Steve's Soapbox

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The War Coming Home to Brownwood

The War at Home
By Celinda Emison / Reporter-News Staff Writer
November 13, 2005

Survival is something Brownwood's Jacob Hounshell knows all about.

Spending 14 months in Iraq, Hounshell, a private first class in the U.S. Army, stared death in the face many times - but not like he has since he has been home.
Seven months ago Hounshell, 20, distraught about having to report back for duty at Fort Hood, wrote his mom a note just before he got into his truck. He told his mom not to read it until he was gone, but she read it anyway.
It was a suicide note.
''I ran and got in his truck and wouldn't let him go back,'' his mother, Bobbie Hounshell, recalled. ''We drove around Brownwood for six hours.''
Hounshell wrote that he was going to drive head-on into an 18-wheeler.
''I told him he spent 14 months in Iraq and survived, and I wasn't going to let him die going back to Fort Hood,'' she said.
Then, Bobbie and her husband, Larry, entered a battlefield of their own - to get medical treatment for their son, who is now considered AWOL by the Army. But to date, they have been unsuccessful, because they say the military ''just doesn't care.''
''We had him approved to go to a private treatment center,'' Bobbie Hounshell said. ''But they needed his military records, and we can't get them.''
Prior to her son's suicide threat in May, Bobbie Hounshell said she began going through the proper channels at Fort Hood to get him help because he had threatened suicide numerous times before.
She even went to Fort Hood with her son and begged officials to diagnose him and give him a medical hardship discharge.
''He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and paranoid schizophrenia after taking a computer-generated psychological test at the base,'' she said. ''But he has never been given medication or anything.''
After the psychiatric evaluation, Hounshell stayed at Fort Hood, was counseled a few times by a chaplain and was confined to his barracks, alone.
''They took his roommates away and left him in his room alone with a loaded weapon,'' said Larry Hounshell. ''He said he tried to commit suicide then, but couldn't pull the trigger.''
Then in May, Hounshell received some leave time and was allowed to come home. It was then that he wrote the suicide note and his mother kept him from going back to Fort Hood. He's been home, fighting a war of his own, since then.
Now, the Hounshells are even more worried about their son because they have exhausted all the avenues for extending his military leave. The young soldier is considered absent without leave and faces five to 15 years in military prison for not reporting for duty.
What's the solution?
The best thing for Hounshell to do now is to turn himself in, said Billy Murphey of the Brown County Veterans Service Office.
''If he is truly AWOL and there are extenuating circumstances, he should go back and try to get treatment,'' Murphey said.
Murphey said that the longer Hounshell fails to report, the worse it will be for him.
''He can be AWOL for no longer than 180 days, then he is considered a deserter, which is a federal offense, and that could be worse for him,'' Murphey said.
He suggested that Hounshell's parents take him to the VA Hospital in Temple for evaluation. Murphey said he has not been contacted by the Hounshell family.
Larry Hounshell said he has made regular calls to the local MHMR office but has not received any assistance.
Officials at MHMR known in Brownwood as the Center for Life Resources said they will always conduct a patient assessment to see what type of treatment the patient needs. They would not comment on whether they have been contacted by the Hounshell family.
Fort Hood's stance
According to Lt. Col. Scott R. Bleichwehl of the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office, Hounshell has been AWOL since May 16 and dropped from the rolls on June 21.
Bleichwehl would not comment further on the specifics of the Hounshell case.
In general however, Bleichwehl said that a soldier who goes AWOL may be punished ''by confinement, reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and allowances, a punitive discharge, and a fine,'' he said. ''The command makes a determination in each case of how to treat the misconduct.''
He added that Fort Hood and the Army are concerned with the mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of their soldiers.
''Fort Hood has a fully functional hospital offering both in-patient and out-patient services,'' he said. Additionally, a Resilience and Restoration Center was established to assist soldiers with any difficulties they may be experiencing with mental health issues.
Hounshell's parents contend that their son did not receive any treatment other than a computer- generated psychiatric evaluation and confinement to his barracks.
Tour of duty
Hounshell said he became interested in signing up when he was just a junior at May High School. Military service was something that he felt was important because it dates back many generations in his family. So after graduating in 2003, he went to boot camp.
In June 2004, almost 51 years to the day his grandfather Monroe Hounshell left for World War II, the then 19-year-old began his tour of duty, first to Kuwait and then onto Baghdad. Hounshell served as a driver and a scout in the First Platoon of the 9th Cavalry Division of the First Cavalry.
He earned a commendation for finding some makeshift bombs in a vehicle and arresting two insurgents during a routine checkpoint stop. His story appeared in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
He laughs nervously when he remembers how a 27-mm rocket landed next to him in the sand as he waited to leave in a convoy from what the soldiers called Camp Incoming near Baghdad.
''It didn't explode,'' he said.
One of Hounshell's unpleasant duties was to pick up bodies of Iraqis killed by insurgents. Many had a note, weighted down with a rock that simply read ''this is what happens if you speak to Americans.''
''We'd just take them to the door of the mosque and leave them,'' he said.
He remembered catching a fellow serviceman when he fell dead from a shot that penetrated his helmet and ''made a canoe out of his head.''
It's these memories that haunt the soldier and keep him awake at night. After returning from a 14-month stint, during which he was stationed at various points in and around Baghdad, he found himself unable to sleep. Back at Fort Hood, Hounshell said he would just go to the mall or walk around in Wal-Mart all night.
''I stay awake for three days at a time, then I'm so tired I just sleep for 12 to 14 hours without dreaming,'' he said. ''And that's OK.''
Larry Hounshell said the motivation for telling his son's story is to help other families who may be going through the same thing, he said.
''We love our servicemen and women,'' he said. ''The main reason we are doing this is that I don't want another child or family to deal with this.
''They (the military) treat our boys like a piece of equipment,'' he said. ''When it's broken, they just throw it away.''
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Once called shell shock or combat fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often develops after a soldier witnesses oexperiences a traumatic event. According to the Veterans Administration, about 1,700 soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD in 2004.
Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD often suffer depression, hypervigilance, insomnia, emotional numbing, recurring nightmares and intrusive thoughts. In many cases, the symptoms worsen with time, leaving the victims at higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness and suicide.
Source: American Psychological Association
Army suicides
There were at least 24 suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, according to the Army's count. That number may increase because the circumstances of some other deaths are still in doubt.
That equates to a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with a rate of 12.8 for the entire Army in 2003 and an average rate of 11.9 for the Army during the 1995-2002 period, according to officials familiar with the mental health study. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
The 24 suicides do not include soldiers who killed themselves after returning to the United States.
Source: Associated Press and
Contact Brownwood staff writer Celinda Emison at (325) 641-8804 or
EDITOR'S CORRECTION NOTE: The following correction ran on Monday, Nov. 14, 2005: U.S. Army Pfc. Jacob Hounshell began his tour of duty in January 2004, 61 years after his grandfather began serving in World War II. A story beginning on Page 1A Sunday contained a math mistake in the number of years.
Letters to the Editor

