Covering struggles here and abroad

Executive EditorMay 13, 2012 

Today’s front-page package is the culmination of two months of reporting done on the front lines in Afghanistan and on the home front at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

We conceived of the stories in March after the killings of 17 Afghan civilians, allegedly at the hands of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales from Lewis-McChord. One of the questions raised then was whether the stress of multiple deployments played a role in the killings.

We won’t know until the legal proceedings – if ever – what prompted the killings. But we do know that tens of thousands of local soldiers have been managing through multiple trips to the war zone over the past decade. In March, we already had a reporting team in Afghanistan to cover the unit, so reporter Adam Ashton and photographer Peter Haley talked to soldiers they met about the back-to-back-to-back deployments. With the soldiers’ permission, we sent reporters and photographers to talk to their family members here.

Together they provide a more nuanced look at how a handful of military families have weathered this difficult duty. As you might expect, they’ve had good times and not so good times. We owe the soldiers and their families our thanks for the contributions and sacrifices they’re making on our behalf.

The Army provided us the multiple-deployment data for soldiers in 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Lewis-McChord unit in Afghanistan. We requested the data March 16 and received it March 30.

Also on March 16, we requested the following data on 3rd Brigade soldiers:

 • Number of current soldiers diagnosed and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

 • Number of current soldiers diagnosed and treated for traumatic brain injury.

 • Number of current soldiers returned to duty and deployed after a diagnosis for PTSD or TBI.

 • Number of former soldiers medically discharged after a diagnosis for PTSD or TBI.

For two months, we were variously passed from one public affairs officer to another, told the data could not be collated, told the data was collated and awaiting approval for release, told the data would be released the same day, the next day or the next week. After another round of calls Friday, we received the Army’s answer to our request.

It contained far more words than numbers, far more qualifiers than facts. Some questions were not answered at all. Those that were answered contained numbers for the entire post rather than for the 3rd Brigade.

We are not seeking the data necessarily because we think one of these medical issues caused a soldier to commit the civilian killings in March. But given concerns about how well soldiers have been diagnosed with and treated for these conditions, we think our questions are valid.

We’re not asking to know which soldiers in this deployed unit are affected; we simply want to know how many. The Army should be able to give us medical numbers specific to this brigade, just as they did with the deployment numbers.

On Monday, we’ll ask again.


We officially launch election season in Washington on Monday with the beginning of candidate filing week.

Those of us in Pierce County will elect county council members, a county executive and sheriff, along with judges, state legislators, a governor, members of Congress and a president. We’ll likely decide important ballot measures on same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization.

The TNT will write dozens of stories about these races in the coming months, and we’re also compiling them in a convenient spot on our website. Visit any time between now and November to see all that we’ve written, blogged, tweeted and photographed about the 2012 elections at all levels of government.

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