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March/April 2005
FEATURE
 
 

Waiting For Justice: The Saga of Army Lt. Julian Goodrum,
PTSD, Hillbilly Armor, and Whistle-Blowing
 

BY RICHARD CURREY

Lt. Jullian Goodrum
Equipped with a breathing apparatus, Lt. Jullian
Goodrum provided emergency assistance.

First Lt. Jullian Goodrum, U. S. Army Reserve, is waiting.

He is waiting for the decision of Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, commander of the Army Military District of Washington, who will determine if Lt. Goodrum will be court-martialed for charges that include AWOL, desertion, disobeying an order, and fraternization with an enlisted soldier.

But Lt. Goodrum is waiting for more than a legal decision that could change his life forever. He is waiting for vindication.

He is hoping the Army will acknowledge that he acted in the best interests of his troops while serving as a platoon commander in Iraq. Goodrum wants it understood that his complaints about crucial lapses in troop support were not the agitation of a disgruntled soldier, but honest attempts to bring attention to under-armored and under-protected soldiers in the field—deficiencies that were, in Goodrum’s view, unconscionable.

Goodrum contends that the Army’s charges against him are unsupported by evidence or reliable testimony, and are little more than a punitive campaign incited by his whistle blowing. A complicating factor is Goodrum’s Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which has exacerbated under the duress of his legal battle.

Despite legal issues and the burden of PTSD, the fact remains that Jullian Goodrum was among the first to decry what later became known as the “hillbilly armor” debacle. He took the problems of undersupplied and under-protected troops up the chain of command when few others were willing to do so. His fear that inattention to vehicle maintenance might lead to injury and death proved, tragically, to be correct.

Between the Army’s view that Goodrum is an errant officer in need of discipline, conceivably even prison time, and the taint of psychological injury in an arena in which physical wounds are all that matter, this officer makes his way through days mired in the purgatory of the Army’s legal and bureaucratic labyrinth.

Officer Of The Year

I first met Jullian Goodrum on a fog-cloaked morning at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in late October 2004, on the occasion of his Article 32 hearing. A military “Article 32” is a pre-judicial fact-finding process in which sworn testimonies are heard and attorneys question witnesses, present evidence, and make arguments. Although similar to a civilian grand jury, an Article 32 is presided over by a single hearing officer known as an investigating officer, the “IO.” A commanding officer can elect, based on the IO’s report, to pursue further judicial action, or to reduce or even drop the charges.

Lt. Goodrum walked down the corridor toward the hearing room with a bearing that betrayed no hesitation or second thoughts: direct, proud, and martial. In a crisp Class A uniform with five rows of service ribbons over his left chest pocket, Jullian Goodrum was every inch a military man.

A 34-year-old Tennessean with a 16-year service history replete with decorations, citations, letters of appreciation, and certificates of excellence, Goodrum was named the 2000-2001 Officer of the Year for the Army National Guard’s 176th Maintenance Battalion. He “epitomizes the qualities and values espoused by the United States Army” according to a recommendation from one of his former commanders. Those words echo similar plaudits in other documents from Goodrum’s service record. A veteran of both Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom who was recommended for fast-track promotion to captain, Goodrum has served in the Navy, National Guard, and Army Reserve.

Until 2003, the military was the place where Goodrum believed his best efforts would find a home and meet the greatest need. He never imagined he might reach Iraq and discover woefully undersupplied troops or an unresponsive chain of command. He never anticipated that the concerns he registered on behalf of his platoon would be interpreted by his commanders as everything from frivolous to mutinous.

Nor would he have believed that the PTSD he has suffered since returning from Iraq might become a source of humiliation rather than a combat-inflicted injury that required medical intervention no less than any other battlefield wound.

Worrisome Things

Goodrum mobilized to Kuwait with the 212th Transportation Company out of Camp Atterbury, Indiana, in April 2003. The 212th, under the command of Capt. Randall “Burt” Fisher, was given the task of transporting supplies of virtually any variety and size. The convoys employed massive palletized loading systems (PLSs), 500-horsepower trailer trucks with detachable, sliding cargo beds designed to transport up to 33 tons of goods, such as Bradley fighting vehicles, bulldozers, heavy artillery, generators, and jet fuel.

