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Drugs and crime: Tracing the downward spiral of a decorated (and wounded) brother in arms 

Fallen soldier

click to enlarge DUSTIN GLATZ, WITH ASSETS FROM SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Dustin Glatz, with assets from Shutterstock.com

On Sept. 12, police arrested Kenneth Charles Boyd at the Eighth Street Autozone after he ordered parts with a stolen credit card. Already wanted on past felonies, Boyd resisted arrest and was charged with assaulting officers.

The KOAA coverage, complete with a mugshot of Boyd's battered and swollen face, referred to him as a "wanted felon," with "multiple warrants." It failed to mention he's also a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

I once knew Boyd. We were in the Army together, members of 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. He was a driver and rifleman in 3rd Squad, and I was a machine gunner in the Weapons Squad. We met in Korea in 2003, and deployed to Iraq in 2004.

I was Boyd's fireteam leader after I was promoted to sergeant. We lost contact with each other after I left the unit for recruiting duty in 2006. I saw him again in 2007 after his second deployment, but we hadn't spoken since.

When I saw Boyd's mugshot on my social media feed it jarred me. I've spent the last seven years of my life trying to forget about my military service for a variety of reasons, one of them being the awkwardness of having to explain how a woman ended up with a Combat Infantryman's Badge. (I'm a trans woman who transitioned after leaving the service.)

Boyd's arrest brought a flood of repressed memories and experiences suddenly back into focus. As infantry soldiers, we were on the front lines of the Iraq conflict. Our mission was to "locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver." It's a demanding, dangerous, bloody job in the best of circumstances, and for most infantry soldiers our harrowing service experience haunts us long after we take off the uniform.

I couldn't help but wonder if that's what landed Boyd where he was now. So I followed his trail — from Iraq to prescription drugs to addiction to a life in tatters and finally to the El Paso County jail.

Our unit, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, or "Currahee" Battalion, boasts quite a reputation. The HBO series Band of Brothers, which was played constantly in the dining facilities in Korea in 2003, was based on our battalion's exploits in World War II. After Vietnam, the 506th was deactivated in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and moved to Korea, where it became a training deployment.

For us, that meant a one-year tour away from the tactical units like the 101st Airborne or 10th Mountain Divisions, and while we were ostensibly in Korea to deter North Korean aggression, none of us expected to be deployed.

However, in August 2004, a year after the invasion of Iraq, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, which included our battalion, received orders for Iraq. The 506th was attached to the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions in Habbinyah, Iraq. It was a small FOB (forward operating base) in what they called the "Sunni Triangle," halfway between the Al Qaeda strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah.

Our battalion's mission was to secure the major supply route that ran from Baghdad through western Iraq. We ran patrols, raids and ambushes. It proved a violent, bloody deployment that saw our battalion providing support for Operation Phantom Fury, also called the "Second Battle of Fallujah," and security for the first national elections in Iraq after the invasion.

Almost every infantry soldier in our battalion was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the criteria for which is "1. Be an infantryman satisfactorily performing infantry duties. 2. Be assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat. 3. Actively engage the enemy in ground combat."

Instead of returning to Korea, our brigade was redeployed to Fort Carson, where we were eventually redesignated as the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment as part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division.

We brought with us to the Mountain Post a marked increase in suicides, murders, DUIs, failed drug tests and other-than-honorable discharges. In October 2006, just over a year after returning from their first deployment, Boyd and the rest of 2nd Battalion, 12 Infantry Regiment was again sent to Iraq, while I went to recruiting school at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. They were deployed for 15 months to the al-Dura neighborhood in Baghdad as part of "the surge," a new strategy introduced by Gen. David Petraeus to turn around the faltering war in Iraq.

Kenneth Boyd: Army portrait, mug shot. - U.S. ARMY & COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • U.S. Army & Colorado Springs Police Department
  • Kenneth Boyd: Army portrait, mug shot.

