Under Fire: Haunted by Memories of War, A Soldier Battles The Army

Washington Post

Under Fire: Haunted by Memories of War, A Soldier Battles The Army

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page C01


“Satchel bomb!”


His shout shatters the night. The lieutenant is fighting, barking orders. He hollers and grunts. On the sofa at a friend’s house, 1st Lt. Jullian Philip Goodrum, U.S. Army Reserve, wrestles and thrashes, fighting a war as he sleeps.


Pam McGill can hear him. She bolts upright in bed in her Knoxville, Tenn., home and rushes to the living room.


They’ve been friends for 20 years. Goodrum used to sing in her youth choir at a local Baptist church back in Powell, their Tennessee home town. Goodrum, 34, had only brothers. So McGill became a big sister. And on his return from service in Iraq last summer, his old friend became an angel of mercy.


“It was like he was under fire or something,” McGill, 43, recalls of those awful nightmares.


She remembers him shouting “Clear!” and words she could not understand.


“He was talking about somebody dropping a bomb off a bridge and he was trying to keep his men safe.”


Other times, on other nights that Goodrum himself describes, he’d relive those bleak seconds aboard the USS Missouri when he was in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War and an Iraqi missile drew a bead on his ship.


“Brace for shock,” a voice bellowed over the ship’s PA. Then the countdown to impact. “Sixty yards. Fifty yards. Forty yards . . .”


Goodrum, a gunner’s mate, bowed his head, expecting to die. “Dear God, forgive my sins. Please watch over my mother and my brothers.”


A nearby British vessel saved the day, shooting the missile down 30 yards from the Missouri. Goodrum still sees the huge explosion, its yellow light, in his dreams. He cannot shake that image, or the seconds he thought were his last.


The strain and fear stalked him through one war, through the years that followed, then into a second war. Each dangerous convoy in Iraq — “suicide missions,” the troops called them, because they were so poorly equipped — fueled his secret panic, his fear that one of his soldiers would die. And then one of his men did die.


His stress became a beast that grew and grew — especially after he was turned away from an Army medical clinic last fall when he sought help in the midst of a mental collapse. The beast just overwhelmed him, just mauled him as he slept.


“Phil, you’re here, you’re safe, wake up.” McGill would coax him back from his hell. She’d hold him tight, to stop his thrashing. He would awaken; he would quiet. But there was no calm.


“He would just go into that little trance again. Shaking. His hands would shake tremendously.”


Goodrum’s green Class A uniform is crisp, his dress shoes shiny, his black beret properly tilted. Four rows of ribbons rest above the pocket of his pressed shirt.


They tell a soldier’s story: U.S. Navy seaman, turned Tennessee National Guardsman, turned U.S. Army reservist, activated for duty in Iraq. He is a straight-back, yes-ma’am, no-sir kind of guy, church raised, proper, gung-ho.


He walks with soldierly precision through the mist that shrouds Walter Reed Army Medical Center on a morning rendered surreal because of what lies ahead. On this October day, he will fight his other war — his war with the U.S. Army.


He is sweating, already, even before he climbs the columned steps that lead to the offices of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Prosecutors there are waiting for him. They want him out of the military that he has loved so well.


He pops the first of a series of anti-anxiety pills prescribed to stanch the panic attacks. The meds will hold him steady through a day on which his life may depend. By day’s end, he will have taken double the dosage recommended as part of his regimen of medications for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


An Army survey, completed last December, found that 17 percent of soldiers and Marines who’d returned from duty in Iraq reported symptoms of major depression, anxiety or PTSD. The number is expected to go higher with time, as more soldiers return from duty in this conventional war that has become a harsh counterinsurgency campaign. And Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, predicts that many more PTSD cases will go unreported; the Army survey also found that soldiers still are intensely reluctant to divulge their symptoms because of fear of being stigmatized as weak.


“I’d rather be an amputee than a psychological patient,” Goodrum says one day. He knows the stigma he symbolizes.


