In early April, less than 36 hours after his return from Iraq, Ryan Briones got into serious trouble in his hometown that he and his family say was related to stress from the Haditha incident.I'm not suggesting the perpetrators of the Haditha atrocities have suffered as much as their victims or the survivors of those victims. That would be ludicrous. Nor am I saying the marines at Haditha had no choice, or are not responsible for their actions.
Briones was charged with stealing a pickup truck, crashing it into a house, leaving the scene of the accident, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. A picture of the spectacular crash with a white Ford F-150 lodged in a Hanford living room appeared on the Hanford Sentinel's front page April 4.
Released from Kings County jail April 5 on $35,000 bond, Briones has a court date set in mid-June.
His mother said that her son has joined Alcoholics Anonymous and is being treated by a San Diego physician for his post-traumatic symptoms.
"My son saw what the Marines did, and he knew who did it before the Haditha investigations began," the mother wrote in a long letter to local authorities seeking leniency in the criminal cases.
"He saw the killings and knew who sent the word out to do the killings, he had to clean up the bodies of children who were sleeping in their beds and he saw his best friend die in front of his eyes."
Susie Briones said she is angry at what she described as the Marines' failure to adequately "decompress" him and other Marines when they come home from combat. She said she was writing a book to help other families avoid what she and her son are going through.
"I used to be one of those Marines who said that post-traumatic stress is a bunch of bull," said Ryan Briones, who has prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills. "But all this stuff that keeps going through my head is eating me up. I need immediate help."
I'm only noting that those marines, and tens of thousands of others we'll never hear about, have been damaged. Without adequate support and help, many will be damaged permanently. The cost to themselves, their families, and to the larger society that will cope with the increase in alcoholism, drug addiction and attendant violence, is incalculable.
I see the US armed forces in Iraq as victims themselves in many ways - a sentiment universally rejected by servicepeople. From what I read and hear, most volunteered for a combination of personal and altruistic reasons. They trusted their country's leadership to use their services only when needed, and for the greater good - for safety and security, for democracy, for ill-understood abstract concepts like "freedom" and "liberty".
Even leaving aside the real motives behind the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq, these young men and women were sent into a grossly ill-planned war, with inadequate protection. They're sent home without limbs and eyes to a Veterans Administration medical system which is, by all accounts, overwhelmed and under-funded. And, for most reserves, eligibility for medical services will run out. Amputees, for example, need ongoing prosthetic care, all their lives. It ain't cheap - and, in most cases, the US government won't pay for it.