Brock Savelkoul’s battle

Now that the U.S. is involved in another war, it might be a good time to revisit an old one that isn’t getting much attention anymore.

You’ll not likely hear a finer piece of reporting than the story today from NPR of Brock Savelkoul. He was one of five soldiers profiled in an ongoing Pro Publica/NPR series on soldiers with brain injuries in a single blast in Iraq.

Last September, after his discharge, he was standing on a road in North Dakota, looking at a roadside full of cops with guns drawn:

Savelkoul, 29, walked slowly toward the officers. He gestured wildly with his gun. “Go ahead, shoot me! … Please, shoot me,” he yelled, his face illuminated in a chiaroscuro of blazing spotlights and the deepening darkness. “Do it. Pull it. Do I have to point my gun at you to … do it?”

Savelkoul, the Pro Publica story says, joined the Army in 2003 because he realized one day he didn’t want to spend his life building fences in Fargo.

One of his jobs was scanning roadsides for explosives. In 2005, a Humvee was destroyed by an IED on a road he’d just scanned. Several soldiers died.

“Dad, I’m responsible for those deaths,” Brock told his father.

After that, his family noticed he’d changed. He suffered a psychotic breakdown in Hawaii and was hospitalized, though officials won’t comment on what type of treatment he received.

Later, the Army sent him to a treatment center in California, but he walked away after a few months, according to Fred Gusman, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder, who ran the facility. “The problem in this country is that we haven’t accepted the hard reality that we can train people to be in a war. … But we can’t train somebody in how they’re going to respond,” he said .

The Army discharged Savelkoul. He moved in with his father in Minot, the story goes on.

Savelkoul’s family noticed how much he had changed. He couldn’t remember birthdays, anniversaries or even the date his mother had died. On a shopping trip with Angie, he didn’t recognize the house where they had grown up. He seemed uncoordinated and had trouble playing catch with his nephew. Trips to the Minot Zoo and a Minnesota Twins baseball game ended in disaster when he grew panicked at the crowds around him.

Last September, Brock started a shopping list. After writing “butter,” he wrote, “No hope for me. Love you so much.”

He robbed a convenience store, and the chase was on.

Megan Christopher, a two-year veteran of the North Dakota State Patrol was among the first on the scene, and did everything to save his life, the story says.

Finally, at about 9:30 p.m., more than three hours after the chase began, Savelkoul aimed his gun toward the open prairie and fired a round. Then, the videotape shows, he walked toward Christopher. After she promised to give him a cell phone if he put down the gun, he placed it at his feet. Christopher walked toward him, holding the cell phone in front of her, her own weapon holstered. Her voice broke as she neared him. “I’m kinda new at this. Sorry,” she said. “I think I’m going to cry.”

Suddenly, Savelkoul turned toward her. Two coiled, white wires unspool through the night air. Another officer, believing that Savelkoul was turning to attack, had fired his Taser, a weapon designed to shock a person into incapacitation. Savelkoul stiffened and fell to the ground. Police officers ran toward him from all sides, their knees on his back, arms, legs. They handcuffed Savelkoul. Christopher walked toward him and knelt. She put her hand to his cheek.

“I’m Megan,” she said, “I’m glad I get to meet you.”

He’s finished in-patient treatment at the St. Cloud VA. Under a plea deal this month, the charges against him will be dropped if he meets a series of conditions. He’s back in Fargo, undergoing outpatient treatment at the VA.

“They teach us how to get over there,” he told ProPublica. “Now they need to teach us how to get back.”