WILMINGTON, N.C. - Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle made a career of treating soldiers for combat stress caused by frequent deployments to battle zones. He also tried to fight the stigma that can prevent those who need mental help from seeking it.
Springle, 52, was deployed at a U.S. military clinic in Baghdad, Iraq, counseling service members when an Army sergeant finishing up his third tour of duty allegedly shot and killed him and four other comrades.
The war's deadliest case of soldier-on-soldier violence starkly shows the struggle Springle and his colleagues face dealing with the emotional problems suffered by some soldiers repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He regarded it as very important work," said Bob Goodale, a friend of Springle's and director of behavioral mental health for the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Citizen-Soldier Support Program. "We all who work in this know that it is difficult. This is an example of how difficult."
The military identified the victims in Monday's shooting as Springle and four soldiers from the Army: Pfc. Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.; and Maj. Matthew Houseal, 54, a psychiatrist from Amarillo, Texas.
A commander since 2002, Springle went by his middle name of "Keith" and had been in the Navy for 21 years. A Navy spokesman at the Pentagon said Springle left behind a wife and two children in Wilmington.
Goodale and Springle had worked together on a presentation that outlines potential traumas experienced by service members who have done multiple tours and the barriers that can keep them from being treated.
"We have to find better ways to reduce the stigma," Goodale said Tuesday. "To work on the acceptance of combat stress as a real thing. It has been for centuries, and we must persevere."
Houseal also treated people with psychological problems in his dozen years with the Texas Panhandle Mental Health and Mental Retardation clinic, said executive director Bud Schertler.
"He was dedicated to his patients. He was a family man, very thorough diagnostician. We couldn't ask for a better psychiatrist," Schertler said.
Schertler said Houseal, who had six children, had volunteered to go back to assist in Iraq and was called up for duty.
Yates' mother, Shawna Machlinski, said she last spoke to her son on Mother's Day and that he had talked about the alleged shooter, 44-year-old Sgt. John M. Russell. Yates told his mother that Russell was deeply angry at the military.
"He said, 'Man, this guy's got issues,'" said Machlinski. She said her son wasn't more specific about Russell's problems and that he told her he got along with him.
The clinic in Baghdad is operated by the 55th Medical Company, a Reserve unit headquartered in Indianapolis. Capt. Adam Jackson, a spokesman for the unit, said Tuesday he could release no information on the clinic shooting or the people involved.
Machlinski said Yates, who had a 1-year-old son, was being treated at the clinic because he was having difficulty readjusting to life in Iraq after visiting Maryland for most of April, when he seemed angry and distant.
"I think he just had a lot on his mind and had a hard time adjusting to civilian life," she said.
Machlinski said that while she was angry at Russell, she was angrier at the military for not doing more to intervene and that she could understand the stress Russell must have been under.
"I do have some sympathy and I do know that I can forgive him," Machlinski said. "I kind of blame the Army for not protecting my son. Someone should have helped this sergeant way before he got this bad."