05.17.10 : Governor Parkinson directs flags at half-staff to honor Sgt. Ralph Mena Governor Mark Parkinson has directed flags to be flown at half-staff throughout Kansas from sunup to sundown on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 in honor of Sergeant Ralph Mena of Hutchinson, Kansas. “Sergeant Mena deserves our utmost appreciation for his commitment to our country and his service and sacrifice,” said Parkinson. “On behalf of all Kansans, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of this Kansas hero.” Sgt. Mena, 27, died May 3, 2010 in Tikrit, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. Mena was assigned to A Company, 72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 5th Signal Command, Mannheim, Germany. He was a lifetime resident of Hutchinson and had served in the United States Army for seven years. Since 2007, national policy has allowed the flags of the United States and the State of Kansas to be displayed at half-staff throughout the state when a member of the Kansas National Guard or Kansas Air National Guard is killed in the line of duty, or when a Kansas resident serving as a member of the United States Armed Forces is killed in the line of duty. In each instance, the governor will designate the date for flags to fly at half-staff. # # #
To be notified of the governor's directives regarding flag lowering, please visit http://governor.ks.gov/flag-honors.
To read the Governor’s Executive Order on flag honors, please visit http://governor.ks.gov/issues-a-initiatives/executive-orders/315-07262007-executive-order-07-22-kansas-flag-honors-.In other news, Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. Steve Miller (WBBM) reports Troy is in the Chicago area for the next few days:
So far he's walked 550 miles. Many of them painful.
"I go through a pain every single day. Today was left calf day. Yesterday was lower back day."
Yocum has raised more $40,000 for military families in need. He wants to raise $5 million.
"So we still have a long distance to go there. But I'm happy that we've been able to help some people already."
Yocum says by raising money for military families in need, he hopes to stop what he sees as a trend of more suicides among veterans.
Soldiers' Angels issued the following:
Iraq veteran Troy Yocum has reached Illinois in the first month of his 7,000 mile "drum hike" across America for military families. The 16-month journey, which began in Kentucky, crosses 25 states and 25 major cities to "drum up" donations, support and awareness for families needing financial assistance. Funds raised will be distributed through military support nonprofit Soldiers' Angels, which has a number of project supporting veterans and their families.
Yocum's motivation and motto is "Never Walk Alone," something that Yocum believes too many families of veterans have had to do. "In the last couple years, thousands of military families have been applying for financial assistance," he says. "And there's just not enough money being donated to help them." Drum Hike aims to change that.
The Illinois leg of Yocum's Hike began yesterday in Chicago, where he marched with the firemen's union and Axe-men. From May 18 through June 6 his route will roughly follow Interstate 55, stopping in towns along the way to St. Louis, such as Clinton and Heyworth. Young Marines will join Yocum in Peoria, and Boy Scouts will hike the last leg into St. Louis. He will also return to Chicago on the 28th and 29th for the Memorial Day parade and to celebrate the opening Friends of Fisher House Illinois at Hines Hospital.
Throughout his Drum Hike, Yocum will carry a custom Louisville Slugger baseball bat for mayors and governors to sign, assisting the Soldiers' Angels' bid to declare Oct. 26 "Day of the Deployed," a national day of honor. Yocum will present the bat to the White House on May 11, 2011.
Yocum is live-streaming his journey, presenting a video blog and interviewing U.S. veterans on DrumHike.com while tracking his progress on Google Earth. Patriotic Americans are encouraged to greet Troy along his route or develop troop support events in conjunction with his arrival by visiting DrumHike.com or emailing Troy@FollowTroy.com.
Established in 2003, Soldiers' Angels is a volunteer-based 501(c)(3) providing aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as veterans and military families through a wide variety of hands-on projects and volunteerism. For more information, visit www.soldiersangels.org or call 615-676-0239. Tax ID# 20-0583415
Troy's schedule can be found here along with this note:
Anyone can join in the "Hike for our Heroes" and walk alongside Troy. We need people to contact EMS, Fire, Police, Boy Scouts, Young Marines, VFWs, American Legions, marching bands and anyone who wants to join for a few miles. If you are a wounded soldier we will see to it that you can take part. Please contact us at Troy@followtroy.com
Tonight (on most PBS stations), Frontline devotes the hour to veterans:
FRONTLINE INVESTIGATES A CLUSTER OF MURDERS, VIOLENT CRIMES, MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS AND DRUG ABUSE AMONG A PLATOON OF SOLDIERS RETURNING FROM IRAQ
FRONTLINE Season Finale
THE WOUNDED PLATOON
Tuesday, May 18, 2010, from 9 to 10:30 P.M. ET on PBS
On November 30, 2007, 24-year-old Kevin Shields went out drinking with three Army buddies from Fort Carson, a base on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colo. A few hours later, he was dead—shot twice in the head at close range and left by the side of the road by his fellow soldiers. Shields’ murder punctuated a string of violent attacks committed by the three, who are now serving time in prison for this and other crimes, and it contributed to a startling statistic: Since the Iraq war began, a total of 17 soldiers from Fort Carson have been charged with or convicted of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder committed at home in the United States, and 36 have committed suicide.
