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Minnesota National Guard
Part 2: Repeat tours take invisible toll

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune
At home in a war zone: Sgt Pat Rix shopped online for his wife in Duluth from a bunk in Camp Leatherneck, one of the forward operating bases dotting the Afghan countryside His tent is home to about 80 Soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard's 114th Transportation Co

Montevideo's Sgt Phil Jensen knows the psychological scars of multiple deployments

Video: Mark Brunswick's Afghanistan Vlog, pt1

CAMP LEATHERNECK, AFGHANISTAN -- Never-ending wars are exacting a price from the never-done warriors

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from 10 months in Iraq, Sgt Phil Jensen was nevertheless ruled fit to go to Afghanistan for his latest deployment Jensen, 25, didn't want to go, but he didn't want to disappoint the Soldiers in his new unit

"After the first or second drill with these guys, I didn't want to let them down," he said "It's that brotherhood; for me, they're family"

The scrapbook Jensen's mother keeps for him at home in Montevideo includes the picture of the first time he put on the uniform of the Minnesota Army National Guard It has come to hold pictures of other young men in the eight years since: The New York Guard member with whom Jensen trained who died in Iraq and the Guard member from the Montevideo area who killed himself after returning home The last pages include a People Magazine photo layout of fallen Soldiers that features Specialist George Cauley

Jensen was several trucks behind Cauley's during an October supply run when a mine explosion blew Cauley out of his vehicle

"I saw the big cloud of sand I contemplated for 10 seconds about whether I should stay in the truck or get out, because they say to stay in the truck,'' Jensen said "I got out"
He ran to Cauley, held the stricken man's head in his hands, helped carry him to the medi-vac helicopter

"When we came back [from the mission], that's when the emotions hit, the reality of what just happened hit," Jensen said "It was a mixed river of feelings, emotions, hatred You just want to tear up this country for doing this, then you realize, it happens"

Jensen sent an e-mail to his mother, writing to her as he always does, stream of consciousness Debbie Jensen put the e-mail in the scrapbook, too She tears up every time at his description of washing his hands over and over but feeling like he couldn't get Cauley's blood off

Sitting on his bunk at this dusty Marine base, Jensen is soft-spoken in talking about Cauley's death, but it's not hard to hear the pain that accompanies the reflection that the passage of two months has brought

"I think about it every night when I go to bed It's on my mind You deal with it in your way Mine is that I look up at my pictures and think about home," he said

Jensen still has a bearing from the axle of Cauley's truck He picked it up at the scene of the explosion, thinking he would weld it into several pieces and give one to Cauley for a necklace or bracelet Now he keeps the twisted metal, not sure what to do with it

Jensen's experience may be unusual only in how candid he is Years of continuous fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and the prospect of a larger troop presence in Afghanistan if there's to be any hope of winning that war -- are putting heavy demands on the all-volunteer US military

Of all Soldiers deployed to Iraq since 2003, about 38 percent have been deployed more than once and 10 percent have been deployed three times or more While US involvement in Iraq is waning, eight years of fighting has brought no end to the fight against the Taliban, and now thousands more troops are bound for Afghanistan

If the Army keeps to its normal deployment schedule, 2,500 more Minnesota Guard members could find themselves there in 2011

Walking wounded

The ramifications of calling on the same Soldiers again and again to carry the fight are becoming clear Many of these warriors may return without a scratch but are nonetheless walking wounded

Soldiers who have faced multiple deployments are at least three times more likely to report post-traumatic stress disorder or depression than those who have made a single deployment Up to 30 percent of Soldiers and Marines who have made multiple deployments report psychological problems, including PTSD, according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health

Since Sept 11, 2001, more than 19,000 Minnesota National Guard Soldiers have been deployed to 33 countries In the coming months, more than 2,100 Soldiers will be returning home to Minnesota from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan Of the 187 Soldiers who deployed with Jensen's Guard transportation company in June, 66 had previous deployments, mostly to Iraq Three had been deployed twice before

Soldiers in the field who are troubled can turn to a chaplain or their buddies, just as their fathers or grandfathers might have done The Pentagon is trying to do more for Soldiers on their return from overseas, however

The military has set up "spiritual resilience" campuses at the US bases where Soldiers return from deployments Screened for symptoms of PTSD, they are supposed to begin treatment within two weeks of a diagnosis The military also has started a suicide hot line with an online chat option The Minnesota Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign is considered a leader in requiring participation in post-deployment programs intended to address problems like PTSD In a pioneering study, the Guard is partnering with the Minneapolis VA Medical Center to study PTSD among Soldiers deployed from 2006 to 2007, examining them before, during and after their overseas service

Counseling can alleviate the stress and sleeplessness But it doesn't make them go away
Jensen's family members have seen the strain when he's home

His grandfather told Jensen after his tour of duty in Iraq that he had grown up 20 years in a year and a half Family members picked him up in St Cloud He drove the rest of the way home, his eyes scanning the road for a nonexistent threat

"He was on edge, looking for roadside bombs the whole time That took a long time to leave him," his mother recalled

She has kept up the scrapbook, knowing the significance of what it holds

"Any little newspaper clipping of his unit or about his deployment I cut it out and put it in there,'' she said "These things, fallen Soldiers, the memories, he keeps those close to his heart"

'I will never, ever tell you'

Jensen was visiting a nursing home with another Iraq vet when the wind caught a door and slammed it shut

"Both of us hit the floor,'' he said "You tend to be a lot more alert and aware As much as possible, I try to keep it inside, but there are times you do need to talk"

The circle of friends tends to contract on a soldier while he is overseas, though

"A few friends I don't talk to anymore,'' Jensen said "All they cared about was wondering how many people I killed Really, that's not what it was about over there I was a truck driver There is a select few [friends] I can count on''

His family recognized that he seemed depressed, and they quietly worried

"I do believe he thought about ending it, he was so down," his mother said "It was hard for him to talk to anybody in the family We tried not to pressure him, but he did get the strength to go get the help he needed and get through it"

Jensen will talk about some of his experiences in Iraq His truck was damaged by roadside bombs twice He performed what was known as asset recovery work out of two bases, retrieving vehicles after fire fights or roadside bombings He brought back tanks, Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles, many of them still smoking Another time, he got the call after a civilian convoy made a wrong turn and was ambushed

"They pretty much got torn up, and I had to clean up the mess," he recalled matter-of-factly

Death came closest outside a base in northern Iraq His unit was traveling through a village when he noticed the intersection in front of him was flooded

"I looked at my sergeant and I said, 'I know there's an IED under there,' I just knew it We made the turn through the water and right behind me it went off," he said "My sergeant slit open the window for targets and began laying down fire, and I gave him another magazine Later on, when we got to base, it was a huge shock that we went through that It was a big relief, no one hurt, no one injured You think about it I drove through that intersection every day"

Some things he saw are off limits

"He said, 'Mom, there's things I will never, ever tell you or anyone,'" Debbie Jensen said
Jensen said he recognized he needed help and sought counseling from a VA psychiatrist, first once a month and then every three months He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but said he learned to recognize the triggers

"You kind of know, something happens, you have a fight with a spouse or something and you say to yourself, 'Hey, maybe I need to see someone Maybe I need to talk,'" he said
Jensen will be seeking help again when he returns from Afghanistan

"People who have fought in other wars, they've seen a lot worse,'' he said "Here I saw a few little things It still affects me, though It really does"

By MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
Last update: February 1, 2010 - 11:24 PM

Article source: http://www.startribune.com/local/83305477.html?elr=KArksUUUycaEacyU

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