From The New York Times: “When Javier Ortiz came home from a secret mission in Syria, the ghost of a dead girl appeared to him in his kitchen. She was pale and covered in chalky dust, as if hit by an explosion, and her eyes stared at him with a glare as dark and heavy as oil.
The 21-year-old Marine was part of an artillery gun crew that fought against the Islamic State, and he knew that his unit’s huge cannons had killed hundreds of enemy fighters. The ghost, he was sure, was their revenge.
A shiver went through him. He backed into another room in his apartment near Camp Pendleton in California and flicked on the lights, certain that he was imagining things. She was still there.
A few days later, in the barracks not far away, a 22-year-old Marine named Austin Powell pounded on his neighbor’s door in tears and stammered: ‘There’s something in my room! I’m hearing something in my room!’
His neighbor, Brady Zipoy, 20, searched the room but found nothing.
‘It’s all right — I’ve been having problems, too,’ Lance Corporal Zipoy said, tapping his head. The day before, he bent down to tie his boots and was floored by a sudden avalanche of emotion so overwhelming and bizarre that he had no words for it. ‘We’ll go see the doc,’ he told his friend. ‘We’ll get help.’
. . . An investigation by The New York Times found that many of the troops sent to bombard the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned to the United States plagued by nightmares, panic attacks, depression and, in a few cases, hallucinations. Once-reliable Marines turned unpredictable and strange. Some are now homeless. A striking number eventually died by suicide, or tried to.
. . . A few gun-crew members were eventually given diagnoses of P.T.S.D., but to the crews that didn’t make much sense. They hadn’t, in most cases, even seen the enemy. The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired.
. . . Military guidelines say that firing all those rounds is safe. What happened to the crews suggests that those guidelines were wrong.
The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members’ bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all, the brain.
More than a year after Marines started experiencing problems, the Marine Corps leadership [ordered] a study of one of the hardest-hit units, Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines . . . the report, published in 2019, made a startling finding: The gun crews were being hurt by their own weapons.
. . . The military did not seem to be taking the threat seriously, the briefing cautioned: Safety training — both for gun crews and medical personnel — was so deficient, it said, that the risks of repeated blast exposure ‘are seemingly ignored.’
Despite the concerns raised in the report, no one appears to have warned the commanders responsible for the gun crews. And no one told the hundreds of troops who had fired the rounds.
Instead, in case after case, the military treated the crews’ combat injuries as routine psychiatric disorders, if they treated them at all. Troops were told they had attention deficit disorder or depression. Many were given potent psychotropic drugs that made it hard to function and failed to provide much relief.
Others who started acting strangely after the deployments were simply dismissed as problems, punished for misconduct and forced out of the military in punitive ways that cut them off from the veterans’ health care benefits that they now desperately need.
The Marine Corps has never commented publicly on the findings of the study. It declined to say who ordered it or why, and would not make the staff members who conducted it available for interviews. Officers who were in charge of the artillery batteries declined to comment for this article, or did not respond to interview requests.
The silence has left the affected veterans to try to figure out for themselves what is happening.
Many never have.”
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