- NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP)
- Nearly six weeks after US marines stormed the rebel enclave of Fallujah,
military psychologists are still seeing a steady stream of service personnel
traumatised by the long days and nights of ferocious street fighting.
- In the macho culture of the US Marine Corps, it is sometimes
hard for its personnel, male or female, to admit they have a problem and
some try to ride out the symptoms, only seeking help after weeks of suffering
- The warning signs can range from irritability to extreme
apathy, says Lieutenant Erryn Simmons, a trained psychologist who runs
a combat stress management unit in this US base just outside the western
- Her colleague Lieutenant Thomas Fearing nods in agreement.
"They are coming to us predominantly for sleep-related problems, such
as insomnia or nightmares, bad dreams," he says.
- "After the offensive began, we had a lot of patients,
then there was this lull, and it has picked up again recently with people
trying to sit on their symptoms."
- The marines lost more than 50 dead and hundreds wounded,
some of them seriously, in the huge assault launched on November 8, the
largest since last year's invasion.
- The US-backed government put rebel losses at more than
2,000, although unit commanders later revealed their troops had orders
to shoot all males of fighting age seen on the streets, armed or unarmed,
and ruined homes across the city attest to a strategy of overwhelming force.
- The marines who seek help can be haunted by the sight
of appalling injuries, the screams of wounded comrades, the fear of death,
or simply the chaotic hell of combat, the psychologists say.
- "We get mostly enlisted men, because they represent
the bulk of our troops, but we also get a few NCOs and officers,"
- "We are here to prevent the combat stress symptoms
from turning into post-combat syndrome disorder," she says.
- "One technique is the listening experience, where
we try to make them realise what really happened, how it happened, and
why they display symptoms of stress because of this.
- "We also have relaxation strategies or we can use
- Fearing says most of those seeking help have been treated
successfully through counselling, although one or two have needed more
- "All went back to duty, except for a few worst cases...
we had a couple of them staying a few days with us," he says.
- Given the difficulties of getting marines to seek help
in the first place, it is perhaps understandable that the corps's press
officers refused AFP's requests to interview some of the servicemen and
women who were receiving treatment.
- The marines were the last of the services in the US military
to acknowledge that the stresses of the combat could undermine its fighting
capacity and to recruit psychologists to provide counselling and other
- "You are talking about a very macho, masculine environment,
where there is a stigma attached to looking weak or in fear," says
Simmons, one of a growing number of women in the corps.
- "But I guess there's been a real shift to admit
that somebody suffering from combat stress is not necessarily deranged
- At the moment the unit is treating five or six patients
a day. Most return to active duty after a short series of 45-minute counselling
- Simmons says that oddly it is more effective to treat
traumatised personnel within their units rather than sending them home
to families, who can often struggle to understand what their loved ones
have been through.
- "It's better if we can keep them with us, because
we can provide support," she says.
- "Maybe, it's better for them than to be sent back
home, because, for some, their stronger family is here not there."
- Copyright © 2004 Agence France Presse. All rights
reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority
of Agence France Presse.