By Joel Warner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Most of the conversation Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany and Chief Warrant Officer William Howell had before they deployed to Iraq is classified. The two soldiers sat down in mid-September 2003 at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs to discuss their upcoming mission, which was to take them to one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq with some of the United States' most elite soldiers.
Georg-Andreas, better known as Andrew, was a support soldier attached to the 10th Special Forces Group based in Fort Carson. He had just learned that he'd been picked to fill a vacancy on a 12-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, or A-team, that was to leave for Iraq in less than two weeks. The rest of the team had been training and learning to work together for ages. Andrew, 32, hardly knew them.
William, who went by Bill, was the second in command on the A-team. At 36, he had been in the Special Forces for a decade, having worked in Haiti, Kosovo and Bosnia. This was to be Bill's second deployment to Iraq.
Andrew and Bill remained professional throughout their conversation; they knew each other only through brief interactions at Fort Carson. At one point, Bill mentioned his family. He was excited about his newborn daughter, just days old. Andrew and the rest of the A-team would arrive in Iraq before Bill, so that Bill could spend a few more days with his wife, Laura, and their children. The conversation likely caused Andrew to think about his own wife, Michelle, and their dogs, Amelia, CC and Tippy.
Bill asked Andrew if he was ready to go to Iraq. Andrew said he was.
"You'll have a good time down there," said Bill, or something along those lines. "We'll roll our sleeves up, and we'll do our work, and before we know it, we'll all be home."
Bill and Andrew would never see each other again. Bill was only half-right in his prediction: One of them would return home faster than anyone could have imagined. The other, arguably, never truly returned home at all.
Andrew Pogany, whose cropped hair and boyish face made him look younger than his age, always knew he wanted a career in law enforcement or intelligence. He was a natural for the work. Fluent in German, Hungarian and English, Andrew had a knack for remembering details. He had a sharp wit and a deliberate way of talking that demonstrated his acumen. In conversation, he would look straight at those with whom he was speaking, as if he were reading them.
A naturalized citizen, Andrew grew up in Germany and came to the United States as an exchange student at the University of South Florida, earning his associate's degree in criminal justice and law enforcement and his bachelor's in criminology. In the meantime, while working in a Florida bar, he met a woman named Michelle. He married her 10 months later.
After college, Andrew, then 26, joined the Army full time. It was a natural choice for someone who wanted a leg up in the intel community. He would learn the intelligence trade and travel all over the world. The Army trained Andrew as an interrogator and, after stints in Texas and Arizona, assigned him in 2001 to the 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Carson.
While not a Green Beret himself, Andrew thrived with the Special Forces. He loved his job, signing off his e-mails with the Special Forces' motto, "De oppresso liber," which means "Liberator of the oppressed." He received a superior rating on his military review and was recommended for immediate promotion. His future promising, he bought a house outside of Colorado Springs with enough room for himself, Michelle and their three dogs.
Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003 with the bombing of Baghdad. By that summer, many soldiers at Fort Carson had been deployed to Iraq. Andrew, a support soldier, stayed behind. In September, just after he returned from a basic noncommissioned officers course, Andrew got the call. Two soldiers slotted to deploy to Iraq with a Special Forces A-team had either been pulled off the mission or had found a way to avoid going. Andrew had been chosen to fill one of the vacancies.
Andrew was being asked to serve in one of the most highly trained elements of the U.S. Army. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Special Forces had been an integral part of the United States' War on Terrorism. Trained in unconventional warfare, such as guerilla operations, reconnaissance and anti-terrorism, 12-man Special Forces units called A-teams had been among the first forces to deploy in Afghanistan and Iraq. A-team members were carefully selected and extensively trained for their missions prior to deployment. Andrew was not a Special Forces operator, and he missed the pre-mission training for his A-team.
During wartime, A-teams often operate in areas of intense combat. In Andrew's case, he would be deployed to Samarra, a city north of Baghdad in the "Sunni Triangle," a region in central Iraq known for heavy insurgency attacks.
Andrew did not question his assignment. He had trained for deployment for years. There was no other option.
The A-team was scheduled to leave for Iraq on Tuesday, Sept. 23. Andrew had two weeks to get ready. He secretly resumed his smoking habit. If he had concerns, he didn't voice them to Michelle. They both knew there were endless possibilities as to what could happen in Iraq, but they tried not to think about it.
* * *
Howdy Doody. That's what some acquaintances jokingly called William Howell, thanks to his clean-cut appearance and tendency to blush. He was better looking than that, however, and he was too smart to let anyone jerk him around like a puppet.
Bill was a career soldier. He'd joined the Army in 1986, right after graduating high school in Texas. The idea of college bored Bill, while the Army offered him seemingly limitless options. He appreciated the military's discipline and control, the absolute certainty that if he completed certain tasks, he would achieve a new rank.
After seven years in the Army, Bill began to feel stifled. It seemed like he had to dumb himself down to fit in. So he joined the Special Forces. Here, in this close-knit, highly trained community, demands were both physical and cerebral. As part of the 10th Special Forces Group, Bill worked as a sniper, traveling to hot zones including Haiti, Kosovo and Bosnia.
Bill's first marriage didn't work out. He met a more suitable match in 1998 at a cold-weather training at Copper Mountain. She was a civilian named Laura, who was on a ski trip with her friends. Laura was bright, witty and cute—just like Bill. They met the night before Laura was to fly back to Michigan. Bill didn't get her last name or phone number, but Laura told her friends the next day that she knew she was going to marry him. She was right.
In 2001, after dating long distance for three years, Laura and her son from a previous marriage moved in with Bill in Colorado Springs. Soon after, Bill and Laura got married. The two were a good match: They got along easily, but Laura wasn't about to make Bill lord of the manor just because he was a Green Beret. He could go skeet shooting, ride his Harley and practice his gunsmith skills in the basement, but he also had to help out around the house. This included looking after their first child together, a girl, born in 2002.
When Bill learned he would be deployed to Iraq in February 2003, he was thrilled. He'd been devastated when he did not serve in the Persian Gulf War. Now, after training for 13 years, he would have his chance to go to the Middle East.
Bill spent four months in Iraq in spring 2003. When he returned in May, he didn't talk to Laura about what happened there; that was normal. But he was tiring of the Special Forces life, sick of being away from home six to nine months a year. After 17 years in the Army, his body was wearing out—his back was tired, his knees were tired. He was ready to let go of the machismo that comes with being part of a Special Forces A-team.