At Walter Reed, where he has lived since February, he is surrounded by soldiers missing arms and legs. When you’ve lost a limb, people can clearly see what’s wrong with you, what happened to you, he says. When you’re injured psychologically, people can’t see it. They see a physically healthy person and wonder what the heck could be wrong.


Goodrum wonders too.


“How did my mind become weak, you know? I’ve been in 16 years. I’ve trained. I made top of my class.”


He’s been in the military since 1989. It seemed his only option after graduation from a small-town high school. He ran track, wrestled, played football and led the student council. But his grades were just okay, not good enough to qualify for the college scholarships he’d counted on.


He earned his college degree nonetheless, studying aboard the Missouri (when not in action), then finishing up at the University of Tennessee with a degree in history.


He studied what we now call the “greatest generation.” And Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the legendary U.S. Marine commander at Guadalcanal during World War II, was his icon.


“I’ve read his book several times,” says Goodrum, whose childhood stutter occasionally trips up his speech. “He was a soldier’s soldier.”


And that’s what Goodrum modeled himself on: being a leader who took care of his troops. Even in the midst of his troubles last fall, he still wanted to return to Iraq, he says. Goodrum’s military records show glowing performance reviews and character references.


“My most pleasure was when I led soldiers,” he said recently, a wistful look in his eye as he pulled incessantly at a glob of putty his therapist gave him to help calm his nerves.


“I just love soldiering.”

Proper Procedure

His career seems just about over. Goodrum’s chronic PTSD, diagnosed by both Army and civilian psychiatrists, will likely render him unable to continue in the service. An Army medical board ruling on his future service is pending.


And there’s a court-martial looming, too. The same Army that is treating Goodrum for PTSD also is prosecuting him because he did not request the appropriate military leave before checking himself into a civilian psychiatric hospital last fall, during a mental breakdown.


For that, he’s been charged as AWOL — absent without leave — even though he was turned away from medical care at Fort Knox, Ky., his base, on the day of his breakdown, according to testimony in his case.


Military prosecutors say his case is about accountability. Period. He did not follow procedure, and there are consequences.


“This case is not about equipment problems [in Iraq]. This case is not about having radios [in convoys]. This case is not about PTSD,” Capt. Natricia Wright, the JAG’s lead prosecutor on the case, said in her closing argument last week. “This case is about accountability.”


Goodrum’s civilian defense lawyer argued that PTSD was at the very core of the case.


“He’s been injured,” said Matthew J. MacLean, of Shaw Pittman. “He’s been injured just as surely as if he’d been shot.”


Goodrum himself believes that retaliation has fueled the case. He had complained on several occasions about poor command decisions in Iraq by his captain, Randall “Burt” Fisher, of the 212th Transportation Company. And he’d also been quoted in an Oct. 29, 2003, United Press International article complaining that he’d been “treated like dirt” while awaiting medical treatment at Fort Knox.


He believes he has been branded a whistle-blower — and punished. In addition to the AWOL charge, he’s been charged for alleged fraternization with a female sergeant, which he denies. Fisher, the captain, was the driving force behind the fraternization charge. Fisher testified that rumors about Goodrum’s behavior had caused low morale in the unit. First Lt. Jason Eisele testified that Fisher intensely disliked Goodrum and coerced witnesses into giving statements against Goodrum to bolster the fraternization case.


Army officials would not comment beyond what they said in the hearing.


Goodrum could be imprisoned for up to six years. He could be dismissed from the military. For an officer, dismissal is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, which means he could be disqualified from the federal job he held in civilian life. If dismissed, he would lose his military medical benefits, too, and would be ineligible for care under the Department of Veterans Affairs.


“Basically, everything is on the line for Lieutenant Goodrum,” says MacLean.


In his Class A’s last week, Goodrum sat sweating during the legal to-and-fro in a small Walter Reed conference room crammed with lawyers and a few supporters. He’s facing an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, except that only one person will rule on the case. An investigating officer (in this case, Lt. Col. Michael Amaral of the Army Medical Service Corps)will forward a recommendation up the chain of command on whether Goodrum should be court-martialed.

