Saving Pvt. Hafterson: A mother’s story


After Lance Cpl. Travis Hafterson returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq in April 2008, he wore his dress blue Marine uniform to church in Circle Pines with pride. Then he went to a brunch where someone, apparently an opponent of the war, called him “a piece of shit,” his mother, Jamie, recalled today. “I found him curled up in the fetal position in his bedroom just bawling,” she said. His dress blues were in a pile on a corner. She knew he needed help. He knew he needed help. Instead, the Marines sent him back to Iraq for a second tour of duty last March.

Jamie Hafterson’s son is a killer. She doesn’t want him to be his next target.

travis_iraq_1.jpgHafterson’s son, who has post traumatic stress syndrome, is sitting in a Ramsey County jail on charges of desertion (See my earlier post) from the U.S. Marine Corps. His mother says a jail guard asked him this week, “Are you the deserter?” Then he called him “a chickenshit,” she says.

His mother and the rest of now-Pvt. Hafterson’s family are trying to get him treatment for PTSD. The military apparently has other ideas.

After her son returned from Iraq a year and a half ago, Mrs. Hafterson moved to Virginia to try to get help for her son. “I had to. In my heart, I knew he was going to die,” she told me this afternoon. She says every morning, dozens of Marines like him missed reveille to line up for access to psychiatric help. Each day, only five or six would get help. The rest, she says, went on report for missing reveille.

travis_iraq_2.jpgWhat happened in Iraq to push him over the edge? Here’s the description from what he told a doctor during a psychiatric evaluation last Saturday:

“He watched as an Iraqi police member opened the door of the house, only to have the back of his head explode from enemy fire. He tossed a grenade into the home. … Though (the enemy) had lost limbs, he was still alive. So Hafterson had no choice but to kill him with a knife through the throat.”

For Hafterson, it was just another day in Iraq; another nightmare to have later.

After his second tour this year and a court martial on marijuana charges, Hafterson was put in an undeployable unit. “It’s a battalion of people with PTSD and criminals,” his mother said. “And everybody’s forgotten about them.”

Hafterson’s odyssey to Minnesota in the last month began after the Marines, rather than treat him for his illness, asked him to re-enlist and be deployed — again — to Iraq or Afghanistan, his mother says. Hafterson said he would if he could be reunited with his former unit. The Marines said “no.” Hafterson left for Minnesota, unaware, his mother says, that his leave had been canceled. The Marines had apparently reneged on promises to provide him with chemical dependency treatment.

“He’s a trained killer,” his mother says. “He didn’t have to go into the infantry. He didn’t have to ‘run point.’ And then to put him in a job cleaning offices. He came back to find Travis. He felt lost and betrayed. He was here to try to get treatment.”

When he turned himself in at Fort Snelling on Monday, he was arrested and sent to Ramsey County’s adult detention center. “The next time you see me, I’ll be in 12 pieces,” he yelled to his mother. He was referring to the fate of a friend in Iraq, who was killed by a roadside bomb.

She says her son has “been belittled” by the Marines since trying to get help. “He was told, ‘You’re just trying to milk the government by getting a disability check,'” she said.

She spent most of the day on Wednesday on the phone to anyone who might be able to get him treatment. Calls to politicians — she lives in Rep. Michele Bachmann’s district — haven’t been returned. She tried Rep. John Kline, a veteran, and was told he couldn’t help because she didn’t live in his district. She says she even ran around a golf course today because she’d heard there was someone there playing golf who knew an elected representative who might help.

“There are lots of services here for veterans,” she says she’s found out today, “but nothing for active duty personnel.”

The family is worried the Marine Corps will take him back to Camp LeJeune and he’ll be swallowed up in the military justice system, where he’ll end up killing himself. Instead, they’re asking a Ramsey County judge to provide a civil commitment to a psychiatric facility here, but a conference on the request won’t be held until Monday.

His mother hasn’t told him yet that his unit returned from Iraq this week.