The summer of 2003 was the longest period of time Bill had ever spent at home, and it made him happy. Laura had just moved the family to a comfortable home in Monument. She was pregnant with their second child. For the first time in his military career, Bill made his family a higher priority than his profession.
When Bill's second rotation to Iraq came up in September 2003, he found he didn't want to go. Deployment would mean another Christmas spent in the field, another missed birthday, another hockey season gone. His second daughter had just been born, and he had just weeks to be with her before he had to leave.
Bill had known he would be sent back to Iraq. He just didn't know it would be so soon.
Iraq was dirty. That's what struck Andrew. Dirty and smelly, sand and garbage everywhere.
Andrew arrived in Iraq with the A-team on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2003. Once in country, everything seemed to move quickly. After arriving at a large U.S. military facility, Andrew and the other soldiers unloaded their gear, pre-loaded their convoy of trucks and ran through pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections, verifying that all personnel, equipment and vehicles were ready for the mission. Despite the activity, Andrew didn't sleep that night.
The next morning, Andrew drove one of the Land Rovers in the convoy as they traveled through the Sunni Triangle to Samarra. He and the support soldier sitting next to him held loaded M4 rifles on their laps, nozzles out the window. Andrew silently scanned the area for signs of possible attacks or improvised explosive devices on the road.
Halfway to Samarra, the 5-ton cargo truck ahead of Andrew stopped abruptly. Guys jumped out. The truck's front wheel—not just a tire, the whole wheel—had fallen off. The convoy was going to have to wait for a tow truck and a replacement cargo truck. They were close to where another convoy had recently been ambushed.
Andrew set up a security point at the front of the convoy. He trained his gun on every car that drove by. Even with a 50-caliber machine gun covering him, Andrew felt vulnerable. He watched donkeys go by, the shacks and huts along the road, the guy with a camel sitting nearby, selling watermelons. He noticed all the Mercedes and Rolls Royces, as if Europe had donated its old luxury cars to Iraq. One BMW had a German license plate.
Andrew spoke to one of the Green Berets who had been in the country for a couple of weeks.
"This is Indian country down here," the soldier told Andrew. "You'll be lucky to make it out alive."
It took five hours for the tow truck and replacement truck to arrive. When the convoy rolled out, it was getting dark. Now all Andrew could see was where his headlights shone in front of him. The soldier next to him started mumbling.
"Do you like green eggs and ham? I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!"
It was like Rain Man. In a house. With a mouse. In a box. With a fox. Andrew finally got a cigarette in the guy's mouth and shut him up.
The convoy arrived at Samarra at about 9 p.m. Andrew was told the compound at which he would be stationed was under attack almost every night. Mortars had demolished parts of the buildings, and many windows had been shot out.
The soldiers unloaded the trucks in silence. Andrew was assigned to a bedroom in a single-story wing of one of the buildings. During orientation, a soldier told Andrew that the compound had been heavily mortared a few nights before. He pointed out the craters in the ground where the mortars had hit. Each successive mortar had landed a little closer to the building. The last mortar had not exploded. It was embedded in the ground next to Andrew's room.
Andrew unloaded his gear in his bedroom. He laid out his body armor and helmet so that if he needed to, he could grab them quickly. He took the round out of the chamber of his M4 and reloaded its magazine. He took off his sidearm and boots. Finally, he unrolled his sleeping bag on the bed, laid down and tried to go to sleep.
An hour and a half later, there was gunfire nearby. Andrew went outside to smoke and asked a soldier what was happening. It was most likely a wedding, he was told. Iraqis like to fire guns in the air during weddings.
Andrew returned to his room and laid down. Close to midnight, there was more gunfire, then explosions. He could hear the sounds of trucks coming and going from the compound. It sounded like all hell was breaking loose.
Andrew got out of bed. A medic ran into the building and told Andrew that one of their patrols had been ambushed and a bunch of Iraqis had been shot up. He said there were prisoners.
Andrew went outside and approached the next building. Inside there was chaos.
Ambulances and Humvees. Smoke and blood everywhere. People screaming.
Andrew could smell blood. He stood in the doorway of the building. To his right, he saw a body bag lying on the ground. Two guys walked over and opened it.
Inside, Andrew saw the body of an Iraqi.
The Iraqi had been shot by a U.S. Army Bradley armored fighting vehicle.
The body had caught a 20 mm round in its torso.
The body bag was open for six seconds. But it was more than Andrew needed to see.
Andrew turned away and walked back outside. He saw five Iraqi prisoners handcuffed and on the ground. One had a gaping leg wound; the lower part of his leg was completely ripped apart.
Andrew noticed a U.S. soldier, maybe 21 or 22, sitting on a table against a wall. He was pale, shaking. Other soldiers walked by, pointed and laughed at the kid. Andrew asked one of them who the kid was. He's the driver or gunner of the Bradley, someone said. The one that shot up the Iraqi.
Some soldiers learn to deal with the violence they see by laughing at it. Andrew was never one of them. He started to feel like the shaking kid. But he couldn't let the others see he wasn't OK. He was Special Forces.
He walked back to his building. On the way, everything started moving in slow motion. Andrew. Other soldiers. Everything.
Andrew smoked a cigarette and tried to go to bed. It didn't work. Thirty minutes later, he ran to the latrine and threw up. When he returned to his room, he was trembling. Then came the terror.
After 15 minutes, he tried to collect himself. It's going to be like this everyday, he thought. This will all become normal.
But it didn't work. He fell asleep, dreamed horrible dreams and woke up panicked. The room exploded around him. The ceiling caved in. The mortar embedded in the ground outside finally detonated. He didn't know if it was real or a hallucination.
He picked up his M4, put a round in it and put it on the bed next to him. He put his sidearm back on. If the door to his room had opened, he would have fired.
The next morning, Andrew's hands were still shaking. He was dry heaving. He went to see his team sergeant.
It was not an easy decision. He was the odd man out on the team; they didn't know him. Maybe they would think he'd lost it. But he had to tell somebody. If they went out on a mission and he was the third or fourth or fifth guy in line and he lost it, the guy in front or in back of him would probably get killed.
Andrew told his team sergeant he needed help.
The sergeant just looked at him. "Do you think you're the only one who didn't sleep last night?"
But Andrew knew something was wrong. He had been a volunteer firefighter, had seen some gruesome stuff. He had never experienced a reaction like this. He told his sergeant he thought he was having a nervous breakdown.
His sergeant told him to pull his head out of his ass, get himself together and act like a soldier. Andrew was told to go away and think about what he was saying, because it could lead to serious complications for his career.