Capt. Fisher testified for the Article 32 hearing by telephone. “Lt. Goodrum came with the highest recommendation,” he said. “He was qualified as a quartermaster, and he had three other MOS ratings. I put him in charge of the 3rd Platoon.”

At Camp Virginia in Kuwait and on operations into Iraq, Goodrum began to notice worrisome things. More than a few of the trucks assigned to his platoon were “deadlined” vehicles—kept in operation despite having faulty or broken parts. (Although a company commander can choose to keep a deadlined vehicle in operation, it is generally a violation of safety protocol to do so.)

But deadlined trucks were only a piece of what was for Goodrum a confounding net of deficiencies. Convoys routinely left base camp without maps, other than crude hand-drawn affairs on smudged notebook paper handed from driver to driver.

“Sometimes we had strip maps,” Goodrum said in an interview a few days after the hearing. “But they only show route and direction. You don’t get elevation or the location of fuel depots or anything like that.” Nor did Goodrum receive intelligence about the status of a route. “We knew nothing about danger points, areas to avoid, places the road was torn up or controlled by the enemy.”

No maps, no intel—and no radios. The unarmored PLS cabs had only digital messaging systems “that were often on the blink,” according to Goodrum. “I had walkie-talkies, but their range is only about a mile. And that’s when there isn’t a hill between you and whoever you’re talking to.”

Meanwhile, Goodrum’s soldiers stacked sandbags on the floors of their truck cabs in the hope that the bags might deflect a blast. Others welded stolen manhole covers to their doors to serve as improvised shields.

The convoys of the 212th operated as far north as Mosul, sometimes clocking more than a thousand miles across what is widely regarded as the most dangerous territory on the planet. The convoys became ever more harrowing for Goodrum, with several close calls and tense moments. Goodrum faced down a carload of Iraqis—with AK-47s trained out of the windows at him and his troops. And he weathered a vehicle breakdown that necessitated overnighting along an Iraqi highway in unknown country without the communications to report his platoon’s status and position.

“It was crazy to send soldiers out that way,” Goodrum said. “No body armor, no vehicle armor, no maps, no radios, not enough ammo, riding in vehicles so poorly maintained they shouldn’t have been driven ten yards, let alone a thousand miles. But that’s exactly what happened.”

Leadership And Logistical Issues

Goodrum took his concerns to Capt. Fisher, who was apparently reluctant to act. Frustrated, Goodrum went over Fisher’s head with letters and personal meetings with the commanding officer of the 18th Corps Support Battalion, as well as the office of the Army Inspector General. But it appears his allegations were written off as unlikely or exaggerated.

Testimony heard during the Article 32 hearing, however, suggested that Goodrum’s concerns were not overblown. Another 212th platoon commander, 1st Lt. Jason Eisele, along with a platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Ricky Lloyd Baker, agreed there were significant leadership and logistical issues for the company.

Baker implied that the command climate in the 212th hovered somewhere between lax and chaotic. “Things were very confused,” he said. There was “a lot of rushing around,” but “it wasn’t always clear what we were supposed to be doing.” Baker confirmed that convoys had either poor—or no—communication devices.

Eisele underscored the danger involved in the convoy missions, a point that Capt. Fisher downplayed. When advised that Fisher had testified that the convoys encountered only minimal resistance, Eisele laughed bitterly. “We got hit all the time,” Eisele said. There was, he continued, “both direct and indirect fire, rockets, rifle fire, IEDs—all over the place.” It was a miracle, Eisele said, that the 212th didn’t lose anybody to hostile fire.

“We didn’t get much support from the chain of command,” Eisele said. “We did the best we could.”

Eisele also noted in his testimony that Fisher had been forthright about his dislike of Goodrum. Fisher “wanted to get Lt. Goodrum,” according to Eisele, so much so that Fisher threatened other soldiers with punishment unless they provided incriminating statements about Goodrum.

It was not long after filing his grievances that Goodrum found himself implicated in an alleged “intimate relationship” with his platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Amy Cavanah.

