FORT DRUM — Fort Drum officials are looking into the veracity of claims made by family members of Spc. Joshua Hunter, the soldier accused this week of killing two fellow soldiers, that his combat experiences in Iraq left him mentally disturbed.
Hunter's unit experienced no combat deaths or injuries during its 15-month deployment, although the unit had two non-combat related deaths, said Maj. Frederick C. Harrell, a spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division.
“We're looking into whether his statements are true or not,” said Maj. Harrell. “There's questions on it, so we've just got to answer the questions.”
Spc. Hunter's wife and mother told the Associated Press Thursday that the 20-year-old military police officer had been traumatized by what he'd seen. Emily Hunter, his wife, said, "He saw his best friend get blown up to pieces and he tried to put him back together. He was never right after that."
But Maj. Harrell said Spc. Hunter's record did not include a Purple Heart award or a Combat Action Badge. The latter can be awarded to any soldier who has “engaged” with the enemy, meaning he has fired at targets or been fired upon.
The absence of an award on a soldier's record does not prove that he did not see combat, Maj. Harrell said, because soldiers are responsible for updating their own records and must be nominated for awards by superiors.
But Maj. Harrell, who served in Iraq during the same deployment as Spc. Hunter and his alleged victims, Spc. Diego A. Valbuena, 23, and Spc. Waide T. James, 20, said the absence raised questions.
The two victims were found dead Tuesday in their off-post apartment at 28550 Fox Hollow Run, part of the Meadows Apartments complex in Evans Mills. Police said they were killed Sunday or Monday.
Two soldiers wrote e-mails to the Times saying they served in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division Special Troops Battalion (now called the 10th Mountain Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion), a group of about 1,000 soldiers that was deployed for 15 months in Iraq and returned this past spring. The two writers, one of whom did not identify himself and another who requested anonymity, both said the trauma claims couldn't be true.
“It was Josh's first deployment and he was disappointed we didn't see any action,” said the anonymous writer. “And that's the thing — WE DIDN'T SEE ANY ACTION ... there were no purple hearts awarded, no combat action badges earned during our tour. No one was injured or killed — we were never attacked the entire year we were there and never had to fire a shot.”
The other soldier wrote, “Everything I am reading about the horrors of Iraq and (Spc. Hunter) seeing his best friend murdered is a lie, we never engaged the enemy even once over there, not a single one in our company was killed. In fact only once did we even see dead bodies in Iraq and Hunter wasnt (sic) even present, I know because it was my platoon that went out that day.”
Maj. Harrell said he was working to gather more information about the unit's deployment.
Fort Drum is assisting the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department's investigation of the case, and Maj. Harrell said.