Spc. Ryan Eddy Saw Friends Die In Afghanistan. But Home Safe, He Misses The Adrenaline Rush Of War. By Austin Jenkins.
OLYMPIA, Wash. – They went to war, watched their buddies die and feel lucky to have made it out alive. But when soldiers come home, they sometimes feel the need to replace the adrenaline rush of battle. Some turn to fast cars, faster motorcycles, thrill-seeking sports or other risky behaviors. Correspondent Austin Jenkins has the latest installment in his year-long series following the hard-hit 5th Stryker Brigade as it transitions home.
Specialist Ryan Eddy is still reeling from his year at war. He's only 21 years old. But he's seen hell.
Ryan Eddy: "It definitely was hell."
Eddy was a member of the hardest hit unit in the 5th Stryker Brigade. The 117. Twenty-two soldiers killed. He personally lost 13 friends. Three of them died on a single day.
Ryan Eddy: "It was August 31st, 2009."
The first bomb blast - in the morning – killed Spc. Tyler Walshe. Later that same day ...
Ryan Eddy: "We were on a foot patrol in the Arghandab River Valley."
And Private First Class Jordan Brochu stepped on a pressure plate,
Ryan Eddy: "Then he shifted his weight and then that's when I heard the pop."
After that, says Eddy, everything went into slow motion. He was knocked out by the blast. Brochu and Specialist Jonathan Welch, Eddy's best friend, were killed.
Ryan Eddy: "When I found out I lost my best friend Jon Welch that really hit me hard because we were just talking the night before about what we were going to do when we got out of the Army."
Now that he's home, Eddy says he's anxious and jumpy. But even more than that, he's bored.
Ryan Eddy: "Once you get shot at it's like nothing really compares to it. It's like, it's like you kind of need something to replace that when you get back home."
That might explain why Eddy took his car up to 140mph while driving to Iowa recently to see his fiancé. Now he's trying to channel that need for adrenaline in a more positive way. He's learning to skydive. He smiles as he recalls his first jump a few weeks after he got back.
Ryan Eddy: "It was only like 17 seconds, but it was a really fun 17 seconds. When we landed I really wanted to go back up again."
Bridget Cantrell: "He's perfectly normal."
Bridget Cantrell is a PTSD counselor in Washington who's worked with veterans for twenty years.
Bridget Cantrell: "They will seek out things that get that adrenaline pump going."
Cantrell says it's her job to help veterans re-regulate their emotions and learn to take calculated risks, not foolish ones.
Bridget Cantrell: "You know they have faced death so many times that there's no fear of dying so they will push the envelope to the extreme to see how much they can deal with."
Sometimes they push the envelope too far. This year, the US Army published a report warning of a – quote – "increasing propensity for Soldiers to engage in high risk behavior." The Army says that propensity led to 146 deaths of active duty soldiers last year. That includes 74 drug overdoses. Criminal offenses among soldiers are also on the rise – nearly 75,000 last year Army-wide.
It's a Saturday night in Lakewood, Washington, a military community on the edge of Joint Base Lewis McChord. Police officer Brian Wurts takes me on patrol. He says it's obvious to him that thousands of soldiers are back in town after being deployed for a year.
Brian Wurts: "A lot of these guys are coming home and blowing off some steam."
Wurts says there's been an uptick in bar fights, domestic disturbances and other calls involving soldiers – most often alcohol-fueled. But he also sees another pattern.
Brian Wurts: "I've noticed a little bit more of the quiet soldier who's obviously dealing with some internal issues. You know a lot of the infantry guys that come back they're kind of dealing with their personal demons."
The Army says after ten years of war, its suicide rate now exceeds that of the civilian population. Last year, 160 active duty soldiers killed themselves – an average of 13 a month. Another 1,700 attempted suicide.
As he patrols, Officer Wurts notices a speeding motorcycle. He whips a u-turn and turns on his lights.
Brian Wurts: "Lakewood 127 I'll be on traffic."
The driver is a 33-year old vet named Frank Swinson. He's not a member of the 5th Stryker Brigade. But he says he was badly injured in Iraq and is now medically retired. He tells me he's got PTSD, a brain injury and he admits he's addicted to adrenaline. That's why he rides the motorcycle. And he does something else to clear his head.
Frank Swinson: "I sit on the overpass every night for about two or three hours and sit on the other side of the guardrail like this, just to think because without that adrenaline I can't think, I can't think straight."
Swinson admits he's teetering.
Frank Swinson: "I will be the first one to say I don't want to become a casualty at home. I don't want to commit suicide. I don't want to hurt myself, I don't want to do all those things. But I have so much guilt and horrible things that I saw over there."
As for the 5th Stryker Brigade, just back from Afghanistan, there has already been one high profile death. Last month an AWOL soldier from that Brigade was spotted in uniform wielding a gun in downtown Salt Lake City. He was killed in a shootout with police. I'm Austin Jenkins reporting.
Copyright 2010 Northwest News Network