The Darkest Point

Brakes screech behind him. They are loud, very loud — loud enough to snap him out of it, to bring him back to reality. In his rearview mirror, he sees a tractor-trailer bearing down on his Honda Civic, its driver trying desperately not to slam into him.


He’s on an interstate near Fort Knox. His speedometer reads 5 mph. He guns it and swerves out of the truck’s path.


He doesn’t know how he got on the interstate. He doesn’t remember driving there. But he remembers what happened earlier in the day, on base, at Fort Knox. He begins to cry. For hours, he can’t stop.


He drives home, to Knoxville, to his mother. She calls McGill, the old friend, who also is a trained EMT and cardiac technician. The next morning, the two women take Goodrum to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where he will be admitted to the psychiatric ward. Goodrum is practically blithering.


“He was just not functional. He could not make a complete sentence,” says McGill. “His eyes were fixed. . . . He was just, like, in a stare. It was like he couldn’t make contact with you.


“He just kept saying ‘I need help. I need help. They won’t help me. They won’t help me.’ And I’m going, ‘Phil, we’re gonna help you, we’re gonna help you.’ ”


It was Nov. 7, 2003 — the day Fort Knox denied him treatment, the day he went AWOL and entertained thoughts of his own death.


He’d been pressing closer and closer to this moment for months, with each accumulated stress, each life-or-death situation, each episode of conflict with his superiors.


Actually, his problem went back several years. Walter Reed’s chief of inpatient psychiatric services, Col. Theodore Nam, testified during the Article 32 hearing that Goodrum’s PTSD probably began with the Gulf War. His USS Missouri nightmares, which began only recently, are evidence of what has been embedded in his psyche.


But when he was activated for deployment in the Iraq War, Goodrum did not consider himself stressed. He did not consider himself impaired. He was, in fact, eager to serve. He’d been qualified as a logistics officer, an ordnance officer, and had completed a support operations course. He was ready.


Attached to the 212th Transportation Company, Goodrum went to war in April 2003. As a lieutenant, he was a platoon leader. His troops drove huge rigs called palletized loading systems, or PLSs, which can haul 33 tons.


But things went south fast. He believed the support troops were being put in danger by poor command decisions involving supplies and equipment. He began filing complaints with the Army inspector general about troop preparedness, a move he feels sowed the seeds for retaliation.


Goodrum says he complained because he feared that “somebody was gonna get killed.”


As he describes his many filed complaints, one wonders: Is this man a chronic malcontent? MacLean, during the hearing, described his client as a man “fixated” on details.


“Details save lives,” Goodrum says in one of many interviews. “The Army is based on several foundations, but one of them is attention to detail. Maybe I’ve taken it to extremes, but I’ve been put in some extreme situations.


“Yes, I’m a complainer when my soldiers’ welfare is at stake and they’re put in harm’s way unnecessarily and they’re sent out on missions without the correct equipment. So yes, if that would make me a complainer, then yes.”


This is what he means: He and his men were forced to run supply convoys with no proper maps (only crude hand-drawn renderings); no radios (only the PLS’s digital messaging systems); no heavy weapons (only their individual M-16s); no intelligence on the regions in which they’d be traveling; no armor to protect the two-person cabs of their trucks.


One soldier ripped a couple of manhole covers from an Iraqi street and welded them to his PLS cab doors for extra protection, Goodrum recalls. And Goodrum ordered the troops to pile sandbags on their PLS floorboards to absorb blasts.


Convoys routinely came under small weapons or rocket fire. And they routinely got lost. Goodrum remembers harrowing encounters that plunged him into bouts of private panic.


He’d talk himself out of them by repeating his mantra: “Command and control. I got to keep command and control. Command my soldiers, implement plans and control the situation and get the hell out of here.”


Once he was a breath away from killing or being killed. A wrong turn left his convoy looking for a place to turn around. Goodrum and two other soldiers got out of their Humvee and stopped local traffic so the PLSs could move.


