A tragic end for Army sergeant
SHARON COHEN, AP National Writer
12:01 a.m. EDT, April 25, 2010
Coleman Bean went to Iraq twice, but his father remembers a stark difference in his son's two parting messages.
Before his first tour, his father recalls, his son said if anything happened to him, he wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Before his second, four years later, he said he didn't want that any longer.
"He still was very patriotic, he believed in duty," Greg Bean says. "But he had sort of lost his commitment to what we were doing over there. His first tour ... had changed him."
Bean enlisted in the Army six days before the 9/11 attacks. He parachuted into Iraq in the first chaotic weeks of the war. When he returned a year later, he offered PG-rated, sanitized versions of his experiences.
"We got glimpses," the elder Bean says. "He didn't give us a lot of details."
Only later on, the elder Bean says, did he learn from Coleman's friends and Army buddies that his son was among those who'd witnessed a horrifying bus explosion across the street from a safe house in Iraq where he and other soldiers had holed up. Several Iraqis, including children, burned to death before their eyes.
There also was the shooting death of an Iraqi child riding in a car that inexplicably ran a roadblock. "Several shots were fired," the elder Bean says. "There was no way to know who killed the child."
Bean spent the remainder of his tour in Fort Polk, La., training soldiers about to deploy to Iraq. When his hitch ended in 2005, he came home to New Jersey.
He started displaying classic post-traumatic stress symptoms.
"He had trouble with his temper, he was drinking too much, he had trouble focusing, trouble sleeping," his father says. He worked as a bartender and a bouncer; he also considered college. Nothing clicked.
Bean's worried parents encouraged him to seek help.
In 2007, Bean went to a veterans hospital in New Jersey, which resulted in a PTSD diagnosis and a recommendation he enter a residential program or have outpatient counseling. But his father says when officials realized he was still active duty, they said he was under the Army's care and they couldn't help.
Bean didn't get any treatment and was ordered back for a second tour that summer. He was part of the Individual Ready Reserve, one of thousands of soldiers who no longer report to bases but who may be deployed to fill vacancies.
"He was scared, worried, apprehensive as the time got closer," his father recalls.
He offered his son an out.
"I'm a child of the '60s," the elder Bean says. "I said, 'We'll jump in a car and go to Canada. You don't have to go. We'll do whatever it takes.' He said, 'I signed up for it, I trained for it. I've got to go. ... If I don't, someone else will have to.' In the end, he believed he had an obligation. He sucked it up and went back."
Bean's second tour seemed to go better. He was promoted to sergeant. He helped guard convoys, and though that was dangerous, he was living on a base, a far more secure arrangement than his first deployment.
Bean had a positive attitude when he returned and talked about returning to college. But within months, the same troubling patterns emerged. He started drinking heavily, lost his temper, couldn't sleep and suffered panic attacks.
"We kick ourselves at this point," his father now says. "We probably should have been proactive. But he was a grown man with two combat tours. He didn't have to do exactly what mom and dad said."
It was only later, his father says, that he and his wife discovered confidential counseling programs that are appealing to soldiers who are reluctant to identify themselves and seek help in the federal bureaucracy.
One Saturday night in 2008, Bean got drunk with friends, wrecked his Jeep Cherokee car and was arrested for driving under the influence. Bean was taken to a hospital, then rode home in a cab.
He had to break into his apartment because he didn't have his keys.
He also broke into his locked gun case.
Bean didn't call anyone or leave a note before he turned the gun on himself.
On Sept. 6, 2008 — five years and one day after he enlisted — Sgt. Coleman Bean died. He was just 25.
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