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Under Fire

Goodrum could be imprisoned for up to six years. He could be dismissed from the military. For an officer, dismissal is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, which means he could be disqualified from the federal job he held in civilian life. If dismissed, he would lose his military medical benefits, too, and would be ineligible for care under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Basically, everything is on the line for Lieutenant Goodrum," says MacLean.

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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In his Class A's last week, Goodrum sat sweating during the legal to-and-fro in a small Walter Reed conference room crammed with lawyers and a few supporters. He's facing an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, except that only one person will rule on the case. An investigating officer (in this case, Lt. Col. Michael Amaral of the Army Medical Service Corps)will forward a recommendation up the chain of command on whether Goodrum should be court-martialed.

The Darkest Point

Brakes screech behind him. They are loud, very loud -- loud enough to snap him out of it, to bring him back to reality. In his rearview mirror, he sees a tractor-trailer bearing down on his Honda Civic, its driver trying desperately not to slam into him.

He's on an interstate near Fort Knox. His speedometer reads 5 mph. He guns it and swerves out of the truck's path.

He doesn't know how he got on the interstate. He doesn't remember driving there. But he remembers what happened earlier in the day, on base, at Fort Knox. He begins to cry. For hours, he can't stop.

He drives home, to Knoxville, to his mother. She calls McGill, the old friend, who also is a trained EMT and cardiac technician. The next morning, the two women take Goodrum to St. Mary's Medical Center, where he will be admitted to the psychiatric ward. Goodrum is practically blithering.

"He was just not functional. He could not make a complete sentence," says McGill. "His eyes were fixed. . . . He was just, like, in a stare. It was like he couldn't make contact with you.

"He just kept saying 'I need help. I need help. They won't help me. They won't help me.' And I'm going, 'Phil, we're gonna help you, we're gonna help you.' "

It was Nov. 7, 2003 -- the day Fort Knox denied him treatment, the day he went AWOL and entertained thoughts of his own death.

He'd been pressing closer and closer to this moment for months, with each accumulated stress, each life-or-death situation, each episode of conflict with his superiors.

Actually, his problem went back several years. Walter Reed's chief of inpatient psychiatric services, Col. Theodore Nam, testified during the Article 32 hearing that Goodrum's PTSD probably began with the Gulf War. His USS Missouri nightmares, which began only recently, are evidence of what has been embedded in his psyche.

But when he was activated for deployment in the Iraq War, Goodrum did not consider himself stressed. He did not consider himself impaired. He was, in fact, eager to serve. He'd been qualified as a logistics officer, an ordnance officer, and had completed a support operations course. He was ready.

Attached to the 212th Transportation Company, Goodrum went to war in April 2003. As a lieutenant, he was a platoon leader. His troops drove huge rigs called palletized loading systems, or PLSs, which can haul 33 tons.

But things went south fast. He believed the support troops were being put in danger by poor command decisions involving supplies and equipment. He began filing complaints with the Army inspector general about troop preparedness, a move he feels sowed the seeds for retaliation.

Goodrum says he complained because he feared that "somebody was gonna get killed."

As he describes his many filed complaints, one wonders: Is this man a chronic malcontent? MacLean, during the hearing, described his client as a man "fixated" on details.

"Details save lives," Goodrum says in one of many interviews. "The Army is based on several foundations, but one of them is attention to detail. Maybe I've taken it to extremes, but I've been put in some extreme situations.

"Yes, I'm a complainer when my soldiers' welfare is at stake and they're put in harm's way unnecessarily and they're sent out on missions without the correct equipment. So yes, if that would make me a complainer, then yes."

This is what he means: He and his men were forced to run supply convoys with no proper maps (only crude hand-drawn renderings); no radios (only the PLS's digital messaging systems); no heavy weapons (only their individual M-16s); no intelligence on the regions in which they'd be traveling; no armor to protect the two-person cabs of their trucks.

One soldier ripped a couple of manhole covers from an Iraqi street and welded them to his PLS cab doors for extra protection, Goodrum recalls. And Goodrum ordered the troops to pile sandbags on their PLS floorboards to absorb blasts.

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