He noticed several men in a white car, from which an AK-47 was pointed right at him, The car was two feet away. He too had his M-16 ready to fire. He just stood there, eyes trained on the gunman’s fingers, which weren’t near the trigger. One slight movement of the trigger finger, and Goodrum would have blasted him. After a couple of minutes, the car moved on.


And so it went — the threat of death lurking all around, he says, “360 degrees, 24 hours a day.”


One day he dropped his M-16. In fact, he dropped everything. Suddenly, he could not grasp objects. Army doctors weren’t sure what was wrong. But clearly he could not remain in Iraq. In July, three months into his deployment, Goodrum was medevaced home.


He would need surgery. The diagnosis was bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. But there was a tangle of Army red tape to navigate, between two separate military bases — Camp Atterbury, Ind., his mobilization site, and Fort Knox, where the region’s Medical Hold Company was based — and between various commanders.


Then, in August, he got word. Back in Iraq, Sgt. Kenneth Harris, 23, a much-loved member of the 212th, had been killed in a PLS accident. The truck in which Harris was riding broke down several times on a convoy. In trying to catch up, the driver somehow crashed into the back of another PLS. Harris was sheared in half, and his death was so traumatic to his fellow soldiers on the convoy that seven went to counseling, says Staff Sgt. Reginal Coleman, a passenger in the vehicle that was struck.


Goodrum had been especially fond of Harris. He viewed him as a natural leader who would rise in the military hierarchy. Goodrum felt he’d been kicked in the gut. And he felt that someone must be held responsible.


He filed another complaint — once he learned details of the accident — about the preparedness of the 212th and its command.


“And it saddened me because I knew it was coming and I had done everything in my power to prevent a death,” Goodrum says.

Hold in Abeyance

Back at Fort Knox that September, Goodrum had surgery on his left hand. But he had to wait weeks to begin physical therapy. And weeks more passed before he could iron out the red tape for surgery on his right hand.


Conditions for soldiers on medical hold at Fort Knox and elsewhere were poor. There were too few doctors. Soldiers faced lengthy waits for processing and treatment. Many soldiers were sent to civilian physicians. And the base accommodations often were poor. Congress ultimately would investigate and recommend changes.


Goodrum filed more official complaints. And he made his “treated like dirt” comment to UPI. It made him a bit infamous on base. He felt it put a bull’s-eye on his back.


Goodrum’s treatment situation was becoming even more maddening. Suddenly, there were confusing complications in his quest to get surgery for his right hand. On Oct. 29, oddly, he was dropped from “medical hold” at Fort Knox, though he still needed care.


On Nov. 5, at a base clinic, he says, snide comments were made to his face about his outspokenness in the press. He claims a clinic attendant told him he would not be getting his second surgery.


He was so angry, so unnerved, he began to cry. He called a medical case manager. He called a commander he knew. He received assurances that of course he would receive his surgery.


So on Nov. 7, he reported to the Fort Knox hospital to begin the process. He would have to be readmitted to medical hold. And he also asked for help with the emotionalism and anxiety that seemed to keep overwhelming him. He wouldn’t get very far.


Lt. Col. Ronald Stevens, then the deputy chief of clinical services at Fort Knox, had been checking up on Goodrum. Stevens had looked at Goodrum’s records after the UPI article, Stevens testified at the Article 32 hearing. Stevens thought Goodrum had exaggerated. The UPI article, said Stevens, contained “untruths.”


In his testimony, Stevens claimed he wanted to meet Goodrum. He had instructed medical staff to not readmit Goodrum into the medical hold company, but to send him to see Stevens instead.


The physician’s assistant who handled Goodrum that day testified that he remembered few details about the encounter. What Goodrum remembers is this: being told that Stevens did not want him to be treated. And a note on a page of Goodrum’s records from Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox reads, “Colonel Stevens do not [sic] want this pt. to be in med. hold.”


Goodrum was sent away. He was, in effect, denied treatment.


“I acknowledge that my direction was misunderstood,” Stevens testified at the hearing. “I acknowledge that he was turned away.”


MacLean, Goodrum’s lawyer, shot back, “I guess now he [Goodrum] knows that being treated like dirt is better than not being treated at all.”

