Series: Defining present-traumatic stress

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 2, 2013

About this series
Stars and Stripes examines the mental health of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and how they cope with war’s internal burden while deployed. Stories will explore the work of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and chaplains to reduce the combat-related stress of troops; the efforts of senior officers to balance the needs of soldiers with the demands of the U.S. mission; and the fear of asking for help that still exists within the Army.
This series is produced with the support of a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.

Fighting the shadows: Helping troops find peace of mind amid war

In Sgt. Frederick Schrom's worst moments, the dense, iron-tinged odor of blood struck like a punch. His stomach convulsed, bile scalding his throat. At night, images of the injured and dead wrenched him awake.

Death shapes life for teams that prepare bodies of the fallen

The first body was the most difficult. Pfc. Durell Siverand found a family portrait in the dead soldier’s wallet that showed him posing with his wife and two daughters. A mortar blast had killed him on the day he turned 21.

Banding together to fight — and heal

Across the country, behavioral health specialists attempt to bring together a squad or platoon within 72 hours after the unit experiences a calamity: a soldier’s death or serious injury, a mission that yields civilian casualties. The sessions represent part of the military’s wider effort to alleviate the mental burden of troops at war.

'For some reason, I’m alive and he’s not'

First Lt. Joshua Fosher was 15 feet in front of him; Capt. Dusty Turner was about as far behind. The distance saved the two Americans from his fate. Yet they were casualties in a less obvious sense. The blast inflicted hidden wounds, physical and psychological, that lingered long after Kiepura returned to Poland in a metal box.

Downrange together, learning to put marriage before duty

Even living under the same roof, the Dwyers found the war dividing them after their unit arrived at FOB Shank in March.

'Resiliency center' grows out of effort to provide respite from war

In the era of asymmetrical warfare, when the demarcation between the front line and the rear echelon has dissolved like a mirage, the 'resiliency center' serves as an oasis, if only for the running time of “Bridesmaids.”

Chaplain with PTSD returns; shows troops there’s a way out of darkness

The soldier lay on a stretcher, his lower legs a mash of pulverized bone and blackened flesh. Doctors and technicians ringed his broken body. Chaplain David Trogdon watched in silence for an opening. Then he came forward and squeezed the soldier’s hand in his own.

To ease war’s personal strain, chaplain shares the burden

The work of chaplains in a combat zone inspires metaphors that liken their role to a release valve or catch basin. They listen more than they preach. Those who cultivate a ministry of presence serve as roving counselors, adept at creating rapport, undaunted by four-letter banter and mindful that pressing religion on troops can halt conversation faster than a mortar siren.

Downrange, no longer suffering the code of silence

The prevalence of PTSD has provoked questions within the Army about the wisdom of senior officers badgering lower-ranking troops to repress their combat trauma while deployed, and the unofficial code of silence, long regarded as a barometer of soldier strength, has drawn scrutiny of late as a doctrine that merely defers war’s psychological toll.