Army finds mayhem in war affected slain soldier

2011-02-12T00:00:00Z Army finds mayhem in war affected slain soldierCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 12, 2011 12:00 am  • 

A Tucson soldier who suffered an apparent mental breakdown and died in a clash with out-of-state police saw so much mayhem at war that it "affected his behavior and actions," in the weeks leading up to his death, an Army investigation has found.

Spc. Brandon Barrett, the brother of a Tucson police detective and son of a retired Marine, was "highly regarded as a good soldier" who never had a discipline problem until he returned from a bloody tour in Afghanistan last summer, the probe by his unit determined.

The report also said officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where Barrett was stationed, were slow to react and failed to notify the soldier's family when the first hints of trouble surfaced - oversights that have left loved ones agonizing over whether the death was preventable.

"My family and I strongly believe that if notification had been made ... in a timely manner, Brandon would be with us here today," said Shane Barrett, 36, a TPD detective, said of his younger brother.

"We could have at least had the opportunity to help him."

Army officials at the Pentagon denied Brandon Barrett a military funeral after he went AWOL and provoked a fatal confrontation with Salt Lake City police. The decision outraged many combat veterans, who felt the Army should have weighed the war's impact on the soldier's psyche.

A spokesman at Army headquarters said Friday the service has no plans to revisit the denial of honors. No one at headquarters has read the report, the official said.

The Army recently provided the report to the Barrett family, who provided the Arizona Daily Star with a copy of the four-page document.

At least three times during his year overseas with the 5th Stryker Brigade, Barrett, a 28-year-old infantryman, saw comrades killed or wounded by suicide bombers or explosives.

"Spc. Barrett had experienced significant losses in combat that affected his behavior and actions leading up to the incident," that killed him, the report said.

Still, superiors did not consider him at risk of postwar problems, even after he was busted on base for drunken-driving days after his return. He was sent to a substance-abuse program but was not examined for underlying mental health issues, the report said.

Barrett also took a postwar screening test that aims to identify troops at risk for suicide and other problems.

The Arizona Daily Star hasn't seen the results. But Shane Barrett, the soldier's brother, said Brandon Barrett reported feeling "down, depressed or hopeless," and had "little interest or pleasure in doing things." The soldier also said he was "constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled" and had a "somewhat difficult" time with emotions.

Mental health experts in Tucson differ on whether those comments should have triggered an all-out response by the Army.

"Those certainly are red flags," H. Clarke Romans, executive director of the Tucson chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said of the self-reported symptoms.

"If someone like that walked into my office, I think we would refer them immediately for attention from a doctor or therapist or both," Romans said.

But Ken Mroczek, a psychologist who counsels war veterans at the Tucson Vet Center, said not every soldier who reports such things is a candidate for major problems.

"We can look backwards and say 'This person should have been identified,' but there are so many people who go through those problems," Mroczek said. Often, they are "normal phases" of postwar adjustment.

After his DUI, Brandon Barrett came to Tucson to stay with his parents, Gail and Bill Barrett, on what they assumed was a normal leave. They didn't learn until weeks later that their youngest son had fled the Army, and was sending dark messages to comrades.

In a text nine days before his death, he said he'd purchased 500 rounds of ammunition and was going to show the Army "why they shouldn't f--- with recently deployed soldiers," the report said.

Barrett's boss quickly reported the threat to military police, but little action was taken, the report said.

Several days later, Barrett said he planned to return to the Army. Instead, he drove to Salt Lake City - no one knows why he chose that site - and dressed as if preparing for battle.

Wearing camouflage and body armor, and toting 1,000 rounds of ammunition and several personally owned firearms, he told passers-by outside a downtown luxury hotel he was "in training,"

He fired when police arrived. Police fired back, killing the soldier in what the Barrett family views as a "suicide by cop."

The report recommended several changes at Barrett's home base, such as better documentation of AWOL soldiers, and a hotline for troops to seek help.

No one at Army headquarters has read the report on Barrett's case because it wasn't sent up the chain of command and wasn't required to be, said a spokesman, George Wright.

Assistant Army Secretary Thomas Lamont, who made the call to ban military funeral honors for Barrett, considered "all available facts at the time of the soldier's death," Wright said.

"The Army stands by the decision," he said.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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