Combat Stress

Rich Galen
By Rich Galen | November 6, 2009 | 4:53 AM EST

I don't know any more about this guy Major Nidal Hasan, M.D. than you do. I've watched the coverage of his insane shooting on the military base in Texas, Fort Hood, and I've watched, read, and heard all of the similarly uninformed discussion surrounding it.
Hasan is alive and in custody. Unlike so many other maniacs who shoot up innocent people, we'll learn why he did this.
Hasan is a Muslim from a Muslim family in Virginia. He joined the Army out of high school, spending eight years as an enlisted man. The Army put him through college and then through medical school. For that the Army requires that you spend a little time in the Service on its behalf.
Hasan is an Army psychiatrist. Somehow, over the course of his career, he has avoided service in either Iraq or Afghanistan over the past eight years. It may be that he had played all the angles but his number came up and his military butt was en route the war zone.
Psychiatrists in war zones - at least in the war zone I was in - work in a unit called "Combat Stress." Combat, by its nature, is stressful. Some people deal with it better than others. In my experience some people walked around the Green Zone in full "battle rattle" any time they left the palace, just because. Combat Stress helped them.
Some people see, hear, and smell things - like their buddy, sitting in the seat next to them in their Humvee, being blown up by an IED - which are more than any, any, normal human being can handle. That's when the Combat Stress folks get involved.
My first trip outside of Baghdad in 2003 was to the U.S. compound in Ramadi in the dreaded Anbar Province and was, at the time, the home of the 82nd Airborne. I flew up there in a helicopter with an Army psychiatrist who had, as Nidal Hasan had, gone through the military's medical school at Bethesda, Maryland.
Here's what I wrote at the time: "The psychiatrist is going out into the field for a year. A YEAR! This is a long, long way from being a psychiatrist on Park Avenue. In fact, this is about as far from Park Avenue as you can get and still be in the near Solar System.
"The First Sergeant of the Combat Stress unit, a reservist who is a former nurse and most recently was a member of the California Highway Patrol dealing with organized crime specializing in the Russian mafia in Los Angeles."
My point is, the Combat Stress folks - doctors and nurses - were real soldiers and they were plenty tough. It may be harder to deal with the kid whose buddy was blown apart than to be the surgeon trying to save the life of the buddy.
Hasan who, according to the NY Times, is 39-years old "started having second thoughts about his military career a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim."
Hello? You mean to tell me that after 9/11 a guy named Nidal Hasan wasn't harassed for being a Muslim but sometime over the past "few years" his fellow officers turned on him because of his name?
If he is 39 years old and joined out of high school, he has been in the military for about 20 years. If he was going to be harassed for being a Muslim, it is more likely to have happened in his enlisted days than when he was an Army physician.
Hasan, I suspect, started having those "second thoughts about his military career" not because of late-arriving harassment, but because he didn't want to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Who has wanted to be deployed? Ok, not including me, I mean.
If Hasan was a staff psychiatrist working in the medical center at Fort Hood, there have to be some questions about whether his colleagues - his medical colleagues - noticed anything about his behavior which might have led at least one of them to wonder whether he might be headed down this path.
If not, why not?
We'll find out much more about Major Hasan over the next days and weeks. I wonder, though, where the Army psychiatrists and nurses, the Combat Stress heroes, go when they need counseling - when one of their own kills.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the NY Times and AP backgrounders on Hasan. Also a Mullfoto of the only person I have declined to be my Facebook friend, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.