"What makes a hero a hero, and a coward a coward?''
Posted May 01 2010 7:39pm
This is the story of Andrew Pogany, Iraq War veteran. There, while facing the horrors of war firsthand, he panicked -- and was labeled a coward by his superiors
He deployed to Iraq in September 2003, a 32-year-old staff sergeant trained in intelligence and interrogation. Based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, he volunteered to go to war with a team of Green Berets when another soldier couldn't.
Then, only a few days in-country, Pogany saw the shredded body of a gunned-down Iraqi. He had what he thought was a panic attack -- vomiting, hallucinations. A psychologist concluded he'd had a normal combat stress reaction and recommended rest, then back to duty.
Instead, Pogany's commanders shipped him back to Fort Carson, and he was charged with ''cowardly conduct as a result of fear,'' a crime punishable by death under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The last such conviction in the Army occurred during the Vietnam War.
Alone, he tried to cope with his PTSD.
There were medical tests, treatment for Lariam toxicity and, eventually, sessions with a therapist, yoga classes, studies in Buddhism...
...He also learned what it meant to feel true despair, to sit alone in his bedroom, getting comfortable with the idea of shooting himself just to make it all end. And he discovered how vital it was to have someone to turn to in those times.
Now he advocates with the military for other soldiers who are undergoing similar travails. In the end, it seems, he's doing more than most to uphold those most venerable of military values, duty and honor
''Those of us who have come home and have survived this war ... we have an obligation to help those who come home and struggle. We must help them, because if we don't ... not only are we breaking a sacred promise we've made to them, we're also dishonoring the memory of those who have not come home,'' Pogany says.