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Future uncertain, AWOL soldier returns to Fort Hood unit

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Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:17 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Jade Ortego

Killeen Daily Herald

It has been 10 months since Pfc. Jacob Wade was scheduled to catch a flight to Iraq after a two-week leave. Wade was in the middle of a yearlong deployment to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and the day he was to return, he had a panic attack and missed the flight.

Wade, 22, of Cortland, N.Y., dropped out of high school at 17 and got his GED. After working odd jobs, he joined the Army in order to help pay for college. He wanted to be a baseball coach.

Twenty years old at the time, Wade said he didn't know what to expect from the military.

In Iraq, as an infantryman, he was exposed to an amount of violence that scarred him, leaving him, nearly a year later, mostly unable to sleep, jerking awake to nightmares about killing his brothers.

In the Army he was often under fire, afraid for his life as he watched other soldiers wounded and killed, and saw an Iraqi child shot.

Wade has since spent the better part of the year suffering from lack of sleep and nightmares, along with suicidal thoughts and depression, anger and alcohol problems and panic attacks.

His psychiatrist, Dr. William Cross of Manilus, N.Y., who has agreed to testify on Wade's behalf at his sanity board, diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Wade also suffered physical injuries to his legs as a result of his service, and walks with a limp.

Wade was scared to report and be redeployed, but was also afraid of the harassment and hazing from fellow soldiers that he heard comes with an admission of mental health issues due to service.

Now, Wade wants to move on with his life, go to school and get the help he believes he needs.

Monday, he reported to Fort Hood and explained that he didn't want to complete his contract, which is supposed to end September 2011.

He was returned to the same barracks and unit, no longer in Iraq, and it is not immediately clear if the Army will take punitive measures. Wade understands he could be court-martialed and imprisoned for up to a year.

Today, he intends to begin paperwork to request a sanity and medical board. He knows, however, that it could take months before he sees a doctor.

While Wade felt guilt at not reporting, he doesn't regret his decision.

"If I spent another six months in a metal box in the sand, I don't know what would have happened," he said.

Regarding Wade's failure to report, Cross wrote in a psychological report March 7: "Jacob has experienced severe anxiety, depression and guilt, experienced frequent emotional outbursts, had suicidal frequent thoughts without planning ... It is further my opinion that Jacob, as a result of his high avoidance and arousal levels and panic attacks, lack of an ability to bond with others, and general instability, is not a suitable person for military service."

Wade's lawyer, Tod Ensign, said he knows it is difficult to find enough soldiers to send to war, and that is why people serve multiple deployments. However, he said, "It should not be at the expense of people who will be irreparably harmed."

Wade's mother, Laurie, said it was difficult living with her son, who was brooding and aggressive, knowing that something was wrong before he was diagnosed with PTSD.

"His decision not to return to Iraq was one that was upsetting to the family," she said. "We wanted him to fulfill his responsibility. He's always wanted to do what was right."

She worried over the months if the Army would come get him, or if he would be arrested.

As far as a general opposition to the war, Wade said he has mixed feelings. "I had a problem with how we were treating a lot of people, people that were helping us and didn't deserve it," he said. "I don't really like Iraq or Iraqis, but I'm not going to hurt someone's brother or kid because they looked at me the wrong way."

Contact Jade Ortego at jortego@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcourts.

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