Maj. Nadal Malik Hasan’s rampage shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, was the worst thing that could have happened to the United States military during this phase of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His cowardly, murderous rampage has placed doubt in the minds of soldiers and sowed seeds of doubt with the American people that their military is suspect.
I have been through the deployment readying process. It is a benign experience. The days before going to the Soldier Readiness Center are filled with exhausting and challenging training. The trip to the SRC is almost anticipated and seen as an opportunity to sit quietly with your fellow soldier, joke a bit, and do those things necessary to prepare yourself and your family for the deployment.
Until now, it was not a place where you expected to be shot at. Hasan has taken a safe haven away from our soldiers and made the SRC yet another dangerous place of suspicion and alertness. The only other place worse that he could have chosen would have been the Fort Hood elementary school.
I have Muslim friends serving in our military. One of the greatest accomplishments of the Maine Army National Guard’s B/3-172nd’s Iraq deployment was that we brought back to Maine several of our Iraqi interpreters and their families. One of the translators joined the U.S. Army within six months of his arrival in our country. He went to boot camp, Airborne school and now serves as an Arabic translator.
Another Iraqi, whom my family visited this Thanksgiving, writes and lectures for the United States Military Academy. Both are nobly serving their new country, the United States of America, and sadly the actions of Hasan weaken our people’s recognition of these new citizens’ sacrifice. I worry now that their fellow soldiers and peers will now hold them suspect and question their loyalty.
Last, the American people may now view every deployed soldier as having mental health issues. Yes, there are soldiers who deploy and have experiences that need attention. The New York Times reports as many as one-fifth of our troops return from Afghanistan or Iraq dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. Hasan’s state of mind, even though he never deployed, helps to further the myth that everyone who goes to combat comes back with problems.
Not all soldiers who deploy come home with post-traumatic stress disorder; in fact, four-fifths do not have those problems. In an October USA Today report, Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina offers controversial research that suggests soldiers might actually “grow” from their deployment experiences. Tedeschi is an expert in post-traumatic growth and says “this trauma separates them from other people; it also allows them to maybe see themselves as more human than they ever were before, have a closer connection with what it means to be a human being.”
I personally experienced Tedeschi’s suggestion. My wife will tell you that I am not the same man I was when I left for Iraq. She will tell you I am a better man than when I left. I was even diagnosed with a mild form of PTSD and like many others got better with time or through engaging treatment options offered by Army professionals and their civilian counterparts.
Millions fought in World War II and came home to Maine to become entrepreneurs, community leaders and philanthropists. Our modern veterans are not fragile mental cases; they too will come home to become Maine’s leaders.
Hasan’s actions immediately lead to headlines that questioned the mental stability of our soldiers and skewed public perception of their abilities (and capabilities). His murderous and cowardly actions have cut into our soldiers’ psyche and bred mistrust within the ranks. At such a critical time in our nation’s defense of liberty and security for all Americans, it is of paramount importance that these misconceptions are put right. In the final analysis, our brave men and women in uniform deserve the trust of their fellow soldiers as well as the support of the citizenry they protect.
Darryl W. Lyon of Bangor is an assistant professor of military science at the University of Maine’s ROTC department.