In The Wounded Platoon, airing Tuesday, May 18, 2010, from 9 to 10:30 P.M. ET (check local listings), FRONTLINE investigates a single Fort Carson platoon of infantrymen -- the 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry -- and finds a group of young men changed by war and battling a range of psychiatric disorders that many blame for their violent and self-destructive behavior. Since returning from Iraq, three members of the 3rd Platoon have been convicted on murder or attempted murder charges; one has been jailed for drunk driving and another for assaulting his wife; and one has attempted suicide.
The FRONTLINE investigation also uncovers extraordinary footage from police interrogation tapes alleging that members of the platoon murdered unarmed Iraqis. “There’s a whole bunch of people in the unit that killed people they weren’t supposed to,” according to Bruce Bastien, who, along with Louis Bressler and Kenny Eastridge, is now serving time for the murder of Kevin Shields. In a stunning confession recorded by police interviewers and shown for the first time on television, Bastien admits to his role in the murder of two U.S. soldiers and the stabbing of a young woman during a robbery in Colorado Springs—and he makes claims about more murders committed in Iraq during the surge. “It’s easy to get away with that kind of s*** over there. You can just do it and be like, ‘Oh, he had a gun, and nobody really looks into it. ‘F*** it, it’s just another dead Haji.’”
While the Army has concluded that there is no evidence to back up Bastien’s allegations of soldiers killing innocent Iraqis, FRONTLINE also speaks with platoon member Jose Barco, who makes a similar claim. “We were pretty trigger-happy,” he says of the soldiers’ time in Iraq. “We’d open up on anything. We usually rolled three or four trucks, and if one of them got hit and there was any males around, we’d open up, and we’d shoot at them. ... They even didn’t have to be armed.”
Barco is now serving a 52-year prison sentence for attempted murder following an incident at a party in Colorado Springs. Once hailed as a hero for saving two soldiers during a suicide-bomb attack that left him with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, he was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and says he was prescribed nine different medications. FRONTLINE interviews retired military psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, who says that there may be a link between Barco’s crimes and his injuries. “We have someone who’s been emotionally traumatized, and they’ve got PTSD. They’re anxious, and they’re depressed, and they’ve got TBI, which means that they’ve got problems in decision making. They can’t think as clearly. They are really vulnerable to just overreacting.”
In The Wounded Platoon, FRONTLINE reveals a military mental health system overwhelmed with soldiers suffering psychological injuries from the surge—at Fort Carson the rate of PTSD diagnosis has risen 4,000 percent since 2002—and the widespread use of prescription psychiatric drugs both at home and in combat. “Everybody was on Ambien, everybody. It was hard to find somebody that wasn’t taking Ambien,” says the 3rd Platoon’s medic, Ryan “Doc” Krebbs. “It helps you sleep, and it also f***s you up. It gets you pretty high.” After returning home, Krebbs was also prescribed the antipsychotic medication Seroquel, on which he would purposefully overdose in a suicide attempt. “I thought that my time in this place was over, and I’d already done what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t want to live anymore.”
Before the Iraq war, American soldiers in combat zones did not take psychiatric medications, but by the time of the surge more than 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. These drugs enable the Army to keep soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder on the battlefield. “What I use medications for is to treat very specific side effects,” Army psychiatrist Col. George Brandt tells FRONTLINE. “I don’t want somebody in a helplessness mode in a combat environment. I want to make sure I don’t have someone with suicidal thoughts where everyone is armed.”
Kenny Eastridge, who is now serving time for the murder of Kevin Shields and other crimes, tells FRONTLINE that he sought help for mental health problems from a combat stress center on Forward Operating Base Falcon. “I was having a total mental breakdown. Every day we were getting in battles and never having a break. It seemed like, it was just crazy,” he says. “They put me on all kinds of meds, and I was still going out on missions. They had me on Ambien, Remeron, Lexapro, Celexa, all kind of different stuff.”
Despite the warnings that patients on these medications should be closely monitored for side effects, Eastridge was sent to a remote combat outpost for weeks at a time with no medical supervision or mental health provision. He says he ran out of medication and was also smoking marijuana and taking Valium. In dramatic footage filmed by other members of the 3rd Platoon, FRONTLINE shows Eastridge behaving erratically, wandering into Iraqi homes, lying in their beds, and trying to hug local women and men.
Fort Carson’s hospital remains understaffed with almost a quarter of its psychiatry positions unfilled. The 3rd’s battalion, which has been reflagged as the 2-12 Infantry, is about to return home from a year of intense combat in Afghanistan. “We’re all wondering what’s going to happen,” says Colorado Springs psychotherapist Robert Alvarez. “It’s a scary thought, you know, what’s going to happen in this community. Are we going to have more murders? Are we going to have more suicides, or are we going to have more crime? I think the answer to that is probably yes.”
The Wounded Platoon is a FRONTLINE co-production with Mongoose Pictures in association with the BBC. The producers are Dan Edge and Christopher Buchanan. The writer and director is Dan Edge. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation and by the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation. The senior producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
Promotional photography can be downloaded from the PBS pressroom.
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