Every Day a New Trial

“Getting up is the hardest part.” Just getting out of bed each morning is a challenge.


“If you get up, brush your teeth and get dressed, you’re on a roll.” Goodrum chuckles. Not because it’s funny, but because he remembers how hard it was for him, a few months ago, just to greet the day.


He’s been living at Walter Reed since Feb. 9 — first on the psychiatric ward, then as a psychiatric outpatient housed in a dormitory-style room in Mologne House on the Walter Reed grounds.


Vijay Jethanandani, Goodrum’s civilian psychiatrist from St. Mary’s in Knoxville, treated him as long as he could. But by the end of last year, when Goodrum’s medical benefits had been cut off because of his AWOL status, Goodrum began to consider other options.


He felt he could not return to Fort Knox. Jethanandani agreed. They decided Goodrum should present himself to a different Army medical facility for help, and Walter Reed emerged as the right choice. Jethanandani wrote a letter for Goodrum to carry with him, explaining his condition, his medications, and urging Walter Reed not to send him back to Fort Knox.


McGill drove him to the District. He arrived at the Walter Reed hospital emergency room, in full Class A dress, and presented himself as a sick, AWOL soldier in need of help.


As is normal for newly admitted psychiatric patients, Goodrum was confined to Walter Reed’s psychiatric ward, Ward 54 — a secure ward where patients aren’t free to come and go. Goodrum progressed well on that ward. On Feb. 19, he was scheduled to be moved to the less secure Ward 53, according to his patient records.


But Stevens’s intervention was not over. On Feb. 18, Stevens spoke to Walter Reed officials, according to testimony both from Stevens and from Nam, as well as Goodrum’s patient records. It is not clear what Stevens told Walter Reed’s doctors that they did not already know. After Stevens’s intervention, Nam’s staff decided not to move Goodrum.


He was held an additional two weeks on Ward 54, colloquially called the lockdown ward, due to what doctors variously called “legal/admin concerns” or “recent admin developments,” the records show. Nam, in his testimony, also explained the prolonged Ward 54 stay in terms of the alternatives: Goodrum’s AWOL status could even have landed him in jail, or gotten him hauled back to Fort Knox.


Normally, though, Ward 54 would be used for patients considered a threat to themselves or others. Goodrum, according to his records, was considered neither.


On March 2, after the UPI reported on Goodrum’s confinement, he finally was released from Ward 54 and moved to 53 as originally planned. Then, he was downgraded further, to outpatient status, living on his own at Mologne House while continuing therapy.


Life, now, is waiting. He goes to counseling both at Walter Reed and at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Silver Spring. In counseling, he returns again and again to Sgt. Harris, to the circumstances of his death.


He spends lots of time with Steve Robinson, executive director of the Silver Spring-based National Gulf War Resource Center, who has become his close friend and advocate. It’s not just Robinson who helps him, but Robinson’s bulldog Bluto. Goodrum loves dogs, and is away from his own back home.


Most days, Goodrum tries to just fly “under the radar,” as he puts it, trying to stay away from the “stressors” that can set off his panic, his flashbacks, his racing thoughts. He’s on several medications, still.


Movie theaters are a good place to hide, he’s found. In two months, he’s seen 20 films. It’s best to go to early matinees on the weekdays, when there are no crowds, no jostling.


He tries to avoid loud people, loud noises. Horns, shouts, a slamming door all can take his breath away, cause his head to race. Driving in Washington is harrowing; people here love to honk, he says.


But riding the bus is problematic, since the smell of diesel triggers flashbacks to the convoys in Iraqi, to his fear on the “suicide missions.”


And both the bus and the subway present a special problem. The hands. He’s got to see them. He’s got to feel assured that no one’s carrying a weapon. He’s got to know there is no finger on the trigger.


In his room at Mologne, he is lonely but relatively safe. Before bed, he says, “I search my room for bugs.” He does not mean insects.


“I’m paranoid, but I have good reason,” he says.


News on his possible court-martial could come any day.

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