Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Is This How You Define 'Coward'? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Sgt. Andreas Pogany, picture courtesy CNN.comIf we're to believe the U.S. Army, 32-year old Sgt. Andreas Pogany - a five-year veteran with a heretofore exemplary service record - is a coward, only because he approached a superior officer and asked permission "to see someone" for help for a panic attack he suffered after seeing an Iraqi soldier cut in half by machine gun fire before him.

From Unknown News.net:
"From his waistline to his head, everything was missing," Sergeant Pogany said. Sergeant Pogany said he has seen the bodies of people killed in car accidents and that he is not squeamish. "But nothing could have prepared me for that," he said. He also said some of the other soldiers were laughing. The sight disturbed him so much, he said, he threw up and shook for hours. His head pounded and his chest hurt.

"I couldn't function," Sergeant Pogany said in an interview on Tuesday in his lawyer's office in Colorado Springs, not far from Fort Carson. "I had this overwhelming sense of my own mortality. I kept looking at that body thinking that could be me two seconds from now."

When he informed his superior that he was having a panic attack and needed to see someone, Sergeant Pogany said he was given two sleeping pills and told to go away. A few days later, Sergeant Pogany was put on a plane and sent home. Now he faces a possible court-martial. If convicted, the punishment could range from a dock in pay to death
On December 9th, the Army dropped the charge of cowardice against Pogany, but he still faces a charge of dereliction of duty. He has been stripped of his weapon and demoted to cleaning duty at Fort Carson in Colorado.

After reading some details of the story, I think it's unconscionable that the military would treat one of their own in this way - someone faced with a legitimate medical problem, being punished in this manner. Pogany did not "misbehave," he did not retreat - he asked for assistance, and what he got from the country he serves was a boot-kick in the face.

Unfortunately, this case illustrates the culture of macho callousness that often exists in the military. Soldiers need to be tough, without a doubt; but no one, not even the best soldiers, can be expected to absorb every vicious, gruesome experience and emerge unscathed. The truth of the matter is, that although it often takes amazing callousness to survive the horrors of battle, that insensitivity serves no one outside the theater of war - and rarely serves well those within it.

What can happen if a soldier like Pogany ingores his human best instincts and represses the trauma? We get occasional blips on the screen of the sequelae of these psychic boils: news stories of people who explode in murderous or suicidal violence against the inhuman pain they carry inside them, when they can carry the load no longer. Stories that make the evening news or front pages for a day, but are quickly forgotten by most. The majority - those who don't make the news - often live in private anguish and suffer untold personal misery.

No one - not even soldiers - should have to live alone with that kind pain within, only because the cost of asking for help could be their careers, their reputations or even their lives. The pain of war is pain enough, and I hope that the troubling case of Sergeant Pogany will at least serve to open our eyes to the injustices the military often inflicts on it own.

The men and women who put their lives on the line for our country deserve far, far better than this.