Friday, August 17, 2012

Unfriendly Fire-6

Charlie Springle
Messages suggesting Jones was about to find himself on trial in the court of public opinion started darkening his digital doorstep in late May.   A reporter for Bloomberg, Elliot Blair Smith, took an almost passive-aggressive approach to get Jones to talk. 

Though he sounded sympathetic, Smith’s questions were anything but.   He led with comments about a 2008 stateside DWI (driving while intoxicated) arrest, mentioned something about Jones “lying to the police,” and then expressed concern about how difficult everything must have been.

“He sounded like he had a pre-determined angle he was pushing,” says Jones, who refrained from commenting. 

Smith’s August 1 Bloomberg/Business Week story bears out Jones’ concerns.   With little personal context and even less indication how it affected his military duties, Smith drops in a few
ad hominem paragraphs about that DWI.   His story calls it a second offense, but court records to which the story links show a complaint amended to reflect a first offense only.

While bemoaning the combat stress that befell Sgt. Russell after three tours of duty, the story never mentions Jones’ five tours, or anything about the dozens of soldiers he helped on the front lines.

Hannah Barton
About Jones, the Bloomberg story is negative.  About Russell, it equivocates, justifies, and points the finger at everyone but the shooter.   That approach has left Hannah Barton scratching her head.   

Sgt. Russell “was in the right state of mind to drive 30 mph across the post (20-30 minute drive) without speeding, and to sit outside the Combat Stress Center (CSC) and smoke a cigarette, she writes in her online petitionHe also had the presence of mind to take his name tapes off of his uniform and hat.  He shot five innocent people in the head, one of them being my little brother, who didn't even have a weapon.   None of the soldiers there had weapons, since the CSC requires you to sign them over at the front desk to prevent things like this.   

A person who seemed even more benevolent than Elliot Smith showed up on Jones’ physical doorstep this month, three years after the killings:  a kindly gray-haired man with quick eyes, a gentle tone, and a disheveled, Columbo-esque demeanor.   

“We know all about you, Dr. Jones,” the man—who introduced himself as “David Fechheimer”—said, in so many words.

James Culp

No doubt.   As one of the nation’s foremost private investigators, Fechheimer—a 70-something San Francisco-based former literature scholar the San Francisco Times likened to Jerry Garcia (for his shocks of white hair)—makes $350/hour digging the dirt that discredits:  about witnesses for the prosecution, on behalf of defense attorneys like James Culp.   

“The strong shouldn't prey on the weak,” Fechheimer told San Francisco Weekly, about why he helps criminal defendants facing government prosecutors.

Culp, meanwhile, continues orchestrating behind the curtain, stepping out for an occasional comment, or for Elliot Smith, a video that features Jones’ DWI mugshot next to Russell’s mass-murder mugshot.
David Fechheimer

With its exhausting, multiple deployments, the Iraq War, Culp tells Smith, was “an experiment with consequences.” 

“The citizens of the United States will learn shortly, whether they want to or not, a psychiatric truth,” Culp says.   Mostly, soldiers like John Russell are just going to kill themselves.  “But sometimes, other people are gonna die, too.” 

Mike Jones tells a story about a different kind of evacuation back home, as a widower between deployments.

In the last days of an 8-month struggle with pancreatic cancer, his wife’s mother Margurete needed transport from a small summer home in Minnesota to family in the Kansas City area. 

With his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Jones carefully loaded the frail eighty-something woman into the long rear section of a station wagon, making the six hundred mile drive, slow and careful to avoid pain and bumps.   

Coupled with everything that has happened since, it seems a journey with Faulknerian overtones, As I Lay Dying for modern times.

With Margurete relocated to her children’s home, Jones returned to Colorado, his base for a five-state region of locum tenens assignments—temporary psychiatry jobs in inpatient and outpatient clinics—while he awaited word from the Army about where he would be going next.

He got that word—a possible emergency deployment to Afghanistan—just as Marguerite died.  For her August 29, 2008 funeral, he drove 700 miles at night from Colorado to Missouri, knowing that at any moment his deployment orders could arrive.

He was pulled over for the DWI during that trip, and has since found the lapse Exhibit A in Sgt. John Russell’s defense claim that his psychiatric care was so flawed, it led him to kill five people. 

