets you pretty high. you get your body high, you have trouble remembering things. it lowers your inhibitions, all of that stuff. they shouldn't give soldiers ambien in iraq. >> hello. >> interviewer: should the army be prescribing these medications with those kind of side effects in theater? >> i've got to trust that our mental healthcare professionals downrange would not prescribe those drugs if they felt that there would be issues with those drugs in theater. >> narrator: the warnings on these medications state that patients should be closely
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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. >> all right, we're good. ( laughter ) >> narrator: it was difficult for army medical staff to keep a close eye on eastridge's reaction to his medications. >> ( bleep ) cool! >> narrator: when the platoon was stationed at the combat outpost for more than a week, eastridge says his medications ran out. >> 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. >> hello? >> hello, sexy! >> american!
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>> narrator: it's impossible to say how much of eastridge's behavior in iraq was related to his prescription medications. ( laughter ) he was also smoking marijuana and taking valium, which he says he bought from the platoon's iraqi translator. >> looking back on it, i mean, it looks like i was going crazy. ( laughter ) >> i love watching this guy because he has no conscience at all. >> i don't think she wants to hug you, dude. i think she's scared. >> go ask this guy if he wants a hug. >> ( laughing ) this is so great! >> i lost control. >> ( bleep )
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>> oh! ( laughter ) ( laughter ) >> oh, oh! >> 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 anti- depressants 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
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his room. he lost his temper and threatened to murder his lieutenant. he was court-martialed on nine counts. 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. >> 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."
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>> 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. >> 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. >> it was, like, 5:45 in the morning, october 27, 2007. the car whooshes down there, and then three gentlemen got out the car, started stabbing me.
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i didn't know i was stabbed, though. >> all i remember is they just told me to get on the ground and look the other way and pointed a nine revolver. >> okay. >> 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.
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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. >> 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 30, 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.
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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. >> i don't really want to go into 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' 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. >> as soon as i talk to her, i'm going to tell her, you know, whatever. >> okay.
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>> narrator: they were hauled in for questioning. kenny eastridge initially refused to say what had happened. >> do you want an attorney before we talk? is that what you are saying? >> yeah, she told me to wait to talk to her before i talk to you guys anyway. >> narrator: louis bressler would not answer questions either. >> can i just see my lawyer? >> is that what you want to do right now? >> yes, sir. >> okay. >> i think. >> narrator: but bruce bastien was prepared to talk. >> appreciate you coming down. thanks. >> no problem. >> narrator: he said that bressler had opened fire on kevin shields after a drunken fight got out of control. >> first shot, what does shields do? >> he just drops. >> okay. >> straight dropped... straight to the floor. >> okay. >> i don't know where he hit him first or anything. >> okay. >> i heard it, and all of a sudden, i just see the body fall to the ground. >> is it possible...? >> narrator: frontline has acquired the unedited tapes of bruce bastien's police interviews, 14 hours in total. >> what's he do?
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>> guy just drops straight to his knees. >> he goes to his knees... >> narrator: in them, he confesses to his role in a second murder of another fort carson soldier, and to the assault of erica ham. >> ... like this, boom, and the guy just falls back. >> okay. hey, kelly. >> narrator: but he also makes extraordinary claims about more murders that he says were committed in iraq during the surge. >> you made some interesting statements... >> narrator: he says that eastridge and other members of third platoon murdered iraqi civilians, or "hajis," in soldier slang. >> the military would be very interested in some of that. >> most of it's all murder. all of it, really. it's easy to get away with that kind of ( bleep ). >> right. >> you can just do it and be like, "oh, he had a gun. i don't know." >> right. >> nobody really looks into it. they're like, "( bleep ) it. it's just another dead haji." >> right. >> there's stuff like that, and there's the straight up, like, straight killings. like, just, driving down the road, ( bleep ) it, shoot somebody. >> you know this information is not going to help you, right? >> yeah, ( bleep ) it. i'm ( bleep ) anyway.