Andrew returned to his room, unsure what to do. He tried to eat a Nutri-Grain bar. It tasted disgusting. He had diarrhea, couldn't drink, became dehydrated. The only thing he could do was smoke cigarettes. He lit up one after another, burning through four packs that day.
Andrew was confined to his room and relieved of his weapons. He was given two sleeping pills—Ambien—which knocked him out for seven hours. His head filled with bizarre nightmares, and he woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling of impending doom.
He returned to his team sergeant and told him again that he needed help. The sergeant said that wasn't an option.
"So everything's not an option," Andrew said. "So, well, if you can't help me here, I guess you are going to have to send me home."
The next day, Andrew and his belongings were loaded onto a convoy. He heard that, earlier that day, a convoy had been attacked nearby. Now, in the dark, they would drive the same route.
Andrew requested his weapons back. His superiors said no.
The convoy took Andrew to a large military compound in Tikrit fashioned from one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. He was put under suicide watch.
For several days, Andrew had been asking to see a chaplain. At Tikrit, he was allowed to meet with one. He told the chaplain what had happened: the body, the nightmares, the room collapsing. The chaplain looked at Andrew and said his reaction was normal. It happened on a daily basis. He said Andrew didn't have anything to worry about.
Andrew broke down and cried.
The chaplain brought Andrew to the combat-stress control team of the 85th Medical Detachment, which was stationed at Tikrit. An army psychologist listened to Andrew's story for an hour and a half. Then the psychologist repeated what the chaplain had said: Andrew was having an abnormal reaction to an abnormal environment, which was normal. Completely normal.
The psychologist told Andrew he should spend a couple of days with the combat-stress control team, where he'd get plenty of rest, good meals and counseling. He said Andrew should be able to return to duty within a week. The psychologist suggested the same in his report to Andrew's superiors: "Soldier reported signs of symptoms consistent with those of a normal combat-stress reaction. Short-term rest, stress-coping skills, and/or brief removal from more dangerous situations are often adequate to resolve such reactions. If desired, the combat-stress team can work with this soldier at FOB Speicher. Rest and a concentrated stress-reduction program are provided, with return to duty assumed."
Andrew's superiors had different plans.
On Andrew's sixth day of war, he was told to report to his commander and sergeant major at 11 a.m. For an hour, the officers berated him.
You are a coward, they said. We're gonna make sure everyone back home knows what you did. If it were 50 years ago, we'd take you out back and shoot you in the head.
They told him he was going home.
On Tuesday, Oct. 7, Andrew landed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The rest of the soldiers on the plane met their families, but Andrew was met by armed guards, who searched him and put him in a Suburban. They drove Andrew to Fort Carson, where his commander ordered him to the hospital for an immediate emergency suicide evaluation. Then he was escorted home to Michelle. Before he was released, he had to turn over his personal weapon, a 9 mm pistol.
One week later, he was called onto the carpet by his superiors. They read him the charges: Violating Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice—cowardly conduct as a result of fear. The last recorded conviction of a U.S. soldier for cowardice was in 1968. It was a crime punishable by death.
Andrew was stripped of his security clearance, stripped of his job. He sat in a chair at the base all day or swept the parking lot. He was harassed constantly, a monkey in a cage. Only half a dozen friends stood by him.
Two days later, the local paper broke the story. His answering machine was swamped with calls from the media. Paula Zahn. Soledad O'Brien. What a news hook: "coward." The perfect counterpoint to Private Jessica Lynch, America's hero.
Andrew continued to experience panic, anxiety, confusion, nightmares, depression. He kept the symptoms to himself, hid them even from Michele. He would hide in his bedroom, his car, anywhere where no one could see him.
The first thing he tried to do was figure out what was going on inside of him. He didn't think he was just going crazy. There had to be something physically wrong with him.
* * *
Bill returned from Iraq on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004. While he'd been stationed in Samarra in December, the city had been the scene of a bloody confrontation. The military reported that more than 50 insurgents had been killed. He didn't talk to Laura about it, nor did he say much about his team sergeant, who'd been killed in January. He never really said anything about Staff Sgt. Andrew Pogany. Bill had been deployed later than the rest of his team; by the time he'd arrived in Iraq, Pogany had been shipped out of the country. All Bill said to Laura was, "OK, I'm home."
Bill seemed happy to be back with his family. He was tired of being away, tired of work, ready to recharge his batteries. Other than a slight skin rash and diarrhea, he seemed fine.
On Sunday, March 14, three weeks after he'd returned, Bill and his stepson left home at 7:30 a.m. to go skeet and trap shooting with Bill's father.
The weather was decent that day. Bill and his stepson returned home at 3 p.m. Bill was excited; he'd finally out-shot his father. He unloaded the ammunitions and firearms, cleaned them and put them away in the basement. When he came upstairs, Laura was working on the family taxes. Someone needed to make a run to the grocery store, and Bill offered to go.
He returned home an hour later, agitated.
"You'd never guess who I ran into," Bill said to Laura. There was an edge to his voice.
She knew immediately: Bill's ex-wife. The ex had told him he'd never have to worry about seeing his daughter from his first marriage again. She'd said she was going to move away with the child. It was a typical conversation for Bill and his ex-wife, the type of confrontation that would put him in a bad mood for hours.
Laura made dinner for the kids, put the youngest two to bed. At 6:30 p.m., the phone rang. It was one of Bill's Army buddies. Bill talked on the phone for an hour and a half, drinking Jack and Cokes. He had three or four of them.
At 8 p.m., he hung up the phone, in a foul mood. When Laura walked to the kitchen, he tried to trip her.
Laura knew when she'd done something to piss him off; this time she hadn't done anything. Bill followed Laura into the kitchen. When she tried to get to the refrigerator, he stood in her way.
"I need milk for my cereal," Laura said.
Bill didn't move.
Laura didn't say anything but reached around him and took the milk out of the refrigerator.
A little after 9 p.m., Bill found Laura in the den and said, "Take out the fucking trash."
He was snarling. He'd never talked to her like that.
Laura face him. "What did you just say?"
"Take out the fucking trash."
"No," she responded. "One, you don't talk to me like that. Two, you're not my dad. You can't tell me what to do—"
Bill punched Laura in the forehead.
Laura hit him back, a blow to his mouth. Bill stepped back, then punched her twice, in the eye and the neck. His rage was quiet, controlled.
Laura told Bill he had 10 minutes to get out of the house.
"I've told you and told you never to bring violence into this house," she said. "Whatever you've seen on the job, whatever you've done, you've brought it here, which is not acceptable. You are going to have to find somewhere else to go for a while. You can't stay here and conduct yourself that way. It's not going to happen."
