Jan 20, 2008

An Iraq Veteran’s Descent; a Prosecutor’s Choice

TOOELE, Utah — Not long after Lance Cpl. Walter Rollo Smith returned from Iraq, the Marines dispatched him to Quantico, Va., for a marksmanship instructor course.
Mr. Smith, then a 21-year-old Marine Corps reservist from Utah, had been shaken to the core by the intensity of his experience during the invasion of Iraq. Once a squeaky-clean Mormon boy who aspired to serve a mission abroad, he had come home a smoker and drinker, unsure if he believed in God.

In Quantico, he reported to the firing range with a friend from Fox Company, the combined Salt Lake City-Las Vegas battalion nicknamed the Saints and Sinners. Raising his rifle, he stared through the scope and started shaking. What he saw were not the inanimate targets before him but vivid, hallucinatory images of Iraq: “the cars coming at us, the chaos, the dust, the women and children, the bodies we left behind,” he said.

Each time he squeezed the trigger, Mr. Smith cried, harder and harder until he was, in his own words, “bawling on the rifle range, which marines just do not do.” Mortified, he allowed himself to be pulled away. And not long afterward, the Marines began processing his medical discharge for post-traumatic stress disorder, severing his link to the Reserve unit that anchored him and sending him off to seek help from veterans hospitals.

The incident on the firing range was the first “red flag,” as the prosecutor in Tooele County, Utah, termed it, that Mr. Smith sent up as he gradually disintegrated psychologically. At his lowest point, in March 2006, he killed Nicole Marie Speirs, the 22-year-old mother of his twin children, drowning her in a bathtub without any evident provocation or reason.

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It's easy for someone to buy a bumper-sticker to proclaim that we should "Support Our Troops." The reality of current government policies is far less than ideal, however. Budget cuts for VA mental health and substance abuse programs, which date back to the Clinton Administration, should be reversed.
It is shameful that 200,000 veterans are living on the streets or in shelters, and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year.
Should this man be exonerated for what he did, certainly not.
Is the Military partly to blame for this tragedy - most certainly!

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