A few months into their tour, McNabb says, both he and Linnerooth — with the approval of on-site doctors — began taking antidepressants. “He had to have training wheels,” McNabb says. “We all did.”
They worked non-stop, even overnight sometimes. They listened so intently, their nightmares were not their own.
They saw guys who’d witnessed Humvees vaporize before them, medics barely out of high school dealing with double amputations, women sexually assaulted in combat zones. There were soldiers suffering from paranoia, bipolar disorder, anxiety — one was wetting his bed. And then there were those escorted under guard after threatening suicide.
“People are in rough, rough shape ... it’s misery all the time and it does affect you,” McNabb says.
Linnerooth — the only trained psychologist of the three — was frustrated by what he regarded as the Army’s view of mental health as a second-class problem that can be minimized or overlooked during deployment, McNabb says. At times, he also felt powerless — stabilizing soldiers, then having to return them to missions, knowing they’d be traumatized again.
“Sometimes he felt he was putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole,” McNabb says. “It would be ‘I got you to where you can sleep through the night ... but guess what? You have seven months left in your deployment.”’
For about half his tour, Linnerooth’s office was a 12-by-12 trailer. His heavy-metal soundtrack — he banned the Beatles and Pink Floyd, deeming them too sad — provided a sound buffer. A thermal blanket serving as a makeshift room divider also provided a modicum of privacy.
Linnerooth brought hope to those gripped by hopelessness. In a desert, he could always find the glass half full.
He turned tragedies into cathartic moments: When a platoon lost a member, he’d encourage the survivors to deal with their grief by writing letters to the children of the fallen soldier, recounting the great things about their father.