Laura walked into the living room, where her son was watching The Matrix on TV. She told him to go upstairs and take a shower.
Ten minutes later, Bill was still there. He confronted Laura in the kitchen and began yelling at her.
You don't love me, he said. You've cheated on me. You're a bitch.
He wasn't making any sense.
Laura fired back. You're not in Iraq anymore. I want a divorce.
This went on for 15 minutes, until Laura told Bill he was going to have to get one of his friends to come pick him up, or she was going to call the police.
"Fine," he said. "I'll make a mess of your fucking house."
He walked out of the room, and Laura heard the basement door open.
The only thing down there were his guns.
Laura picked up the cordless phone in the kitchen. She ran out to hide in the backyard and dialed 911.
"My husband just hit me, and he's going downstairs to get his gun," she told the dispatcher.
When Bill walked out into the backyard where Laura was hiding, she hung up the phone, afraid he would hear her. She thought she could make out a weapon under his gray sweatshirt.
The 911 dispatcher called back. Laura picked up. Bill did, too.
"Hello. Hello," said Bill into the phone. His voice was flat.
"Yeah, who am I speaking with?" said the dispatcher.
"Who's calling?" said Bill.
"This is Mike with the Sheriff's Office."
"Your wife just called and said you guys were having some problems there?"
"Well, that's fine."
"Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Well, I don't know. She's the one that called, you should talk to her."
"OK, can I talk to her?"
"I don't know where she is."
"OK, is everything OK there?"
"It's OK by me."
"Well, what's going on?"
"I don't know."
"OK, is everything OK there?"
"I think it's fine."
"OK, do you know why she called?"
"I have no idea."
"OK, who else is at home with you? Is it just you and your wife at home?"
"Yeah, the best thing would be to talk to my wife."
"OK, can you go ahead and put her on the line?"
Bill hung up. While he'd been talking, Laura had moved around the side of the house. When she reached the front yard, she saw two police officers approaching from the street. Then she heard the front door open.
Laura took one step forward, and Bill met her between the garage and their truck, which was parked in the driveway. He grabbed her by the shirt and pulled a gun out of his waistband. A .357-caliber revolver. It was huge. Bill pointed the gun at Laura's face.
"You're going to watch this. You're going to watch this," he said.
He meant that she would watch while he shot her.
Laura smacked away the hand holding the revolver.
It was then the officers noticed the gun.
"Sir, drop the gun. Sir, drop the gun. It's not worth it. Sir, drop the gun."
Bill took a couple steps backward, the gun pointed at Laura.
Then he raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
One of the officers fired, hitting Bill in the arm, but it was too late. The .357-caliber bullet had already blasted through Bill's head.
Chief Warrant Officer William Howell was dead.
Laura spent the next week coordinating the funeral and answering questions from the sheriff's department and the Army. Reporters suggested the suicide cast doubt on the military's mental-health screening for returning vets.
Laura didn't know what to think. She'd known Bill for six years. Until he'd pulled the trigger, it hadn't occurred to her that he would commit suicide.
Bill had a temper and had been violent before. In 2001, he'd hit Laura. He was on anabolic steroids at the time. He'd always been sensitive to drugs, and the steroids likely caused him lose his temper. Even then, Bill had been able to stop himself; he'd got off the steroids and had never hit Laura again.
Bill had been a member of an A-team. He'd been trained to be in control at all times. He'd lived his life under control.
On the night of March 14, there had been no control. It didn't make sense. Laura had looked into Bill's eyes. Nothing had seemed to be registering.
As Laura relived the night in her head, one thing kept bothering her. It had to do with the police.
Bill had walked into his front yard with a loaded handgun, while police officers approached the house. Laura had noticed the officers; Bill should have noticed them, too.
Bill had been exceptionally bright, able to outthink, outtalk and out-maneuver almost anybody. There was no way a Special Forces soldier like him was going to give up his entire career after a few drinks and a fight with his wife. Bill could have easily ditched the gun or evaded the officers. Or he could have killed the police, and Laura, without too much trouble.
That is, unless there was something very wrong with Bill.
* * *
For both Andrew and Laura, the answers started with a phone call.
Two and a half weeks after he returned from Iraq, Andrew received a call from his newly hired lawyer. Andrew had been through enough at that point to know he needed legal help. The lawyer asked Andrew if he'd taken antimalarial pills in Iraq. Andrew thought back and realized that he had.
The day he'd been assigned to the A-team, he'd met the team medic, who'd handed Andrew a box of pills. The medic had said the pills would prevent malaria and that the team had to take them every Monday. They'd called it Malaria Monday to remember.
Andrew had taken the first two pills before he'd deployed. He'd put the foil blister packs of scored, white pills in his first-aid kit when he'd packed, leaving the box at home. He'd taken the third pill the morning of his initial panic attack.
Laura received the first call a few days after Bill died from a soldier she'd never heard of, who'd never met Bill.
At first Laura said she didn't want to talk. But the soldier kept calling back. Finally she agreed to speak to him.
The soldier told her he was sick. He described his symptoms; they sounded a lot like what Bill had experienced the night of his suicide. The soldier told Laura to find out whether Bill had taken antimalarial pills.
Laura did as the soldier suggested and found a notation in Bill's medical records indicating that he had.
Both Andrew and Bill had been taking a drug called mefloquine hydrochloride, better known as Lariam.
In 1965, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was in trouble. In Vietnam, malaria was downing 800 soldiers a month, a greater number than those dropped by North Vietnamese bullets. Malaria, a mosquito-born parasite, causes fever, nausea, chills, sweats, headaches, general malaise and, in severe cases, death.
Chloroquine, the antimalarial drug of choice for decades, was no longer working. In some regions, the parasites had become immune to the medication. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, DOD's primary biomedical research laboratory, screened a quarter-million compounds in search of a replacement. They came up with mefloquine hydrochloride.
A structural cousin to quinine, mefloquine hydrochloride was found to be highly effective in preventing malaria. Army experiments with the drug reportedly revealed few side effects. In locations where chloroquine was failing, mefloquine hydrochloride worked.
In 1989, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a commercial version of mefloquine hydrochloride, manufactured by the Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hoffman-La Roche. Roche, as the company is more commonly known, named the drug Lariam.
Lariam was desperately needed. While malaria had been effectively eradicated in the United States in the 1950s, nearly half of the world's population lived in areas where malaria was transmitted, including parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America. In these regions, millions of people died of malaria each year. Older antimalarial drugs were often no longer an option. The problem was so severe that the Peace Corps considered abandoning its Africa programs when half of its volunteers there contracted chloroquine-resistant malaria.