Think of others
November 16, 2005

I am glad the young man in Brownwood (AWOL soldier, Nov. 13) did not commit suicide for his sake and his family. I have to say that it is horrible that he was going to run head on into an 18-wheeler! My husband and I drive a truck. We have two lovely children. Why do people not consider what harm they would cause to the truck driver if they were to do this? I can't imagine what I would feel like for the rest of my life if someone did this to me. What unimaginable horror this young man would have caused in the life of an innocent person! If you are thinking about suicide, find a way you won't involve an innocent person. Why make their life miserable because you were. I know that sounds harsh, but as a truck driver, I just can't begin to imagine the horror this young man would have brought to the life of a truck driver and his/her family. Not only emotional distress but possible death for him/her also!

Julie Caulder
Rising Star
Liberal media
November 19, 2005

I was amazed that the Reporter-News would put on the front page a story (Nov. 13) of a cowardly deserter. There are numerous stories you could have run, how about the hero who just gave his life for his country. I should be surprised at your actions but the sad thing is, nothing about the liberal press surprises me anymore. You have done a disservice to your community, your readers and your country.

Dale Holt

----------------- PTSD Forum. If you live in the land of Denial, you will want to bypass this site !
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    Notice how letter writers Dale Holt and Julie Caulder avoid the mere mention of PTSD in their letters ? The following link is one that they will most likely seek to avoid in their daily lives ! The Reality of War is uncomfortable !
  • read more here...