Maj. Gen. Dan Bolger, the U.S. commander who oversees Baghdad, said the military has increased its efforts in recent years to teach service members to recognize warning signs of mental illness in fellow soldiers and encourage comrades to seek treatment.
"We know that not all injuries are physical. We have to have that door open for our guys, he said. Even though such steps didn't prevent Monday's deaths, Bolger said the incident shows commanders aren't afraid to take action when they believe a soldier may need help.
"(Russell) is a non-commissioned officer in a leadership capacity, and to make that trip down there, that's a tough decision for his superiors to make," Bolger said. "But we we're willing to make it and we have that care available." Military officials could not say how long Russell has been in the military or whether his family is aware of the charges against him. None of his relatives could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Russell's unit, based in Bamberg, Germany, is part of a division that works primarily in southern Iraq. Perkins said he didn't know what specific duties Russell's unit had been carrying out in recent months, but engineer battalions generally complete tasks such as fixing roads, clearing routes for other soldiers and working on construction projects. The 54th Engineer Battalion's Web site says the unit spent at least some of its most recent deployment searching for roadside bombs.
Perkins said the military is still trying to sort out the chain of events that led up to Mondays shootings. He said investigators have uncovered conflicting accounts and havent determined at what point Russell became separated from his so-called battle buddy. Service members in Iraq are never supposed to leave their living quarters alone.
Several news agencies reported that Russell was disarmed after an argument at the stress clinic Monday morning and that he later grabbed another service members weapon and returned to the clinic to open fire. The military wouldnt confirm those reports.
President Barack Obama has said he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by the shootings. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said Mondays killings highlight the need to find new ways to reduce the heavy toll of repeated deployments to war zones. Deaths among U.S. soldiers here are rising. Eighteen were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly toll since September. With Mondays attacks, 10 American soldiers have died so far this month.
Also on Tuesday, a suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi police patrol near the northern city of Kirkuk at about 10.30 a.m. Six policemen were killed and 12 people were injured, police officials said.
Jack Dolan of the Miami Herald contributed to this story.