The Wounded Platoon
Frontline, May 18, 2010
On November 30, 2007, 24-year-old Kevin Shields went out drinking with three Army buddies from Fort Carson, Colo., a base on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. 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 18 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, FRONTLINE investigates a single Fort Carson platoon of infantrymen — the 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry — and finds, after a long journey, 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.
These are tough, tough issues, and what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to help soldiers understand, help providers understand and help leaders understand the critical role they play in balancing all this so folks will get the help that they need. – Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli
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.”
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | 1st Battalion, 3rd Platoon, 506th Infantry, Ambien, antidepressants, Army, Bruce Bastien, Celexa, Charlie Company, Colorado Springs, Combat, Deployment, Depression, Forward Operating Base Falcon, Frontline, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Infantry, Iraq, Kenny Eastridge, Kevin Shields, Lexapro, Louis Bressler, Military, Military Suicide, Murder, Overmedicated, PBS, PTSD, Remeron, Robert Alvarez, Ryan Krebbs, Seroquel, Soldiers, Stigma, Stress, suicide attempt, The Wounded Platoon, War