Stressed troops take cues from ancient plays

5 May 2009, By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — After nine grinding years of war, the once-mighty soldier abruptly comes unglued. Denied an honor he thinks he’s due, he goes to kill the officers he holds responsible, but after his night of rage finds he has slaughtered barnyard animals, not generals. Shamed beyond endurance, he plans suicide. “A great man must live in honor or die an honorable death,” he tells his wife. “That is all I have to say.” The soldier is Ajax, fighter of the Trojan War, his downfall portrayed in a Greek tragedy written more than two millennia ago.
To 1st Sgt. Stanton Brown of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, watching a performance of the play last week in a bar on an Army post, the plight of Ajax is a story from his own life: In January, he lost his best friend, a man under his command, to suicide two months after their return from Iraq. It was the dead soldier’s third deployment in five years. Like Ajax, Brown says, “he had been so stressed for so long.”


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