The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 16, 2013

Vet who saved many in Iraq couldn’t escape demons

He had a knack for soothing soldiers who’d just seen their buddies killed by bombs. He knew how to comfort medics sickened by the smell of blood and troops haunted by the screams of horribly burned Iraqi children.

Capt. Peter Linnerooth was an Army psychologist. He counseled soldiers during some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. Hundreds upon hundreds sought his help. For nightmares and insomnia. For shock and grief. And for reaching that point where they just wanted to end it all.

Linnerooth, a former Minnesota State University psychology instructor, did such a good job his Army comrades dubbed him The Wizard. His “magic” was deceptively simple: an instant rapport with soldiers, an empathetic manner, a big heart.

For a year during one of the bloodiest stretches of the Iraq war, Linnerooth met with soldiers 60, 70 hours a week. Sometimes he’d hop on helicopters or join convoys, risking mortars and roadside bombs. Often, though, the soldiers came to his shoebox-sized “office” at Camp Liberty in Baghdad.

There they’d encounter a raspy-voiced, broad-shouldered guy who blasted Motorhead, Iron Maiden and other ear-shattering heavy metal, favored four-letter words and inhaled Marlboro Reds — once even while conducting a “stop smoking” class. He was THAT persuasive.

Linnerooth knew when to be a friend and when to be a professional Army officer. He could be tough, even gruff at times, but he also was a gentle soul, a born storyteller, a proud dad who decorated his quarters with his kids’ drawings and photos. He carried his newborn daughter’s shoes on his ruck sack for good luck.

Linnerooth left Iraq in 2007, a few months short of the end of his 15-month tour. He couldn’t take it anymore. He’d heard enough terrible stories. He’d seen enough dead and dying.

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