“I was blind sided,” Goodrum told me. “It came out of nowhere. The idea that SSgt. Cavanah and I were romantically involved was bogus. But it allowed Capt. Fisher to level charges against me. I sincerely believe his actions were retaliation for my whistle-blowing.”

Fisher said he was advised that Goodrum “might have been involved” with Cavanah and felt obliged to investigate the matter. He produced a 65-page investigation report. Yet at no point in the course of the hearing was it clear, either on the basis of explicit sworn testimony or unequivocal documentary evidence shared in the hearing room, that Jullian Goodrum had, in fact, fraternized with an enlisted soldier.

Amy Cavanah herself was never called to testify. According to Goodrum, his attorney had taken a pre-hearing deposition from her in which she said that Goodrum had never “crossed the line” and that Fisher’s case was without merit. But she was never heard from during the hearing. It remained unclear in the hearing if she refuted Fisher’s claim or ever was charged in the matter, nor was it clear why she was unavailable to testify.

Another Maelstrom

About three months into his tour in Iraq, Goodrum developed weakness and pain in both wrists that would later be diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome. He was sent back to the States for surgery, assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and billeted in the medical hold (“med-hold”) company.

As it happened, Goodrum was at the epicenter of another maelstrom. Ft. Knox was embroiled in a crisis related to miserable conditions endured by soldiers on medical hold status. Soldiers at Ft. Knox and elsewhere had been left waiting weeks and months for medical treatment—many of them veterans of Iraq—while housed in substandard, pest-infested barracks. The med-hold story was broken in a series of prize-winning reports by UPI reporter Mark Benjamin, one of which included a quote from Goodrum, who said he had been “treated like dirt” at Ft. Knox.

The remark went nationwide and Jullian Goodrum again found himself in sharp opposition to the Army, now on a different matter. “But in a way,” Goodrum said, “it was all about the same thing—decent treatment for soldiers.”

Along the way, Goodrum realized that something else was happening. He was feeling increasingly agitated, easy to anger, often depressed. His customary energy and focus waned. Attributing his feelings at first to the frustration of waiting for medical care at Ft. Knox, he began to dream—vivid dreams of the combat zone, laced with fragmented memories of the terrifying convoys into the Iraqi desert. The dreams were colored by apprehension and uncertainty. Goodrum would wake shaking, filmed with sweat, imagining shadows moving in his bedroom, for a moment unsure of where he was.

Goodrum did not know it at the time, but he was suffering from PTSD. When word came that Sgt. Kenneth Harris, a member of Goodrum’s own 3rd Platoon, was killed in a grisly PLS accident on August 20, 2003, along a supply route near the town of Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, Goodrum spun deeper into guilt and depression.

The truck in which Harris was riding had been frequently deadlined, and already had broken down once on August 20. The precise reasons for the accident are unclear. Army CentCom’s official position is that the convoy slammed to a stop after taking small arms fire. Others say there was no hostile fire, only an unreliable vehicle on a bad stretch of road in bad weather. Whatever the cause of the sudden stop, the brakes in the truck carrying Harris apparently failed to hold. Harris’s truck slammed into the rear edge of the lead truck’s cargo bed, which ripped through Harris’s cab to shear the 23-year-old sergeant in half.

Capt. Fisher, the man who had generated 65 pages in his quest to prove that Goodrum fraternized with his platoon sergeant, produced only two pages when it came time to investigate the death of Sgt. Kenneth Harris.

A Dark Place

After Harris’s death Goodrum found himself in a dark place. “I couldn’t seem to get my bearings,” he said. “My mind ran away with me. I kept thinking I hadn’t done enough to stop this. I felt responsible.”

The summer passed with such ideas festering in Goodrum’s psyche. He had carpal tunnel surgery on his right wrist in mid-September at Ft. Knox’s Ireland Army Community Hospital, then fought for weeks to get the post-operative physical therapy prescribed by his surgeon. His PTSD symptoms continued unabated and untreated—there were no counseling services available at Ft. Knox.

