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Under Fire

"I'd rather be an amputee than a psychological patient," Goodrum says one day. He knows the stigma he symbolizes.

At Walter Reed, where he has lived since February, he is surrounded by soldiers missing arms and legs. When you've lost a limb, people can clearly see what's wrong with you, what happened to you, he says. When you're injured psychologically, people can't see it. They see a physically healthy person and wonder what the heck could be wrong.

First Lt. Jullian Goodrum could be court-martialed because he did not request leave before checking into a psychiatric hospital during a mental breakdown. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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Goodrum wonders too.

"How did my mind become weak, you know? I've been in 16 years. I've trained. I made top of my class."

He's been in the military since 1989. It seemed his only option after graduation from a small-town high school. He ran track, wrestled, played football and led the student council. But his grades were just okay, not good enough to qualify for the college scholarships he'd counted on.

He earned his college degree nonetheless, studying aboard the Missouri (when not in action), then finishing up at the University of Tennessee with a degree in history.

He studied what we now call the "greatest generation." And Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller, the legendary U.S. Marine commander at Guadalcanal during World War II, was his icon.

"I've read his book several times," says Goodrum, whose childhood stutter occasionally trips up his speech. "He was a soldier's soldier."

And that's what Goodrum modeled himself on: being a leader who took care of his troops. Even in the midst of his troubles last fall, he still wanted to return to Iraq, he says. Goodrum's military records show glowing performance reviews and character references.

"My most pleasure was when I led soldiers," he said recently, a wistful look in his eye as he pulled incessantly at a glob of putty his therapist gave him to help calm his nerves.

"I just love soldiering."

Proper Procedure

His career seems just about over. Goodrum's chronic PTSD, diagnosed by both Army and civilian psychiatrists, will likely render him unable to continue in the service. An Army medical board ruling on his future service is pending.

And there's a court-martial looming, too. The same Army that is treating Goodrum for PTSD also is prosecuting him because he did not request the appropriate military leave before checking himself into a civilian psychiatric hospital last fall, during a mental breakdown.

For that, he's been charged as AWOL -- absent without leave -- even though he was turned away from medical care at Fort Knox, Ky., his base, on the day of his breakdown, according to testimony in his case.

Military prosecutors say his case is about accountability. Period. He did not follow procedure, and there are consequences.

"This case is not about equipment problems [in Iraq]. This case is not about having radios [in convoys]. This case is not about PTSD," Capt. Natricia Wright, the JAG's lead prosecutor on the case, said in her closing argument last week. "This case is about accountability."

Goodrum's civilian defense lawyer argued that PTSD was at the very core of the case.

"He's been injured," said Matthew J. MacLean, of Shaw Pittman. "He's been injured just as surely as if he'd been shot."

Goodrum himself believes that retaliation has fueled the case. He had complained on several occasions about poor command decisions in Iraq by his captain, Randall "Burt" Fisher, of the 212th Transportation Company. And he'd also been quoted in an Oct. 29, 2003, United Press International article complaining that he'd been "treated like dirt" while awaiting medical treatment at Fort Knox.

He believes he has been branded a whistle-blower -- and punished. In addition to the AWOL charge, he's been charged for alleged fraternization with a female sergeant, which he denies. Fisher, the captain, was the driving force behind the fraternization charge. Fisher testified that rumors about Goodrum's behavior had caused low morale in the unit. First Lt. Jason Eisele testified that Fisher intensely disliked Goodrum and coerced witnesses into giving statements against Goodrum to bolster the fraternization case.

Army officials would not comment beyond what they said in the hearing.

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