Soldiers Use Drugs, Alcohol to Face Stress
> 8/8/2006 12:40:34 PM

Testifying before a military hearing that will decide the fate of four soldiers, Private First Class Justin Cross, from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, described how many soldiers serving in Iraq pop pills and drink to deal with the day-to-day stress. Along with former soldier Stephen Green, the four men currently serving are accused of raping a young Iraqi woman and murdering her family. Another soldier has been charged with failing to disclose his knowledge of the crime.

PFC Justin Cross, who served with the men, had been called to testify about the mental states of the accused as well as other soldiers when he revealed the extent to which drug and alcohol abuse played a part in facing the stresses of war.

Troops turned to alcohol and drugs as they dealt with fears of being attacked and killed, Pfc Justin Cross said.

"It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up. You just hit a point where you 're like, 'If I die today, I die.' You're just walking a death walk."

Later, the article quotes Cross further on the difficulties soldiers faced as part of the conflict:

Cross said his unit went on long rotations outside its forward base, sometimes spending several weeks without hot food and showers or contact with family and friends.

He testified that he and other soldiers were constantly in fear and said the unit was "full of despair."

While it is important to remember that these statements reflect only one soldier's opinion, we must understand the mental health ramifications of this testimony. What Cross is describing is not merely some unrest among the soldiers, but widespread mental health problems ranging from depression to substance abuse to anxiety and stress disorders. Pfc. Justin Watt, another soldier testifying at the proceedings, also spoke about the stress and tension caused by watching comrades die. His own anxiety was compounded by the rape/murder under investigation as he felt responsible to come forward with his suspicions but feared retribution from the accused.

Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of criminal behavior by United States forces serving in Iraq. Just as we've seen how PTSD, depression and other mental health disorders can lead to tragedy upon returning to the States, it would appear as though these same factors may be driving irrational or criminal behavior in the warzone. In the case of the latter, this can only serve to create a vicious cycle that continues to feed itself. Incidents like this tragic rape/murder can only be met with more vigilant mental health treatment for the men and women who are serving abroad as well as the ones who have already returned.

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