Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just Another AEI Statistic

This past Tuesday, August 17th, four members of the New Hampshire Air National Guard returned from deployment in Iraq. Sergeants Chris Moisan, Nancy Young, Dave Guindon, and Mike Steer left for duty on February 18th, 2004, according to an article in the NHANG newsletter, The Refueler.

In the photo to the left from Wednesday's edition of the Manchester Union Leader, the four airmen appear pretty darn happy to be home. While six months in Iraq is not an extended tour (at least in terms of the length of time that many units are remaining in country) it's still a long time to be away from friends and family. So, it's not surprising that in an airport interview, Dave Guindon told a reporter:

“It feels fantastic. It’s hard to explain it, it feels so good,” Guindon said about being home, shortly after he arrived at Manchester Airport. “I’m just going to take today slow, wake up tomorrow, and see what it’s like to be back in a normal place.”

...Sharon Guindon, Dave Guindon’s wife, said she was elated. While no definite plans for his return had been made yet, she said, the two plan to catch up on all the things that have happened during the past six months.

“I tell you, it’s such a big relief that he’s coming home,” Mrs. Guindon said, adding later, “You don’t realize what they go through until you have someone over there.”

On Wednesday, not 24 hours after saying those words, Dave Guindon put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

TSgt Dave Guindon was 48 years old, and left behind his wife and two children.

At the risk of seeming like I'm profiling, it's almost axiomatic to conclude that Dave Guindon was very much a supporter of the war in Iraq, and by extension, the Bush administration. It's not rocket science. He worked for Raytheon (a major defense contractor), and in the past served a hitch in the regular Army, then the Army Reserve, prior to joining the NH Air National Guard. By all accounts, he was a gung-ho guy who believed in the selling points of this lousy war.

So, what the hell happened that would drive a middle-aged man to a) play GI Joe at a time when most in Guindon's demographic are more tuned into annual colon polyp screenings and worrying about paying the kid's college tuition, and b) take his own life less than 24 hours after a reunion with his family? We might never know the answer to either of these questions, but perhaps the article in The Refueler gives us a clue:

...We started off with a couple of days lugging baggage at Fort Benning Ga. We then traveled to Kuwait and spent a couple of days at Camp Wolverine, before heading north to Camp Virginia. We spent almost 45 days there being trained on convoy procedures and went out to a live fire range at a place called Camp Udari. We were in field conditions for 6 days, the only thing close
to home were the 8 Porto potties that were there. No showers or hot food. Only all the MREs that you could eat. Some retired special forces put us through the paces, and tried to teach us as much as we could remember for those six days...

If you find yourself on a tough deployment, you haven’t seen anything like what we are faced with. Well, some of you may have. We have been all over Iraq. Driven by Fullujah and by the prison.
The NHANG team was stationed at Camp Anaconda in the Sunni triangle of Iraq. They ran over 100 missions in their short time in Iraq. A quick google search on Camp Anaconda turns up many hits - many of them relating stories of mortar attacks, insurgent activities, convoys being attacked (the NHANG team appears to have been largely involved in convoy escort), and the generally crappy conditions in the camp.

It's impossible and completely unnecessary to speculate what Dave Guindon and his mates may have seen while in Iraq. But it's clear that none of the team members had the opportunity to "decompress" after leaving the battlefield. Major General John Blair, the commander of the NH Air National Guard, lamented:

..."There is a process in place by the National Guard for helping returning guardsmen as they readjust to civilian life, but it is usually scheduled after guardsmen are settled in at home.

“We thought it was something we could do after they had some private time with families. I guess we realize — or I realize now — it needs to be sooner rather than later,” said Blair.
Kate Storm previously brought you the stories of Ken Dennis and Kevin Lucey. There's a disturbing trend developing here. So disturbing that the Army is now calling in part time counselors from elementary schools to address the issue of suicide prevention with Army personnel returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres:
For Ropp, who spends two days a week counseling Meadow's Edge Elementary students in the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp., this will be her first work with the military. She has taught ASIST to people working in the mental health and education fields, and does not plan to do anything differently at Fort Bragg.

It's no secret to anyone who reads this or any other forum in Left Blogistan that the war in Iraq has been mismanaged from the first day George Bush took office, and the neocons started whipping up the war plans. People like Dave Guindon are so much cannon fodder to the policy wonks and neocon think tanks like American Enterprise Institute within the comfy confines of the I-495 Beltway in Washington.

Guindon was old enough to be a grandfather. He had no business being on the front lines in combat operations. His mature eyes saw things in Iraq that perhaps, as a younger man, he could have walled off in his mind. By all accounts, he was a very stable individual, with a good civilian career and a loving family.

And now, in the halls of Pentagon, in some dusty file cabinet, TSgt. Dave Guindon becomes just another statistic.