A soldier apart

Photo By larry dalton

You can watch The Wounded Platoon online at the PBS website: www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/woundedplatoon.

The PBS Frontline documentary The Wounded Platoon highlights the lives of a few men who served in Third Platoon, Charlie Company, during tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. The film tracks the many hardships endured by the men during the war and the effects of their traumatic experiences on their lives after they returned home. With a number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide attempts, drug addiction and even several murder convictions, this “wounded platoon” has become infamous for the collapse of its members. Of the soldiers featured in the film, though, most were struggling; few of those who are thriving as civilians were examined. Jeremy Rhodes, a Sacramento resident who served in the platoon, has managed to build a happy life here post-Iraq. He talked to SN&R about his story.

What made you want to enlist in the military?

I love my country and wanted to do something for it. It was a really good group of individuals, too. [Also], I didn’t really know we were going to be deployed. They just sprang it on us; it was like, “Hey, we’re going to Iraq!” [and] the reality set in.

Did you feel like the PBS Frontline documentary was an accurate portrayal of your platoon’s experience?

I think for the most part it was accurate. Although they did focus on a select few who had particularly hard experiences, it was accurate. It was very sad, seeing all of it. I mean, many of the men [featured] were good guys who just had bad things happen to them.

Your platoon was a fairly small group of men. Did this allow all of you to have close relationships with one another?

With only [roughly] 40 men, I considered them like my second family. I mean, like any other family, you do have your problems. But we were still a family. I would do anything for those guys, and I think they feel the same.

Did the closeness of the platoon make it harder when there were bumps in the road, like casualties or injuries?

People got really upset when bad things happened, and lots of issues came up at once. You’ve got to remember that the first day there, Third Platoon’s medic committed suicide, and that kind of set the whole tone. I mean, getting sent out there and then two days later you have enemy fire coming at you, and it’s like, “Holy smokes, this shit is dangerous!” When you’re close with everybody, it makes all of that harder. I wanted to stay with those guys [for the second tour], but I ended up having a baby. I would easily go back with them on another tour.

Was your platoon very active outside of the base in Iraq?

Every other day we were out on patrol. We had hard assignments, but they got accomplished. At times we were sent on walking patrol and raids, and we would work from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., and then we would get a two-hour break before we had to go back out at 8 a.m. on another assignment.

In the documentary, there was a lot of focus on how common PTSD was for the soldiers. One man mentioned that it is “a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.” Do you feel that this is an accurate statement?

I feel that it is. I mean, when you’re put in an intense situation, it’s expected. When you’re waving a guy out the front gates who’s going out to patrol, and then 20 minutes later his Humvee is being towed in, how intense is that? It definitely causes a lot of problems.

A few of the featured soldiers mentioned that they had some issues with the motivation for the war itself. Did you feel that the majority of the soldiers in Iraq were really supportive of the war?

I know people like Doc [a soldier featured in the PBS documentary] had an issue, but I didn’t have an issue. I did what I was supposed to do. Well, if you don’t like orders given to you, those orders still came from the top and it was a personal issue for you. [You] still need to do your job.

Has it been hard to stay in touch with the men in your platoon?

It’s not hard; we’re still in touch with one another. I talked to one of the men just the other day. Some of us have actually been talking about maybe getting together sometime next year.

How are things for you now, since you’ve been back?

I take one day at a time. It’s usually up and down, but my son just turned 4, so he’s the one who keeps my mind busy right now; he’s great. My parents said, “He probably saved your life.”