We’re being told that the President’s escalation is working. I continue to hope so, even while I remain suspicious that any long-term progress is being made. Even as the bar for measuring success is lowered until it looks like a limbo where we’re busy racing to the bottom, and the Iraqi government continues to invent false success stories, the car bombs continue and attrocities continue. And the successes? I’d have to say they are moderate at best – how else can you describe a drawdown that requires massive troop movements to deal with ongoing violence?
Then you hear something that really breaks your heart:
“I asked Sergeant Gaskins whether he thought about death,” the psychotherapist, Rosemary Masters, said in an interview on Thursday. “He said that death seemed like a good alternative to the way he was existing.”
That’s one of New Jersey’s finest who has sunken so low that death is nothing more than an escape from pain and misery – when life offers the embrace of a loving family. How does he react?
He started biting his nails compulsively, a new habit, one of his aunts said. He slept little, and often woke up screaming and drenched in sweat. He became reclusive, locking himself in a darkened room at his grandmother’s apartment in Newark whenever her friends stopped by. His legs trembled as he watched images from Iraq on television. He yelled at his 2-year-old son for no apparent reason, his wife, Amber Gaskins, said. And once, she said, he placed a knife at her throat, as if he did not know who she was.
This is not the reactions of a healthy man. Nor is it the quibbling of a cowardly man. It is the sick reaction of a brave man who simply cannot handle the horrors he has been forced to endure.
Fortunately, Sgt. Gaskins is on better mental terrain now. But there is no guarantee that he will remain there because there is no guarantee that the Army will continue his counseling and treatment. I believe the military does all it can to help, but PTSD is a cruel disorder. When you see the ones you love as enemies and those who extend their hands to help you seem to have weapons, how do you get better?
The truth is that I can see more than a little bit of my self in Sgt. Gaskins. He was young and idealistic and he signed up because he loved his country and saw service as a means of improving his life, just as I did when I was seventeen and sure that I knew how the world worked. That he has been handed a much different world than he was promised should not be held against him.
Whatever we feel about the President or the war in Iraq, we owe it to young men and women like Sgt. Gaskins to help them put the pieces back together and be made whole. My father was refused a military burial because his service records were sealed because of his activities in Viet Nam and Cambodia. My grandfather had difficulties proving that the rice mold growing in his lungs came from exposure as a POW almost forty years in his past. I’m proud of my own service and I’m proud of my family’s service – and I’m proud of young men like Sgt. Gaskins who still come forward to serve. But we need to do better for them when they come back. It is a soldier’s lot to endure whatever is cast at him in battle. It is our lot to ensure that, when the battle is over, we are not found wanting in our support for their sacrifice.
Holy Toledo. Can we quit bickering long enough to pay our debt of honor? Who got to our so-called elected leadership that they can close an eye in comfort without speaking out on this subject? There’s no comic relief here, folks. Our freedom is paid for in blood. It’s time we paid a little back. Failure cannot be an option when New Jersey’s finest come marching home at last.