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U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Receive Psychological Care Ahead of Trek Home

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TIKRIT, Iraq, Feb 29 (AFP) - A unit of 700 US soldiers based in northern Iraq received psychological counseling on Sunday to prepare them for the long journey home to Texas next month after almost a year spent under fire.

Steve Russell, Lieutenant Colonel of the Infantry Division's 122nd Reconnaissance Battalion based in Tikrit, 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Baghdad, fully supports these mental-healing sessions.

"It is necessary because our mission was the longest deployment since the Vietnam war," Russell told AFP.

The 4th Infantry Division (ID), which is headquartered at Ford Hood in Texas, arrived in Iraq in April 2003 and -- as part of a planned rotation process -- is due to be replaced by the 1st ID, stationed in Germany.

This handover is the believed to be the biggest rotation of troops in a modern army and must be completed by the middle of March.

The men spent "every day with the presence of death, they faced many dangers," said Russell, who -- as a member of the Baptist Church -- describes himself as an "engaged Christian."

With nine dead and 55 injured, the 122nd battalion has paid a heavy price during the past 11 months of combat around Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Doctors and chaplains administer the psychological support to the troops.

Xuan Nguyen Tran, 42, chaplain of the Southern Baptist Church, said he just spoke to a couple of young soldiers to help them resolve any inner conflicts before returning to the United States.

His tools in this delicate task are surprising images, Tran said.

"A relationship (between a man and a woman) can be compared to a bank account" which must be nurtured in order to function, explained the chaplain.

On the difference between treating men and women, Tran uses the sort of language that would enrage even the most indulgent feminist.

"Men tend to be intellectual, women tend to be emotional," he said.

And the psychological care does not end with just one session.

"Once we return, our soldiers will receive special classes to help them integrate into a more normal life," Russell said.

"It will help the soldier to search his own life and identify any needs he has," he added.

The one month vacation that the soldiers of the 122nd batallion will receive upon their return to base -- like all US troops who have served in Iraq over the past year -- should also help them to re-discover "normality".

The decision to provide soldiers with a form of psychological care after enduring long and dangerous missions was made after several cases of violence at Fort Bragg in North Carolina where the 82nd Airborne Division is based, according to Tran.



COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.


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