It was early November before Goodrum could get an appointment to schedule carpal tunnel surgery for his left wrist. In the course of that appointment he told the medical officer that he “was having a breakdown and needed help.”

To Goodrum’s amazement, he was not scheduled for surgery—and he was denied psychological care as well, a decision confirmed in writing by the medical officer who saw Goodrum. The note, introduced as evidence in the Article 32 hearing, referenced the instruction of Ft. Knox’s deputy chief of clinical services, Lt. Col. Ronald Stevens, that Goodrum not be retained on med-hold status—that he be, in essence, denied care and turned away. Goodrum, however, had no orders to proceed to any other unit, was midstream with his carpal tunnel treatment, and had not received treatment of any sort for his burgeoning PTSD.

Caught between anger and confusion, Goodrum wandered out of the building, got in his car, and started driving. Disoriented by anxiety and a mounting despair, his damaged thoughts raced—but his car did not. He was driving on an interstate highway at five miles per hour, with no idea of his surroundings. Startled abruptly out of his trance by a truck bearing down on his rear bumper with its horn blaring, Goodrum said he “could’ve wound up dead on that highway. I was having a complete breakdown.”

Goodrum called his mother who “got out a map and talked me in” for the three-hour drive home, back to Knoxville, Tennessee. He later made his way to the home of an old friend from his high school days who helped get him to a Knoxville-based psychiatrist, Dr. Vijay Jethanandani. The psychiatrist recognized Goodrum’s problem as PTSD, hospitalized him, and on Nov. 15, notified medical administrators at Ft. Knox that Lt. Goodrum was under his care and should remain on medical leave until December 7.

Dr. Jethanandani kept Ft. Knox authorities advised in a series of five letters describing Goodrum’s status and progress. The Army, however, took a different approach, notifying Goodrum that he was AWOL and must return to Ft. Knox to face charges.

“Unfortunately,” Dr. Jethanandani wrote in one of his letters, “recent intimidation [and] threats of being arrested for staying on medical leave has resulted in recurrent psychiatric symptoms. Until Nov. 26 [2003], Lt. Goodrum was progressing fairly well.”

Lt. Col. Stevens was located on his cell phone for the Article 32 hearing. He testified that he had, in fact, never met Jullian Goodrum, nor had he reviewed Goodrum’s medical records. Stevens acknowledged that no mental health professional at Ft. Knox ever evaluated Lt. Goodrum, and that Stevens himself had no direct or personal knowledge of the nature of Goodrum’s case. He did, however, register his unhappiness with Goodrum’s public remarks castigating med-hold conditions at Ft. Knox.

“It does not help,” Dr. Jethanandani wrote in his final letter, “that Lt. Goodrum was in combat with a unit in Iraq where a superior officer ignored safety protocol jeopardizing the safety of soldiers. Instead of following up on these complaints, it appears that some of [Lt. Goodrum’s] superiors may be penalizing him for reporting [problems] in Iraq.”

PTSD And The Iraq War

There has never been a recorded war in which combatants did not suffer from PTSD, a malady as old as warfare itself and as new and different as each war’s particular time and place. The names have been many. “Battle fatigue.” “Shell shock.” “The clanks.” And, from the Civil War and World War I, the inadvertently tender “soldier’s heart.” The variety of terms points to the ubiquity of the problem, and underscores the task of recovery—a difficult balance between memory and emotion, of understanding how the psyche shapes and redefines us in the wake of traumatic experiences. And, more and more, we understand that trauma creates biochemical changes in the brain and nervous system that make PTSD not simply an affliction of battered psyches but a neurological disease.

It was the Army itself that mounted the most recent study of PTSD, looking at mental health problems in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Published in July 2004 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study came out of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The researchers—Army psychiatrists—noted that as many as one in six soldiers and Marines surveyed a few months after returning from Iraq suffered major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD.

The Walter Reed study, along with other data in the medical research literature, suggests that the current war in Iraq will deliver a staggering national burden of PTSD before the last page turns on our lengthening military involvement in the Middle East.