Thanks to Lariam, malaria cases dropped immediately. It was hailed as a miracle drug, becoming the drug of choice for many of the most malaria-prone places in the world. These were the places where America's tourists went for vacation—and where America's soldiers went to fight.
* * *
B. Meredith Burke had an overwhelming urge to experience what it would feel like to walk through space. She kept eyeing the window of her high-rise hotel.
In 1991, Meredith, a demographer and writer working as a contractor for the World Bank, was in Nigeria on a business trip. Something was very wrong. She was considering jumping out her window. For the past few days, she'd been experiencing tingling in her hands and feet, violent dreams, hallucinations. When she mentioned her symptoms to her companions, they asked if she was taking Lariam. She said yes, and they advised her to stop taking it.
Meredith recovered, but she wasn't satisfied. When she returned to the United States, she asked other World Bank employees if they had taken Lariam while traveling, and she began collecting horror stories. As a professional demographer, Meredith suspected Lariam caused serious side effects more frequently than its manufacturer, Roche, suggested.
In 1997, Meredith founded Lariam Action USA, a volunteer organization providing information and services for people with questions about Lariam.
Lariam Action USA collected countless stories of strange side effects apparently linked to Lariam. A British schoolmaster who'd inexplicably stolen thousands of dollars of school-trip money. A former Democratic congressman who'd said he'd lost all ability to tell right from wrong and had swindled millions of dollars from friends. A young traveler who'd thought the television was telling her to live on another planet. A police sergeant who'd suffered two seizures without explanation and hadn't been able to resume normal work for years. A hospital administrator who'd dealt with a lingering pain in the base of his skull by placing a shotgun where it hurt and pulling the trigger.
Members of Lariam Action USA suspected the science behind Lariam was flawed; they believed it had been faulty since the drug was introduced.
When Lariam was first licensed in the United States in 1989, the medication was recommended at a dosage of one 250-milligram pill every two weeks. A year later, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended increasing the dosage to one pill a week. The change was based on a study of Peace Corps volunteers taking mefloquine. CDC chief malaria expert Dr. Hans Lobel, suggested that because some of the study participants had contracted malaria while taking the pill bi-monthly, the dosage should be increased.
Lariam Action USA volunteers claimed that the study hadn't involved Lariam. They said its participants had been given a European brand of mefloquine that was only three-quarters the strength of Lariam. Lariam Action USA volunteers believed the weekly dosage of Lariam might be excessive, especially since the extra dose could possibly expose those who took the pill to additional side effects.
These side effects could be serious. Roche's 1999 Lariam label warned that the medication could cause balance problems, nervous-system disorders, anxiety, depression, restlessness and confusion. Near the end of the lengthy label, Roche listed additional adverse reactions: nausea, dizziness, vertigo, headaches, sleep disorders, diarrhea, convulsions, hallucinations, psychotic or paranoid reactions, aggression, hearing impairment, vestibular disorders, visual disturbances and, possibly, thoughts of suicide.
Lariam Action USA volunteers believed Roche's Lariam warning label didn't tell the whole story. In Great Britain, the Lariam label noted additional adverse reactions, including disabling psychiatric reactions that could last for weeks. In Canada, the label warned users to avoid alcohol; the U.S. label did not.
For most people who took Lariam, the warning label was probably irrelevant; U.S. pharmacies were not required to distribute the entire label with the medication. It appeared likely that many Lariam users, doctors and medical experts didn't know exactly what the medicine could do.
Lariam wasn't the only new antimalarial medicine on the market; a drug called doxycycline also protected against new strains of malaria and was often cheaper. Throughout the 1990s, however, the CDC continued to recommend Lariam as the drug of choice for regions where chloroquine-resistant malaria was present. CDC officials said Lariam was extremely safe; they cited a 1993 Roche-sponsored study that determined the rate of serious side effects to be one in 10,000.
Lariam Action USA volunteers believed Lariam-induced adverse reactions occurred more frequently than officials were letting on. They cited a study published in 1996 in the British Medical Journal that determined that 1 in 140 travelers taking Lariam suffered serious side effects. A study conducted by a competing drug company published in 2001 in Clinical Infectious Diseases reported more troubling findings: Out of nearly 500 travelers who took Lariam, 29 percent experienced neuropsychiatric effects.
The other shoe finally dropped in 2002. In May, reporters Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted of United Press International (UPI) broke the story. Between 1998 and 2002, the FDA had received reports of 11 suicides, 12 suicide attempts, 41 cases of thinking about suicide and 144 cases of depression associated with Lariam, problems doctors were not required to report.
And then there was the 1994 Roche safety report, which noted that a causal link between suicide and Lariam could not be ruled out.
After more than a decade in the spotlight, Lariam had lost much of its luster. In 2001, the CDC changed its antimalarial recommendations. Now doxycycline and a newer drug called atovaquone/proguanil were also recommended. In October 2002, after the UPI story, Roche changed its Lariam label significantly, noting, among other things, unconfirmed links between Lariam and suicide. A year later, the FDA announced that all patients taking Lariam must be given a medication guide about the drug. The guide noted, "Some patients taking Lariam think about killing themselves, and there have been rare reports of suicide."
Roche and the FDA stopped short of making a direct correlation between Lariam and suicide. Officials said there was no scientific proof.
* * *
On June 17, 2003, Steve Robinson received an unusual e-mail. It was from an Army lieutenant colonel stationed in Iraq; he said he'd just been medically evacuated from the country. He was experiencing insomnia, sweats, confusion, increased heart rate. The soldier had spent 19 years in the Army and had been in excellent health. He said he believed he'd suffered an adverse reaction to Lariam.
Steve, a retired Army ranger, was the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc., a Gulf War veterans advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. He'd heard a lot of scary stories from soldiers coming back from the Persian Gulf. Depleted uranium poisonings. Anti-nerve-agent experiments. He'd never heard of anyone being given Lariam as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Steve asked DOD officials if they were using Lariam in Iraq. They said no. Steve then e-mailed the lieutenant colonel, informing him of the officials' response.
"Your source on Lariam is incorrect," the lieutenant colonel responded. "Our entire field artillery brigade was issued six weeks of Lariam medication in Kuwait."
In his visits to Army hospitals, Steve began asking questions. The more he looked, the more he found. And the more he learned about Lariam, the less he liked what he found.