After his wife Karen passed from longstanding complications of lupus, Jones was alone for the first time in 18 years.   A U.S. Marine during Vietnam, he returned to the military’s structure and discipline to reset his inner compass. 

His 7-year series of overseas tours started with a 2002 stint in war-torn Bosnia.  He was fifty two years old, and a rare commodity the Army called up time and time again—a psychiatrist on the front lines.      

Now, three years after John Russell, Dr. Jones can no longer sit across from a soldier, a client, or a patient.   His long career has quietly disappeared.   

The aching grief, the survivor’s guilt, and the tragedy of that Mother’s Day weekend:   What to make of it all?  

In the heat, the sorrow, and the weariness, Jones is left with no answers.  Instead, he has only memories—of the competent, well-trained, empathetic team he left behind and the man who took their lives.  

John Russell shot five people in the head, and they weren't even armed, Hannah Barton reminds.  Worse still, he had been to meetings with a few of them, and they were U.S. Soldiers -- just like him.

Dr. Michael Jones is the author’s wife’s uncle.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 


Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Dr. Jones, I don't really buy his excuses. I was serving with 1st Cavalry Division on Camp Liberty at the time these shootings occurred, in a building a short walk from the clinic. As such, I know a little bit about the layout of the base.

Camp Liberty was a part of a larger post called the Victory Base Complex which included several smaller camps such as Stryker. Therefore, a referral and removal of SGT Russell out of the Combat Zone would have meant a trip to BIAP and a flight to Kuwait or Qatar. Simply put, he would have no need to leave the base and as result no Soldiers would have been put at risk.

I don't blame Dr. Jones for this, his hands are tied. The puzzle pushers at the Pentagon are absolutely convinced that any Soldier who walks through the doors of Mental Health is looking for a free ticket out of the Army. Accordingly, Behavioral Health doctors can offer little more than platitudes to disturbed Soldiers, putting other Soldiers at risk.

I have a few questions Dr. Jones, how do you know SGT Russell was looking for a discharge with benefits? Is that your professional opinion or simple conjecture? Why is it that Army Behavioral Health Specialists seem to be so set on the belief that all causes of Soldier grief are purely situational? Seems to be a going theme with you guys.

Why am I asking this? Because I feel for SGT Russell, I don't at all condone what he did, but I know what he was going through because I'm going through it myself. After more than 13 years of Army service, I'm utterly sick of it as well as all the other aspects of my so called life. I want MY life BACK! I think SGT Russell, like me, just had enough and didn't know a better way to phrase it. After all, not all of us have been through Med School.

My suggestion, speak up about processing at risk Soldiers out of the Army. YOU guys are the experts, not the dog and pony show at the Pentagon. Try practicing real Psychology for a change, not the "take two of these.." or "try some breathing exercises for stress." Every day the Army keeps pushing me closer to suicide and not one of you head shrinkers seem to care. I've already tried it once, believe me, next time I'll succeed.

In the end, if you guys had simply stopped with the head games and did what needed to be done in regards to SGT Russell, I wouldn't be writing a response to article that wouldn't exist.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me, anonymous, he was fully evaluated numerous times by multiple experts in the field, to make sure it wasn't situational. To the point where he was referred by another provider to this provider to make sure it wasn't situational. Seems like spot on clinical and professional care to me to ensure the right steps were being taken. He specifically said he wanted out of the Army, doesn't get more "situational" than that. Maybe "real Psychology" can be done by these professionals when people stop trying to use mental health to get out of the Army. And if you want out of the Army, finish your contract and get out, stop reenlisting.

Specialist Brown said...

My SGT and I were the first responder medics to this call in Camp Liberty. They had us hold back about five minutes because the scene was still unsafe when we arrived. It was traumatic for all involved. However, I can grasp the desperation that this soldier had.

Following the deployment I had to ask for help. I was pinpointed as a weak soldier. People I used to hang out with couldn't even look at me in the eyes when I walked pass them. Things build and I know everyone has their opinions based on their morals. After feeling like I was bad and wrong and the shame of my company I felt a taste of what this soldier may have been going through. Then to have someone tell him that he can no longer be a soldier.

I'm one of those folk that believe things happen for a reason. Though at the time it happened I couldn't think past how terrible this person was. I truly feel the pain of the families that have lost a family member physically and mentally to this event. Even the family of the soldier. It is not something you just get over.

That being said I do not believe this man should be put to death.