Monday, October 27, 2003

Guilt, Insanity Ravage Returning Soldiers

During the Iraq war, Pfc. Tyrone Roper became a combat star. By early April his Kevlar helmet bore three hand-drawn feathers, one for each of his confirmed kills. His buddies in the 101st Airborne Division praised his machine-gun prowess. He was the one they most wanted by their side in a firefight.

These days, Roper's battles are raging mostly inside his head. He was evacuated to Ft. Campbell this past summer after being found psychologically unfit. He says he is still racked by bad dreams, acute loneliness and punishing guilt over the killings he carried out for the U.S. Army.

Now Roper, 27 and a married father of two, is on the run.

This month, days before he was to be released from the Army, he left his blue stucco rowhouse on the base, possibly headed to Texas, where his mother lives, or to Canada, where he was born. No one is sure where he went or why. But he has communicated by e-mail to The Baltimore Sun in rambling, unpunctuated and uncapitalized messages about his pain.


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