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Soldier rampage hints at stress of repeated deployments

Sgt. John Russell was charged with murder Tuesday. He was finishing his third tour in Iraq.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 2009

Wilburn Russell wipes his eyes after talking to reporters on May 12, 2009. Russell's son is accused of killing five fellow troops at their base in Iraq.

LM Otero/AP



Military police on Tuesday charged Sgt. John Russell, a soldier on a 15-month tour to Iraq – his third deployment to the country – with murder in the shooting deaths of five soldiers at an American base.

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Details about Sergeant Russell are beginning to emerge. In an interview with a local television station in Sherman, Texas, Russell's father said his son was facing financial difficulty and feared he was about to be discharged from the Army. The case has focused further attention on the effect that multiple, extended deployments are having on soldiers.

Fifteen-month tours and repeated deployments are increasing the rate of suicide, divorce, and psychological problems, according to Pentagon data. The shootings at Camp Liberty in Iraq speak to the need "to redouble our efforts ... in terms of dealing with the stress," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon press conference Monday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is requesting to "institutionalize and properly fund" programs to help wounded troops, including those with psychological disorders. Roughly 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But a main source of the problem – the repeated, extended deployments – will probably continue. President Obama is drawing troops down in Iraq, but he is also sending more to Afghanistan, minimizing the impact that the drawdown from Iraq will have on the health of the force.

The US military command launched an investigation Tuesday into whether it offers adequate mental-health care to its soldiers. Russell's father said his son, who joined the Army in 1994, felt alienated at the stress center.

"They didn't tell him they were there for his benefit – [that] they were there as a friend to him to find out if he had any psychological problems as a result of his third tour of duty," the father, Wilburn Russell, told the local news station.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. David 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.