The Los Angeles Times reported that both the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs believe this war’s “ultimate psychological fallout will worsen.” Dr. Matthew Friedman, director of the VA’s National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, told the Times that “the bad news is that the [Walter Reed] study underestimated the prevalence of what we are going to see down the road.”

Jullian Goodrum was among the first to decry the “hillbilly armor” problems of our troops in Iraq; he may also be among the first of what many experts predict will be a landslide of PTSD-afflicted vets. After several weeks of treatment in Knoxville, Goodrum was improved but still not fully stabilized. In view of what might be waiting for his patient at Ft. Knox, Dr. Jethanandani recommended that Goodrum go directly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Goodrum presented to the emergency room at Walter Reed on February 9, 2004, identifying himself as an AWOL soldier suffering with PTSD and in need of assistance.

Under Lock and Key

Goodrum was admitted to Ward 54, Walter Reed’s locked unit for psychiatric patients.

Placing a first-time psychiatric patient in a secure ward is standard medical strategy, and Goodrum raised no complaint. Not at first. He did well with therapy and was slated to be moved to Ward 53, where patients come and go freely, on February 19.

Unbeknownst to Goodrum, however, Lt. Col. Stevens—the deputy chief of clinical services at Ft. Knox—phoned medical authorities at Walter Reed one day before Goodrum’s scheduled move out of psychiatric lockdown. The details of that conversation were not shared in the Article 32 hearing, nor was the basis of Stevens’s authority to intervene in the medical care of a soldier at an installation outside his command. Whatever Stevens had to say, however, short-circuited plans to move Goodrum to Ward 53.

Walter Reed’s chief of inpatient psychiatric services, Col. Theodore Nam, offered his view that Goodrum’s PTSD probably preceded his experiences in Iraq and might date back to being under fire on board the U.S.S. Missouri. In any event, he agreed with Dr. Jethanandani that Goodrum suffered from both PTSD and major depression and still needed treatment. On the point of Goodrum’s extended time under lock and key, Nam testified that there was no medical rationale for keeping Goodrum in lockdown.

He offered an alternative explanation for the decision: keeping Goodrum locked up prevented his forced return to Ft. Knox to face charges. If this explanation strained credibility for the attorneys or the IO, there were no objections or further questions on the point.

Although Goodrum spent an additional two weeks in lockdown, he managed to get word about his predicament to Mark Benjamin, the same UPI reporter whose med-hold story carried Goodrum’s “treated like dirt” remark. Benjamin reported the lockdown on March 2. His article appears to have been instrumental in getting Goodrum moved to Ward 53.

Hillbilly Armor

On Oct. 13, 2004, two weeks before Jullian Goodrum’s Article 32 hearing at Walter Reed, soldiers of the 343rd Quartermaster Company based in Kuwait disobeyed a direct order to take a convoy on a long and hazardous route into the heart of Iraq. The reason? Because, the soldiers said, the trucks they were to drive were in poor repair and unarmored. Besides that, they said, they were asked to travel without an armed escort. Subsequent news reports noted that the soldiers spent many hours attempting to convince their company commander that the mission was unsafe and ill-advised. When that effort failed, the soldiers believed they had no recourse but to decline the mission—an action that led the Army to promptly declare the soldiers would face courts-martial.

Widespread concern with what had come to be known as hillbilly armor was already an issue of national import. On the heels of that, the families of the soldiers of the 343rd were able to help get the word out: These troops were not cowards, but neither were they irresponsible. The soldiers of the 343rd had been reporting concerns of striking similarity to Jullian Goodrum’s for some time, and, as in Goodrum’s case, their expressions of concern had not met with action.

One week after the 343rd refused its mission, 13 members of the House Armed Services Committee asked the committee chair, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), to hold hearings on the shortage of armored vehicles. The Army, meanwhile, relieved the 343rd company commander and elected to forego courts-martial, opting instead for administrative, non-judicial punishments for the company’s soldiers.

Hillbilly armor and other lapses in troop support have since been reported in newspapers, on CNN, Fox News, in on-line outlets like Salon and Slate, in Time, U.S. News & World Report, and a powerful year-end cover story in Newsweek. Jullian Goodrum’s letters to his commanding officers and the Army IG preceded and fully predicted the subsequent revelations that made lack of armor and field support an issue of overriding importance to Americans. And the case of the 343rd Quartermaster Company made it clear that the problems Goodrum observed and took up the chain of command were not restricted to one unit, nor were they the fevered imaginings of one lieutenant.