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>> so, if you make up this information, you'll be charged for that. you know that. >> oh, yeah. oh, yeah, i know. >> 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." >> yeah. there was a whole bunch of people in the unit that have done stuff like that, and killed people they weren't supposed to. >> little faster. >> 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. >> civilians die in combat, you know. they run around, like, in fire fights, and some of them get killed by accident. stuff like that. that 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... it doesn't make it
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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. that'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. >> we were trigger happy. we were pretty trigger happy. like, we'd... we'd open up on anything.
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we usually rolled with three or four trucks. if 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 didn't even 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 all that. we still... i still got you." we were keeping track. we were keeping scores. it's just... >> narrator: no soldier from third platoon has been charged with killing civilians in iraq. louis bressler and bruce bastien were eventually sentenced to 60
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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 ten 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. he was prescribed the powerful anti-psychotic medication seroquel to help him sleep, but
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krebbs had reached the end of his rope. >> i tried to kill myself by swallowing a lot of seroquel and... and drinking some vodka. i just couldn't take this ( bleep ) 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
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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. >> they gave me, like, eight or nine different medications. for every symptom of ptsd, they had a medication for it. you know, if you couldn't sleep, they'd give you something. you had nightmares, they'd give you something. you... you drank too much, they'll give you something for that. you know, they were just pulling medications out of nowhere. >> narrator: barco was sent for counseling 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.
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he was drinking heavily and carrying weapons. >> it was a bad idea. i just bought, like, a handgun or something like that. it didn't go crazy. i'm not gun crazy. >> on april 25, 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. >> the defendant then pulled out the .357 magnum from his belt, pointed it in the air in a room full of 20 or 30 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.
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another hit a pregnant woman in the leg. >> we ask you to find him guilty on all counts. >> narrator: barco was sentenced to a total of 52 years behind bars. 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. >> 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.
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>> 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. 11 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 report? >> um... 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
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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. >> 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. in 2010, almost a quarter of its psychiatry positions remained unfilled.
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( sirens wailing ) >> narrator: most of the men of third platoon are now scattered over the united states, many of them civilians. some of them are still looking for help, after years of suffering from post-traumatic stress. it's four years since david nash was thrown out of the army. he's still unemployed. he smokes marijuana every day. 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. >> okay, let's start off with the military. you enlisted in the army in october 6. >> yeah, 2003.
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>> how come? >> wasn't going to do anything else. >> nothing else to do? >> 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. >> and then, all of a sudden, you just hear fa-boom, and a big old mushroom cloud. and you're just like... and then, we go down there as fast as possible. and i was like, oh, wow... >> how does it feel talking about it? how does it feel thinking about it? >> i don't... don't know, just sad, i guess. i don't know, sad, angry. >> i can see it in your face. >> homicidal. i don't know, something like that, you know. drop a bomb on them. so, he died. >> 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
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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. >> 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 can only take, like, you know, half a pound of pressure and that's it. >> 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? >> no. >> but that reaction is normal. the war wasn't normal, those traumas aren't normal.
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>> narrator: doc krebbs has now retired from the army, and was awarded disability benefits for his post-traumatic stress. he lives in colorado with his wife and baby son, and returned to college in early 2010. jose barco is one year 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. after this film was first
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broadcast, david nash had his benefits reinstated by the military. he is now receiving treatment for his ptsd and is holding down a job. >> next time on frontline... >> you could run a dead man for coroner, and he'd get elected. >> ...after the crime... >> they find what the police want them to find. >> ...after the mistakes... >> story after story about incompetence. >> ...the truth is in the coroner's hands. >> you call a death an accident or miss a homicide, a murderer goes free. >> frontline, propublica, and npr investigate... >> the truth did go to the grave. >> "post mortem." >> this report continues on frontline's web site. watch the program online; view the story of another platoon member who found a way
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to deal with his ptsd; explore the story behind this film and the producer's journey tracking down the men of third platoon. and there's more on frontline's web site. watch nearly 100 programs from our archive, explore interactive timelines, and follow ongoing frontline investigations. then, join the discussion at frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan. committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest.
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additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our web site at uuuuuuuuuuuu frontline's "the wounded platoon" is available on dvd. to order, visit shopp6;/ or call 1-800-playpbs.
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