Clinic Was No Safe Haven For Troops In Iraq

8:38 AM, May 14, 2009   |    comments
  • Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdo's family
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(USATODAY) -- There are few secure places in Iraq, but for three young soldiers seeking respite from the war, the mental health clinic at Baghdad's Camp Liberty was supposed to be a sanctuary.

Nevertheless, those soldiers, plus two therapists who treated them, were killed in Monday's shooting, the worst incident of soldier-on-soldier violence during the Iraq war. One of the victims was Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J., a married soldier on his second tour in Iraq.

"If my son had died in war we would be able to handle that," his father, Carlos Bueno, said of the Peruvian-born soldier nicknamed "Chinito," who joined the Army after high school. "But not to die in this manner."

Army Sgt. John Russell, a troubled soldier who had been treated at the clinic, has been charged by the military with five counts of murder.

The military in Baghdad continued to keep reporters away from Camp Liberty on Wednesday and refused to allow interviews with clinic staff or witnesses.

Russell's father, Wilburn Russell, has accused the Army of hounding his son - on his third tour in Iraq and with money worries at home - to the breaking point.

The military has offered few details about the incident, but senior officers have said more needs to be done to alleviate troop stress.

"Combat deployments are inherently stressful," the Army's chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, said at a briefing Wednesday. "I can't believe that the stress of three combat deployments, added to personal and family situations and stresses, is not some type of a contributing factor."

Shawna Machlinski, the mother of Army Pfc. Michael E. Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md., heard from her son on Sunday, when he called to wish her a happy Mother's Day.

Yates' stepfather, Richard Van Blargan, said Yates had difficulty readjusting to Iraq after visiting family on Maryland's Eastern Shore in April. "He went through a lot of emotions," he said. "He went to the program to help him not be so stressed-out."

Machlinski said she sympathized with Russell, who like her son was under stress, but, "I kind of blame the Army for not protecting my son. Someone should have helped this sergeant way before he got this bad." Yates left behind a 1-year-old son.

Army Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo., also was killed.

The two other victims - Navy Cmdr. Charles K. Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and Army Maj. Matthew P. Houseal, 54, of Amarillo, Texas- were therapists dedicated to helping stressed people such as Russell.

Springle, who went by his middle name of Keith, joined the Navy in 1988 and viewed his job as a clinical social worker "as very important work," said Bob Goodale, a friend who counsels servicemembers at the Citizen-Soldier Support Program in Chapel Hill, N.C. He and Springle worked on a report about potential traumas related to multiple deployments and ways to encourage troops to seek treatment.

Houseal, a psychiatrist, was "completely dedicated to his patients and would do whatever he could to help him out," said Jim Womack, a co-worker at Texas Panhandle Mental Health and Mental Retardation in Amarillo. "You always hear about doctors who didn't spend time with patients. He would spend as much time as it took."

Former Army psychologist Bryan Shea, who did two tours in Iraq, said it's not surprising that "the highest concentration of people who are emotionally disturbed" would be found around counseling clinics, but he said he has felt more fear in some American neighborhoods than when he was in Iraq.

Nonetheless, Shea said, "I'm concerned that those who are having mental difficulties are going to be even more afraid to go to the clinic" because of what happened.

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