Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist Michael "Sonny" Trimble, who for two years led an interagency team that exhumed the mass graves of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide campaign, speaks candidly about the mental toll of his work and his struggle with post-traumatic stress after he came home.
Many Iraq veterans don’t like to admit to such issues.
But the truth, Trimble said, is that in a combat environment, "everyone’s got their saturation point. And anyone who says otherwise is lying."
Working with the genocide victims in Iraq, "I felt I was being sanded away with fine-grained sandpaper, just a little every day," Trimble said.
"Day by day, [you think] you’re in good shape. Eight months later, you realize, ‘I’m not in good shape.’
"I’ve been back for over a year and I’m mostly OK now. But for the first eight months, I think my wife was very worried, because I wouldn’t go outside. Because you learn pretty quickly in that environment (an active combat zone), if you’re in a hard building, you’re safe. Especially that last year, even in our ‘safe’ zone, Camp Slayer, there was small- arms fire zipping around all the time. It didn’t matter how many blast walls you had. You realized quickly, because you saw it happen to people, that you could be walking to the DFAC (dining hall), and you could be dead. And it happened to people.
"I didn’t have nightmares or any of that kind of stuff. I just wouldn’t go outside. I wouldn’t do it.
"Not in a tense way, but I would stay the whole weekend in the house. I’d maybe go to the park for two hours, and then go back in the house, find something to putz around with.
"I realized about month six, uh oh, this isn’t right.
"But I’m all right now. Pretty much. I still prefer being in buildings, and, you know, I’m an archaeologist, I’m an outdoors person. I’ve always been an outdoors person. If you don’t like the outdoors, you can’t do archaeology.
"It was that place [Iraq]. It really heated up towards the end."