For years, DOD had been routinely prescribing Lariam to soldiers in regions where chloroquine-resistant malaria was prevalent. Steve, however, began to question whether the drug made sense in any combat environment. Lariam's label warned, "Caution should be exercised with regard to activities requiring alertness and fine motor coordination, such as driving, piloting aircraft, operating machinery, and deep-sea diving, as dizziness, a loss of balance, or other disorders of the central or peripheral nervous system have been reported during and following the use of Lariam." Lariam was not recommended for patients with a history of depression or anxiety.
To Steve, it didn't seem like the kind of thing you'd want to give to people in the midst of war.
He received more e-mails from soldiers who'd been given Lariam in Iraq. Many of those who contacted him said they did not receive medication guides with their Lariam doses. They said their Lariam prescriptions were not noted in their medical records. DOD policy required that medication guides be distributed with drugs like Lariam and that all medicines be listed on soldiers' medical records.
Steve began to doubt whether many of the soldiers—including officers and medical personnel—knew enough to recognize Lariam problems. It was possible some were confusing Lariam's side effects—nightmares, hallucinations, distress, sleeplessness, aggression—with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a growing concern in the military.
And then there was Somalia. And Fort Bragg.
In 1993, a group of Canadian troops stationed in Somalia beat a local teenager to death. Lead pipes. Trophy photos. The officer in charge was allegedly speaking gibberish.
In a six-week period in the summer of 2002, at Fort Bragg, N. C., three Special Forces soldiers just back from Afghanistan killed their wives and then themselves. An Army report blamed marital discord and mission stress.
The Canadian troops had been taking Lariam. So had the Special Forces soldiers.
Steve kept asking DOD officials about Lariam in Iraq. By the fall of 2003, the officials' story began to change. Some units in Iraq had been given Lariam. Just a handful.
Then the story changed again. Lariam was being widely used in Iraq. More than 4 million doses were bought that year. DOD officials weren't sure if the malaria in Iraq was resistant to chloroquine, and they were prescribing Lariam to be safe.
To Steve, it didn't make any sense. To determine what antimalarial drug, if any, is needed for a given deployment, DOD medical experts usually looked to CDC recommendations. But in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom, that didn't seem to happen.
For at least a decade, the CDC had been recommending one antimalarial medication for Iraq: chloroquine.
Soon Steve wasn't the only one wondering about Lariam. Suicides were spiking among U.S. soldiers in Iraq. By the end of 2003, there had been 24 soldier suicides in Iraq, a rate of 18 per 100,000 soldiers, nearly double the average.
In September 2003, the Army surgeon general's office launched an investigation into the suicides. They never considered Lariam.
But people remembered Somalia. People remembered Fort Bragg.
That December, DOD changed its antimalarial recommendations for Iraq. Chloroquine was now the drug of choice.
Two months later, on Feb. 25, 2004, Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, the Army surgeon general, appeared before members of Congress to address concerns about Lariam. DOD would study possible side effects of Lariam, including reports of suicide, said Peake. But there was no correlation, he said, between the medicine and the recent rash of suicides. Only four of the soldiers who'd committed suicide were reported to be from units taking Lariam.
"We do know the documented side effects of this medicine, but the key causes of the suicides were failed intimate relationships, legal and financial problems," said Peake. "We don't think it is as big a problem as has been made out."
Andrew wasn't going down for something he didn't do. The military had charged Andrew with a crime punishable by death. The Army brass might have figured that the moment they offered Andrew a deal, he'd take it and shut up. If so, they were wrong.
On Nov. 6, 2003, three weeks after Andrew had been branded a coward, the Army dropped that charge. Now he was accused of dereliction of duty for "willfully failing to perform his job." If convicted, Andrew could spend up to six months in prison and could be discharged from the Army for bad conduct.
In December, Andrew's superiors offered him a hearing under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, under which a commanding officer could limit what evidence Andrew could use to present his case. Andrew's lawyer could be barred from the proceedings. But Andrew wasn't buying it.
"I'm not going to be part of your kangaroo court," he said. "If you have something on me, if you have a case, let's put it all out there. Have a trial."
Andrew requested a court-martial.
The Army backed off. They told Andrew that he had to forget about everything that had happened. He was going back to Iraq.
Andrew said fine—just as soon as he was legally and medically cleared of all wrongdoing. In writing.
The Army wouldn't do it. The case remained in limbo.
At one point, Andrew and his lawyer asked his superiors about the antimalarial drug Andrew had been given.
That excuse didn't work for the guys at Bragg, and it's not going to work for you, they were told.
Andrew wasn't so sure.
The panic. The hallucinations. The nausea. The anxiety. The depression. It all suggested Lariam. The symptoms started the day Andrew took his third Lariam pill; the British Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention had reported that more than 75 percent of adverse reactions to the drug were apparent after the third dose.
Andrew didn't have most of the physical symptoms associated with Lariam, but that changed a month and a half after he returned home. Blurry vision, balance problems, staggering, stomach problems. He could hardly aim his rifle. He was the textbook case for Lariam side effects.
Andrew's medical records didn't indicate he'd taken Lariam. But Andrew had the medication box to prove it.
For months, Andrew requested specialized testing, evaluation, treatment. There had to be some way to determine for sure whether Lariam was the cause of his symptoms.
At the end of May 2004, Andrew's superiors relented. Because of his balance problems, they sent him to the Spatial Orientation Lab at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
There, Andrew met Dr. Michael Hoffer. Hoffer seemed to care about his patients. He inspected Andrew's ears, nose and throat. He observed how Andrew walked, how he moved his head and eyes. He sat Andrew in a special kind of chair, spun him around. He stood Andrew on a platform while he tilted it from side to side.
On June 2, 2004, the doctor wrote his diagnosis. Eye, ear and balance functions were abnormal. Parts of Andrew's inner ear and central nervous system were damaged.
"Drug toxicity antimalarials," wrote Hoffer. "Likely Lariam toxicity."
Andrew wasn't the only soldier visiting Hoffer. Over the next few weeks, the doctor diagnosed 10 other service members who'd served in Afghanistan or Iraq with similar balance problems and brain damage. The common thread, Hoffer told the press, was Lariam. If not treated, the damage could last indefinitely.
The press jumped the story. DOD had been downplaying Lariam concerns for months. Now, a DOD doctor had diagnosed soldiers with brain damage caused by Lariam. One of those soldiers was Andrew Pogany, the nation's "coward."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., demanded that the federal government and DOD re-evaluate their use of Lariam. Naval specialists in San Diego announced they would launch a study into Hoffer's diagnoses.
