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Video: Combat stress taking toll on soldiers

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/2/2006 4:41:12 PM ET 2006-11-02T21:41:12

After nearly four years of seemingly endless deployments, battles, and casualties, troops are increasingly fighting an invisible enemy — in their minds.

"I hardly eat," says Pvt. Russell Kemery. "If I'm lucky, I eat one meal a day."

Kemery has headaches and cant sleep. He is one of 1,000 troops a month now being treated for combat stress in Iraq.

At Baghdad's Camp Stryker, we attended a stress management session. The main question: How many deployments can a marriage last?

"Me and my wife had a lot of problems," Kemery says. "Guilt's one of the main ones, depression."

"He would call me and he wasn't the same person, I didn't know who I was talking to anymore," says Specialist Maya Dennis of the 32nd Medical Battalion.

"Two weeks before we got deployed we found out we were carrying our first-born son, so it's a little emotional trying to be here, knowing that my wife's going through this pregnancy without me," says Sgt. Richard Grosveld of the 82nd Airborne Division.

After Kemery lost three buddies in attacks, he couldn't rest. Now he is being shown how. He was falling asleep on watch. And was demoted.

Combat psychologist Capt. Chris Myers trains soldiers to deal with the nightmares, anger and irritability many experience after losing fellow troops.

"For any one event, probably 10 to 15 percent of people are going to have some effects that last more than, say, six to eight weeks," Myers says.

The men of the First Platoon 562nd Engineer Company just get on with it, going outside the wire every day.

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But even on patrol, Staff Sgt. Jerami Harris worries about his children — they're acting up at home, grades slipping.

Video: Soldiers' stress "My nine-year-old is kinda being rebellious, because, you know, father's not home," Harris says.

The soldiers have been together for several years now, and look out for each other.

"You recognize it early when there's something going on with somebody, and you talk through it," says Sgt. 1st Class Christian Wolter.

To push the anxiety away, the soldiers toss a football, play with stray dogs and all carry lucky charms. David has a gold coin. Strakansky has a photograph. Santos won't shave hismustache.

In the barracks, they tell us about an enemy all the soldiers here fear but don't talk about: "The Jody."

"The Jody is the guy that's back home with your wife or your girlfriend. That is what a Jody is," says Jerami Harris.

But on patrol, the soldiers try to forget the Jody and all their other stresses, and just focus on the enemy trying to kill them.

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