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Friday, January 17, 2014

Captain Paul McKay's body found

Australian soldiers are coming home mentally ill after combat duty in Afghanistan.  From the Australian Army website:

Of the 30,325 current full-time Army members, it is estimated that approximately 18,800 have had operational service and therefore two per cent or about 375 will have developed PTSD.......  It is normal for most individuals to experience some form of distress after highly traumatic events.  This may be a variety of emotions including fear, guilt, shame, helplessness or anger.  The good news is that most will return to normal functioning after a short period of time, from a few days to several weeks, without intervention.  However, even these people will still have recurrent memories of the event or other emotions associated with these memories.

Captain Paul McKay had PTSD.  On New Year's Eve, he sent his father an email that frightened him.  He wanted him to know that he was leaving him all his worldly possessions.

Captain McKay, an Afghanistan veteran, set off into rugged terrain in freezing conditions to climb Scarface Mountain in the state of New York.  He was on leave from the Army until 20th January so he could have been testing himself against the elements, but sending the email makes you wonder.

The US authorities were fantastic.  Teams of volunteers led by forest rangers were brought in and carried out a grid search, determined to find him.  And they did.  A forest ranger found his body off the walking trail, near the summit of Scarface Mountain in an area hidden from searching helicopters.  Although he had warm clothing, he didn't have a sleeping bag, tent or any kind of shelter. An autopsy will be carried out today.

On December 27, McKay created a Facebook and LinkedIn page, the day before he left home to fly to the US, listing his military background, skills, university degrees and a dozen pictures. Both accounts have since been removed. Although police were able to get access to his emails, they held no clue as to why he went to Scarface Mountain.

If he hadn't sent his father that email, his body would've been found doing something he was good at - testing his endurance against the harsh winter wilderness. There wouldn't have been any suggestion of suicide and the people who loved him would never have known. But it didn't work out that way.

The death of this outstanding young man is a tragedy and the Army needs to take a good, hard look at itself regarding treatment of PTSD soldiers returning from Afghanistan. If this young man hadn't joined the Australian Army, he would still be alive and whatever they are doing to help, isn't working.