Combat Stress and the newscasters

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A lot of what was printed was inaccurate!

Sharpe, a civil affairs soldier who worked closely with the Iraqi people to provide training, equipment and guidance to private banks throughout the country, often worked with journalists covering events such as the the national money exchange when all the old Iraqi currency with Saddam's image was phased out and a new currency was distributed.

"A lot of what was printed was inaccurate because [journalists] really didn't have time to investigate and get a clear picture of what they were trying to cover," said Sharpe. Now that he is home, he said he is critical of the media for failing to highlight the successes in Iraq.

"It seems like they're focusing on the things that cause someone to have a strong reaction, all the graphics and explosions [on television news]," Sharpe said. Sharpe is not alone in his reaction; Davis said he has become so frustrated with television news that he has stopped watching it altogether.

"The way [TV newscasters] talk about people as if they are sort of action figures, or it's a TV show. They try to make it more exciting the way they talk about soldiers dying," said Davis. Now, he reads the newspaper and watches Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" to keep abreast of current events.

For Kamps, who served honorably as a prison guard at Abu Ghraib prison, the newscasts of prisoner abuse allegations felt like a personal attack. Kamps returned to the United States just as the infamous photos of guards abusing Iraqi detainees made national news.

"It was the only circumstance in my life where I felt like my pride was taken from me. I felt like I made a positive difference in my dealings with the Iraqi people and the scandal took that away," Kamps said.

Most of the symptoms of combat stress that soldiers experience are emotional responses, but nearly everyone interviewed shared the same physical response to loud noises.

"We missed getting blown up a couple of times, so when I hear a loud noise I jump," said Sharpe, explaining that his compound in the Green Zone was bombed regularly. "We had one [mortar round] that landed right outside our area, the building shook and all the windows broke," he added, recounting his experience in Baghdad. Davis thought that he was doing okay until the Fourth of July. "I couldn't listen to the fireworks," Davis said. The repetitive explosions were overwhelming and Davis said he had to leave the festivities.

In Iraq, the explosions became so constant that many soldiers were eventually conditioned to ignore them unless they were extremely close. Kamps experienced explosions on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. "I became used to hearing the explosions to the point which it didn't bother me as much. However, I have had a great deal of trouble dealing with loud noises since returning

Most soldiers with minor combat stress will feel more "normal" over time, experts say. But for soldiers and family members who need counseling, the Department of Defense has contracted with Military OneSource to provide counseling. Soldiers and family members can call a toll-free number and speak with a councilor, 24 hours a day, or schedule up to six free counseling sessions with a social worker in their community through the program. (The Military OneSource toll-free number is 1-800-342-9647 in the United States, and for international calls, toll-free at 1-800-3429-6477.)

The soldiers interviewed all expressed confidence that things would get easier but added they realize that their long deployments have had an impact on their mental health. "It interrupts your life," Davis said.

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