On the evening of July 15, 2004, Andrew was called to a meeting with his commanding officer. As a result of his medical diagnosis, all charges against him would be dropped.
This time it was official.
* * *
Laura first heard of Lariam while Bill was still in Iraq. There was talk of links to suicide. Bill's former teammate, Andrew Pogany, was saying the drug had caused his much-publicized panic attack.
The next time Laura spoke to Bill on the phone, she asked him about Lariam.
"Sure, we all take it," he said. "We are done taking it anyway."
Malaria season was over. Laura had nothing to worry about.
Three months later, she was wondering if Lariam had killed her husband.
Steve Robinson at the National Gulf Resource Center helped put the pieces together. Like Bill, Steve had been an Army Ranger. Steve told Laura that someone like Bill, 17 years in the military, doesn't just snap. Something had to push him over the edge.
Lariam fit the bill. Thinking back, Laura thought Bill exhibited many tell-tale side effects: skin rash, diarrhea, fatigue, joint pain. And then, on the last night, there was anxiety, aggression, suicide.
The Army never denied that Bill had taken Lariam; his medical records proved he'd taken the drug.
Lariam. There was no other explanation.
It turned out Bill's case wasn't unique. In September, Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted of UPI reported that over the past decade, six Special Forces soldiers had committed suicide after taking Lariam. Since Sept. 11, 2001, every Special Forces soldier who'd killed himself had taken the drug.
* * *
Seven months after he'd written "likely Lariam toxicity" on Andrew's brain-injury diagnosis, Dr. Michael Hoffer changed his mind. He said he'd been wrong. He didn't know what had caused the damage.
As a result, the soldiers' medical records were changed. Now their disorders were listed as "of unknown origin."
"We are not sure that this is Lariam," said Hoffer in a Jan. 31 interview. "Early on when we were seeing [the patients], the early individuals maybe only gave that history [of Lariam use]. And then, as we started to see more people, and started to re-question some of the people we first saw, more came out about them. They may have had an agenda."
But then a soldier told UPI that Hoffer had said he was being pressured "from the top" to drop the Lariam references. When the soldier asked if Hoffer meant DOD, the doctor allegedly nodded his head.
Hoffer denied the allegations.
It sounded to some like the Army was circling the wagons, trying to deny the impact of the drug on its soldiers.
In 2004, the military launched several studies on Lariam and its association with suicide. One was by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office, another by the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego. At the time, military officials announced the public could expect preliminary results within months. As of February 2005, no findings have been released.
In September 2004, the Army admitted it gave Congress bad information on the 2003 suicide spike in Iraq. DOD officials had said no more than four of the 24 deceased soldiers could have taken Lariam. Now the military acknowledged as many as 11 could have been on the drug. A year later, after Lariam had reportedly been all but discontinued in Iraq, only nine soldiers killed themselves in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On Feb. 3, 2005, another Special Forces soldier at Fort Bragg, Spc. Richard T. Corcoran, killed himself after shooting his ex-wife and her boyfriend. While serving in Afghanistan, Corcoran had been prescribed Lariam.
Roche, the manufacturer of Lariam, continues to maintain there's no connection between their drug and suicide and violence.
"There is no scientific evidence of a causal link between Lariam and suicide or suicidal ideation," writes Terence Hurley, director of product public relations for Roche, in an e-mail to Boulder Weekly. "Based on all the data currently available, no cause-and-effect relationship between Lariam and suicide or suicidal ideation has been established. Also, there is no reliable scientific evidence that Lariam is associated with violent acts or criminal conduct. Numerous studies show that the incidence of serious neuropsychiatric events in patients taking Lariam for treatment is very low. And, Roche is not aware of any study, or other reliable scientific evidence, that Lariam causes permanent vestibular dysfunction."
Meanwhile, the U.S. military continues to prescribe Lariam to soldiers stationed in many parts of the world.
There's a community now. Andrew's part of it. Laura's part of it. Lariam Action USA and Steve Robinson nurture it, connecting people looking for answers with those who might have them. It's military and civilian. The community is made up of those who say they are victims of Lariam.
Army buddies Bernard Johnson and Chris Heaton are part of the community. While stationed in Somalia in 1993, they awoke every Tuesday morning to the Army radio DJ announcing, "It's psycho Tuesday!" In other words, it was time to take Lariam.
Bernard, Chris and their fellow soldiers were plagued by vivid dreams: hacking off limbs, decapitation, sucking blood from people. At night, soldiers woke up screaming. Everyone got mean; soldiers fought with officers. The unit reportedly marched through villages, destroying huts, beating up the locals.
When they returned to the United States, Chris nearly divorced his wife and drank every night for months. Bernard contemplated suicide and asked the Veterans Health Administration for help; he says they blew him off. Bernard and Chris think the Army knew what the drug would do to them; they think the Army wanted to make them more violent.
"They want you to be able to pull the trigger. They want you to be able to kill your fellow man," says Chris. "I think they probably know this drug does this, and they send [soldiers] into combat situations, and they give them this drug, so they guarantee they are going to pull that trigger."
Kenn Miller spent two years in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer. At first, Kenn and his friends liked Lariam; it caused them to have wild, lucid dreams. But then the dreams became dark. Kenn's extremities went numb. His memory started failing. He passed out. A local doctor diagnosed him with brain swelling. Two years after leaving Senegal, Kenn still experiences headaches, nausea, disorientation and dizzy spells. He can only work part time. Today, 85 percent of Peace Corps volunteers take Lariam.
A Special Forces soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom as an A-team medic and engineer. After taking Lariam, he experienced nightmares, coordination problems, anxiety and headaches. He could no longer function in combat: If he sensed someone was near him, he would want to pull the trigger—even before he knew whether they were friend or foe.
Destanie was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. While taking Lariam, Destanie lost 30 pounds, suffered severe nightmares and panic attacks and experienced extreme mood swings. She couldn't complete her duties. Medics put her on antidepressants and sleeping pills. Eventually she pointed a gun at her lieutenant, threatened to shoot him and was kicked out of the military.
"[The Army] was my whole life. It was all I had ever known. Growing up, that was all I wanted to do," says Destanie. "It's gone. I can never have it back. It hurts."
Donnie Pomponio joined the military in 1986 because he wanted to fly Black Hawk helicopters. In 2002, he was sent to Afghanistan. Almost immediately, he appeared to suffer a bad reaction to Lariam: hallucinations, anxiety, extreme distress. His medic suggested he stop taking the drug. When Donnie returned home in 2003, he was a different person. He would swing between feelings of rage and defeat. He began sweating so heavily at night that he had to change the sheets. He often hid himself in a bathroom or closet, crying. He slept for two, three, four days straight. He was recently diagnosed with brain damage. Since July 2004, Donnie has rarely been able to leave the house without sedation.
