PTSD, Suicides, Unhealing Trauma: War Vets Recall Iraq Invasion
© AP Photo / Jerome DelayFILE - Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad, in this April 9, 2003 file photo. The U.S. invaded Iraq on false claims that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
© AP Photo / Jerome Delay
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - US Marine Corps war veteran Lucas Gage said every single member of his unit got PTSD after being stationed in Iraq - some even took their own lives when they got home.
Gage served in the marines as a combat engineer during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. He was part of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion stationed out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
During his first tour, the actual initial invasion of Iraq from Kuwait, the unit began its convoy into the country's north.
"I witnessed the amazing and destructive power of our war machine - entire cities were laid to waste and some locals were left walking around with white flags," Gage said. "This tour was tough - we were literally living on the road, sleeping on the highways, and digging holes to go to the bathroom. It was a very humbling experience for me, an 18-year-boy from New Jersey."
His unit’s mission as combat engineers was to support the 1st Marine Corps Division in their advancement to Baghdad, which they did by constructing Medium Girder Bridges and Improved Ribbon Bridges to help them cross over a destroyed bridge and get vehicles across canals.
Gage’s second tour was a humanitarian one.
"My unit's mission this time around was to help 'win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people' as they would say: we blew up unexploded ordinance, mine-sweeped and cleared roads, and even fixed up a playground for the locals," Gage recalls. "This tour was much easier than the last, as we were stationed at Al Asad Airbase which had barracks, a 24-hour gym, a PX, and even a computer and phone center to reach home."
He said with the two tours combined, he spent a total year in Iraq, and will never forget the experience.
"Every single one of us certainly got PTSD from it, and some of our guys took their own lives when they got home. And this is why war has been something I am so fervently against; it is something I do not wish upon anyone; not even my enemies," he said.
In the years following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, thousands of American soldiers have returned home with PTSD. The disorder can cause various symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In addition, soldiers with PTSD can experience feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
Maj. Frank Phillips, who worked in contracting, sending equipment to troops on the ground, told Sputnik that the psychological impact of these types of war had to be acknowledged.
"I was a contractor and we had to figure out a way to deal with this quickly and protect the soldiers, so we develop the Rapid Equipping Force. We were preparing for asymmetrical war and had to come up with new strategies," Phillips said.
Phillips recalled that a lot of the people that were sent to war were not military and when they came home with the trauma they got no help from the VA.
Soldiers were used to the bombs but they would still be traumatized, Phillips said.
"If you’re a soldier in the field, every day you play Russian roulette. After a while, it will affect you," he said.
Despite the prevalence of PTSD among veterans, many soldiers struggle to access the care and support they need. The stigma surrounding mental health issues in the military can make it difficult for soldiers to seek help, and some may worry that seeking treatment will hurt their career or their standing in their unit.
According to data from the Department of Defense, between 2003 and 2018, there were a total of 4,544 reported suicides among all active-duty service members, including those who served in Iraq and other conflicts.