Boyd wouldn't complete his 15-month deployment with the unit. By the summer of 2007 he was back at Fort Carson after being injured by an improvised explosive device during a patrol. The explosion left Boyd with severe ulnar nerve damage in his right arm, which would become a chronic pain condition. He was medically retired in 2008 with 50 percent disability for his injured arm, a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

While Boyd proceeded through the Army's medical retirement process, his battalion was struggling with more sensational issues. On Nov. 30, 2007, three members of our battalion's Charlie Company — Louis Bressler, Bruce Bastien Jr. and Kenny Eastridge — were involved in the murder of fellow soldier Kevin Shields. Bastien and Bressler were also tied to the murder of Army Pfc. Robert James in August 2007, and Bressler was found to have also stabbed a woman during a robbery.

Then, after the unit had redeployed from Iraq, in April 2008, another Charlie Company soldier and veteran of both deployments, Jose Barco, was arrested for a drive-by shooting at a party which injured a pregnant woman.

In November 2009, Rolling Stone reported, "All told, the military acknowledged this summer, 14 soldiers from the base have been charged or convicted in at least 11 slayings since 2005 — the largest killing spree involving soldiers at a single U.S. military installation in modern history." Indeed, the murders and assaults made national news and shook the local community. Fort Carson leadership ordered an investigation, and the findings of the report cited "intense combat, substance abuse, and the use of psychotropic prescription medication" as contributing factors in the wave of violence that emanated from the installation. These incidents became the basis for the PBS Frontline documentary, The Wounded Platoon, as well as former Gazette reporter David Philipps' book, Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home. Members of the 4th Brigade, which included 2nd Battalion, 12 Infantry Regiment, were also profiled in Philipps' Pulitzer-winning Gazette series "Other Than Honorable," which exposed how the Army leadership at Fort Carson was using bad conduct discharges to essentially get rid of soldiers who were demonstrating behavioral problems as symptoms of PTSD, which denied soldiers much-needed benefits from the VA.

The national news coverage sparked a number of reforms on Fort Carson, but these didn't help soldiers like Boyd, who left the Army before these incidents were front page stories. Like many former soldiers, Boyd was mistrustful of the VA bureaucracy. "I went to one appointment at the VA, but they told me they were going to readjust my disability rating, so I never went back. I couldn't afford that shit," he told me during a remote visitation at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.

click to enlarge Boyd with the 3rd Squad in Kuwait. - U.S. ARMY
  • U.S. Army
  • Boyd with the 3rd Squad in Kuwait.

Instead of going through the VA health care system, he worked with private medical providers through the insurance offered by his job. From the time he was medically retired in 2008 until he began having legal issues in 2017, Boyd was prescribed opioid painkillers to manage the chronic pain condition caused by the IED explosion in 2007. He did not seek treatment for his traumatic brain injury or his PTSD, and within years of his medical retirement as a decorated, disabled war veteran, Boyd's life began to unravel.

His home, which he had purchased in 2006, was foreclosed on in 2012. A second home, purchased in 2014 with a VA loan, was foreclosed on in 2017. When a traffic accident triggered PTSD flashbacks of Humvee explosions, he says, he lost his job. He began working for himself as a mobile mechanic and treating his PTSD symptoms with heroin and methamphetamine. He was charged in 2017 for negligent child abuse. In September of 2017, he was arrested for (and later pleaded guilty to) felony theft, though a charge of possession of a Schedule I controlled substance was dropped as part of the deal. His three children were placed in foster care after a Department of Human Services investigation, and he and his wife lived out of his car.

The charges continued to mount, many driving-related and failure to appear. While still on probation from the first theft charge, Boyd, a previous felon by this time, was in possession of a gun in August 2018, when he was charged with first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft. (He's still facing those charges.)

According to the Teller County Sheriff's Office, Boyd was allegedly involved in a high-speed pursuit on U.S. Highway 24 between Woodland Park and Manitou Springs. The incident report from Teller County Deputy Kaelina Babb on Sept. 3, 2018, describes how "Mr. Boyd continued to increase speed to an estimated 90 mph and weave through traffic, cross over into the divided median and back, nearly resulting in multiple crashes ... Mr. Boyd slammed on [his] brakes to brake check me and swerved over, almost rear ending a white sedan... Mr. Boyd went head on into traffic an additional 2 times ... which created a substantial risk to loss of life and property." The pursuit was terminated due to the "danger to the general public's safety and property."

click to enlarge The al-Dura neighborhood, where Boyd fought, was known for violence. - ELISHA DAWKINS [PUBLIC DOMAIN], VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Elisha Dawkins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • The al-Dura neighborhood, where Boyd fought, was known for violence.