Stacy, Donnie's wife, is outraged.
"My husband is alive and I am grateful and in no way can I compare myself with the families who laid there soldiers into a grave," she says, "but he has definitely experienced 'loss of life.'"
* * *
Laura sits in the living room of her Monument house. Looking through the front window she can see, more or less, where her husband ended his life on March 14, 2004.
Laura's told the story of what happened that night numerous times. She's spoken with so many news outlets she can classify the type of reporter who's interviewing her. Male reporters are a breeze; they just want the facts. Female reporters, on the other hand, aren't so easy. They want to know her emotions.
Laura knows it wasn't really her husband who pulled the trigger. But she also knows that if someone had to die that night, it had to be Bill. Better him than a police officer, the children or herself.
Pretty soon Laura will probably stop telling the story; she'll compartmentalize it, just like her husband had been trained to do with what he saw in Iraq. But for now, it's part of her therapy. She feels people need to know what happened. They need to know what the symptoms look like, and they need to know how to get help. Maybe then it won't happen again.
"People, you need to know that this is out there," says Laura. "Because if it can happen to someone as strong and as intelligent and well-trained and as experienced and as normal as Bill was, it can happen to you, if you are not aware."
Laura doesn't know why her husband was given Lariam. She wonders if there were financial incentives. Roche derived Lariam from the Army's research; maybe the Army got a good deal on the drug in return. The military, after all, is one big business, she says. It's all about savings.
Laura is also curious about what Bill and Andrew Pogany might have had in common. Why did two of the most high-profile allegations of Lariam side effects in the Army come from the same 12-man A-team? Could the team have been given a bad supply of Lariam? Or are the medication's side effects so common that Lariam can debilitate two out of 12 soldiers who take it?
Laura hasn't launched a one-woman crusade against the military officers who prescribed Lariam in Iraq when it apparently wasn't needed, the ones who say Bill's suicide was most likely caused by marital problems. She knows it would be a waste of time. That doesn't mean she's OK with what they did.
"[Soldiers] know that they could die in the field," she says. "They know they could die in an accident at any second, and they accept that. They do not expect—and why should they?—that a medication that they were given by their employer could cause damage or death."
Laura is coping. She's created new routines to replace her old life, eliminated Bill's presence as much as she can from the house. She remodeled the basement. Where there were guns, there is now a home-theater system, a play area, a spare bedroom.
But Bill's still here. Laura's first daughter with Bill, a toddler, thinks Daddy's still in Iraq. 'Raq, she calls it. Sometimes she speaks with Daddy on the phone.
Laura finds Bill's lingering presence kind of useful. He's the perfect scapegoat. He can't talk back. He gets yelled at on occasion. If something breaks, it's Bill's fault. If something goes bad, it's Bill's fault. All the girls' bad traits—they're Bill's fault.
"I'm still in my anger phase," says Laura with a smile. "So when I catch up to Bill, there will be some retribution."
* * *
Andrew takes a sip of his water. He's sitting in a bar in Boulder; it's Thursday afternoon. As part of his therapy regimen, Andrews drives to Boulder each week, an hour and a half each way, to see a specialist.
First, he has to get through another interview. He's meeting a documentary filmmaker at the bar. He'll likely tell his story in amazingly accurate detail, down to how he unpacked his gear the night of his first panic attack. He'll list the extensive documentation he's collected on Lariam, boxes and boxes of files.
Andrew doesn't tell his story as much as he used to. As he says, he's last year's news. But Andrew's not done fighting. He's still waiting for an apology from the Army. He's still waiting for answers.
Andrew isn't into conspiracy theories. He's not about to say the military drugged him up on a psycho-pill to turn him into a killer. Maybe the Army gave him Lariam because it was cheaper. Maybe the Army used Lariam because officials really did think it was easier to take than a daily antimalarial pill.
Andrew is far less understanding about the military's apparent failure to take Lariam concerns seriously. All those soldier suicides, caused by marital problems? Financial difficulties? Stress? Come on, he says. It doesn't make sense.
The worst part, says Andrew, is that the Army could be ignoring countless soldiers coming back from war who need serious help. Andrew was lucky; he was one of a handful of soldiers who was diagnosed (for a while) with Lariam toxicity and who received appropriate treatment. If the Army doesn't green light more testing, there's no telling how many soldiers could fall through the cracks.
"I strongly believe that having received treatment is what's keeping me on track today and keeping me from pretty much imprisoning myself in my room, like so many have done before us, and potentially like so many Iraqi Freedom vets are going to be doing, too, if they don't receive the correct treatment," he says.
Andrew takes another sip of his water. He says he thinks about Bill Howell all the time.
"I wish I would have had an opportunity to talk to him."
Bill probably wouldn't have spoken to him, he says. Bill was part of the A-team; Andrew was essentially an outcast.
"It's so disturbing to think that nobody else saw anything, that nobody else did anything for him," Andrew says. "And the reason I find that so disturbing is that is what happened to me. Nobody did anything for me. They just kicked me to the curb. If I just got one opportunity to sit down with him and have everything else detached and just listen to the guy. Just listen. I just wish I could have talked to him."
For more information
If you are a member of the military and you have questions about Lariam, contact:
As the death toll continues to rise in Iraq, many Americans feel helpless with regard to the war. But in times like these, community involvement and motivation can make a world of difference. This Thursday, voice your opinion about the war and get tips for re-energizing your activism. The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC) is sponsoring a community town hall meeting this Thursday that aims to bring different viewpoints together on the issue. Each speaker will have two minutes to talk about issues or concerns they have pertaining to the war.
"We're really hoping that we can bring in people on all sides of the issue... so that people get some understanding of where other people are coming from," says Carolyn Bninski, one of the event organizers.
In addition to engaging the community in a dialogue, RMPJC hopes to energize community members to take action against the war. Action items will include suggestions on how to protest President Bush's recent request of $82 billion dollars for the war effort.
Ultimately, says Bninski, the goal of the meeting is to motivate and educate the community. There's so many different ways that people can vocalize their concerns, she says, and it's time for people to take action.
The Community Town Hall Meeting will be at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 17, at the Unity Church, on the corner of Folsom and Valmont, Boulder. The event is free and open to the public. Call 303-444-6981 ext. 2 for more information.
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