It would seem, at least in the court of public opinion, that Jullian Goodrum has already been exonerated.

The Real Charges

The time between leaving Ft. Knox in a state of psychological disarray on November 7 and reporting to Walter Reed emergency room on February 9 lies at the heart of the charges against Jullian Goodrum. Ft. Knox authorities claim that Goodrum was AWOL from the point that he drove, precariously and in great mental distress, from Ft. Knox to his mother’s house in Knoxville, Tennessee. As his AWOL status stretched past 30 days, he was officially reclassified a deserter, and, according to Army prosecutors, he subsequently disobeyed a direct order to return to Ft. Knox.

The Army’s lawyers at the Article 32 hearing argued that this case is not about PTSD or the efficiency or effectiveness of Goodrum’s medical care. Nor is it about, they said, the command climate in the 212th Transportation Company during several months of 2003 in Kuwait and Iraq. It is not, they asserted, about the leadership skills of Capt. Fisher or whether Sgt. Kenneth Harris died as a result of a vehicle in poor repair.

It is simply about, they said, whether or not Lt. Goodrum is guilty of the charges of fraternization, disobeying an order, and desertion.

From Goodrum’s perspective, his case is all about what happened in Kuwait and Iraq. It is founded in the inattention his commanders gave to deficiencies that, just as Goodrum feared, cost a life. It is about what happened after he received word that the life lost was one of his own men, a soldier of the 3rd Platoon, dead as a result of the very maintenance deficiencies Goodrum so vigorously objected to. And it is about the Army’s documented inability to deliver medical care at anything approaching a satisfactory level as Goodrum struggled with PTSD.

Lt. Goodrum believes himself an officer wrongly accused and unfairly maligned by the institution he has attempted to serve to the best of his ability.

Unlimited Potential

Jullian Goodrum’s service record contains page after page of accolades, commendations, and certificates. An August 2002 Letter of Input from Goodrum’s supervising officer at the time, Capt. Cynthia Coleman, notes: “This soldier’s performance was outstanding. Lt. Goodrum’s meticulous attention to detail greatly enhanced this staff’s ability to perform its wartime mission.” Goodrum, she went on to say, “consistently demonstrated superb functional area expertise.” Capt. Coleman closed her report by recommending that Lt. Goodrum be “promoted ahead of his peers.” He demonstrated, she wrote, “unlimited potential.”

It is hard to imagine that an officer of unlimited potential would have become an irresponsible malcontent dedicated to destroying the morale of his unit less than a year later. What seems more likely is that Goodrum, a conscientious soldier charged with leading troops in a combat zone and faced with what he perceived as an unresponsive chain of command, grew frustrated and increasingly tense—the very ingredients needed to ignite the latent PTSD simmering inside him since the day an Iraqi missile narrowly missed his ship in the first Gulf War. When Kenneth Harris died in Iraq, Goodrum’s worst fear was realized, and he was committed to seeing justice done.

“Anything less dishonors Sgt. Harris,” Goodrum said. “And it dishonors the Army itself.”

Even if PTSD means the Army is no longer a career option for Goodrum, he has served in uniform for nearly two decades and in two wars, as an enlisted man and a commissioned officer, to nothing but praise. In Iraq he took exception to decisions that might place others in harm’s way while still completing every mission and bringing every member of his platoon back safely. His respect for military ideals has been unwavering, and in his own view it is that commitment that motivated his actions in Iraq and continue to drive his actions at home.

As this issue goes to press, Goodrum’s attorneys, contending that the first Article 32 hearing was fraught with bias and unanswered questions, intend to ask for a new hearing. Maj. Gen. Jackman has made no decision regarding a court-martial. Requests made to the Walter Reed Public Affairs Office seeking a report on Goodrum’s adjudication process remain unanswered.

And Lt. Jullian Goodrum is still waiting.

   

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