WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Earlier this week, Navy Cmdr. Keith Springle was one of five Americans gunned down by a fellow serviceman in a military counseling clinic in Baghdad. Now a former co-worker at New Hanover County's Department of Social Services is talking about Springle's passion and sacrifice.
Before providing counseling for active troops in Iraq, Cmdr, Springle worked at the New Hanover County Department of Social Services. Former Director Wayne Morris hired Springle in the early '80s.
Springle left Wilmington in 1987, when he was commissioned by the Navy.
"A good guy," Morris said of Springle. "Lot of fun, very bright and very committed to social work."
It was in a counseling clinic in Iraq where Cmdr. Springle treated soldiers for combat stress and anger management. It was in the same office where he likely died; shot to death by a patient, Sgt. John Russell.
"It's just such a waste, because he was doing some really good stuff that needed to be done and ironically was killed by one of the folks he was trying to help," Morris said.
Sgt. Russell had just six weeks left in his third deployment to Iraq. His father said his son had been forced into treatment at the combat stress center.
"I guess he thought his life was over. I guess he just broke. He didn't know how to ask for help," the elder Russell said.
Morris said that may have been a root of the problem. Asking for help in the military often has a negative stigma attached. Morris himself served three years in the Army as a psychiatrist.
"I do think it's an example of what they're dealing with and of the problems that have to be dealt with," Morris said.
The president of the local chapter of the Vietnam Vets of America agrees.
"That's the first line of defense; each other. They consider each other a brother and they'll share everything they know with each other," Rossie Nance said. "But the mental illness, there is shame to say, 'Hey, my friend, I've got a problem.'"
Since the shooting, the US military has begun looking into the mental health services it provides for its troops. Treating inactive members of the military for mental health issues is also a concern.
A veterans clinic in Wilmington treats mainly physical ailments. The local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America has been working to open a psychological counseling clinic here. It is expected to become a reality next year.