Boyd was recently arrested again and is being held in El Paso County jail. In addition to other charges, he now faces two charges of felony assault on a peace officer with a weapon and two misdemeanor charges of resisting from his arrest at Autozone. He also faces felony charges of attempted first degree assault threatening a peace officer with a weapon and two counts of vehicular eluding, along with other traffic charges and a misdemeanor charge of driving under restraint, in the Sept. 3 chase.

His next court date is Nov. 26.

Boyd is not the only veteran of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 12 Infantry Regiment to struggle with addiction. Justin Miller was a member of 3rd Platoon Alpha Company, but then transferred to the battalion's Scout Platoon shortly after we deployed to Iraq. Miller deployed again with the unit in 2006. He left for recruiting duty in 2009, and joined the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, in 2012.

"I was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan with them but hurt my back," he says. Miller needed surgery for a ruptured disc, a common injury for anyone who has spent time in light infantry units. "That led to a surgery which led to a lot of drinking and pain meds," he says.

Like Boyd, Miller suffered from TBI and PTSD from his multiple deployments. Unlike Boyd, however, Miller was still able to access the Army's support network. When he realized that he was becoming dependent on his prescription pain medication he was referred to a 35-day inpatient program. After completion of the inpatient program, Miller, like Boyd, was medically retired.

Despite his inpatient treatment, Miller struggled with the symptoms of PTSD and TBI after leaving the Army. "I wanted to deploy so bad," he says. "That was my last hope: to be killed instead of suicide."

Miller also struggled with navigating the VA health care system. "At that point I fell apart. I felt like I had no one to talk to, and tried dealing with everything on my own.

"The VA cut me off of Klonopin without weaning me off and I was getting two to three hours of sleep a night and then I fell apart and almost killed myself."

click to enlarge Chris Mercado, co-founder of Objective Zero - COURTESY CHRIS MERCADO
  • Courtesy Chris Mercado
  • Chris Mercado, co-founder of Objective Zero

The VA stands among many government and private health care agencies to cut opioid prescriptions in response to the opioid crisis (see "Opioids come with dangers, but also provide relief," p. 17), but the effects of rapid withdrawal may be severe for patients who have used the drugs for years, or even decades, to control chronic pain.

Miller reached out to his platoon leader from his 2006 deployment, now-Major Christopher Mercado, for help, and that led the two to found Objective Zero, a suicide prevention app for veterans that connects struggling veterans with volunteer mentors.

"It was released in December [2017] and has been used every single day since," Miller says. "Thousands of text messages and hundreds of hours of calls and video chats. We have over a 1,000 ambassadors that have signed up to listen."

While Mercado was the 2017 Soldier of the Year, Miller has also become an inspiration for many struggling veterans. Boyd actually reached out to Miller at the end of 2017. "We talked towards the end of last year and he was struggling with things," recounts Miller. "Then he quit responding. They cut his pain meds and he crumbled from what I hear."

I left the Army in 2011, and have done my best to forget those eight years of my life. Wartime service proves hard to forget, and one of the things I still remember, one of those bits and pieces of military ephemera, is the last line from the Army's warrior ethos, a short litany they make you memorize in basic training: "I will never leave a fallen comrade."

Not all comrades fall on the battlefield. In fact, it seems most fall apart after they have left the service and cut ties with their fellow soldiers. They drink too much, abuse drugs, commit crimes, and kill themselves.

Even after all these years it's hard not to feel some sense of responsibility for the soldiers I knew, for the men they used to be.

When I saw his mugshot, I wondered what could have caused someone like Boyd to fall so far off-course after his military service. Now, like Miller, "I believe it all stems from him getting blown up."

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