By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The staff sergeant will make time. "The Army uses you and uses you," he says, "and then throws you out."
Pogany knows exactly how that feels.
Pogany says he doesn't like talking about his past, his voice betraying no hint of an accent, no hint of growing up in Germany as Georg-Andreas, the son of an expat Hungarian insurgent who fought against the Soviets in his country's failed 1956 revolution. It took months for Pogany's girlfriend, Jen Collins, to learn about his time in the military, about how, after he emigrated to the United States as a college student and studied criminal justice at the University of South Florida, he joined the Army and was trained as an interrogator. And it's been years since he's signed off his e-mails with the Special Forces' motto, "De oppresso liber" — liberator of the oppressed — which he started doing, even though not a Green Beret himself, after he was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson in 2001. Instead, Pogany prefers to quote from the Bodhisattva or The Art of War, or tell a wry joke adorned with a few choice selections of his still-vibrant barracks vocabulary.
But driving through Fort Carson after dropping off the staff sergeant at the clinic, it's hard to escape his past. The brick office buildings, the "GI Jolt" coffee shop in the base strip mall, the fenced-off trucks and cargo containers waiting to be shipped to the desert thousands of miles away — everything comprised by "greatest home town in America," as the guards at the entrance gates are required to call it — bring back memories. Last week at the Army hospital, for example, Pogany ran into Lehman, the Green Eggs and Ham guy, whom he hadn't seen in years. Lehman said he was messed up, that he had PTSD and a TBI, and that he was in trouble with the law.
Pogany knew what Lehman felt like, lost and alone in the middle of Fort Carson. This was where Pogany returned after being charged with cowardice and ordered to complete one menial on-base task after another. It was where he struggled through the diminishing but still debilitating symptoms of his mysterious condition — blurry vision, balance problems, stomach ailments — and tried to make sense of the cowardice charge.
"I never bought into what they were saying," he says. "The question was, 'What happened?' This was not me. I didn't understand what had happened."
To try and figure it out, Pogany called a soldiers' advocate he'd heard of: Steve Robinson, a Gulf War veteran and head of the Washington, D.C., veterans' advocacy group National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC), who agreed to help.
"I believe the military realized it was in a different fight in Iraq. It was no longer limited tank battles; it was going to be up-close urban combat, and that was going to create fear in the soldiers, and fear is like a cancer in a war," Robinson says now. "This guy Andrew had an emotional reaction to this broken and destroyed body, and they decided they were not going to put up with it. They said, 'Let's kill this cancer right now.' It had a chilling effect throughout the entire military."
Pogany and Robinson dug in, trying to find out what, exactly, was wrong with Pogany, looking for a smoking gun — and they believed they found it in Lariam, a commonly used anti-malarial drug he'd been prescribed by the military for Iraq that was known to cause serious psychiatric side effects in some people. Military officials told Robinson they weren't prescribing Lariam in Iraq, but Pogany still had the blister pack of Lariam they'd given him; he'd taken three pills, the third on the day of his breakdown.
Soon other soldiers who'd served in Iraq were contacting Robinson — and the media — saying they, too, had been given Lariam and were experiencing troubling side effects. With that news, Pogany began boning up on his pharmacology. He learned about a medical study showing that 29 percent of 500 travelers and tourists who took the drug had experienced neuropsychiatric side effects. He talked to reporters who linked the drug to instances of suicide. He read about Canadian troops who'd beaten a boy to death in Somalia in 1993 and about three Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who'd killed their wives and then themselves in 2002. They'd all taken Lariam. Soon reporters stopped calling Andrew Pogany, coward, and began calling Andrew Pogany, Lariam expert.
The Defense department began to feel the pressure. It dropped the cowardice charge, instead accusing Pogany of dereliction of duty, for which he could spend six months in prison and receive a dishonorable discharge. But they'd underestimated him.
"They picked the wrong person to call a coward," says Collins, his girlfriend. "He turned it around and came at them with a vengeance."
As his protracted legal battle wore on, Pogany heard disturbing news that increased his suspicions about Lariam. On March 14, 2004, a 36-year-old Fort Carson soldier who'd just returned from Iraq threatened his wife with a revolver in their Monument home and then, when the police arrived, shot and killed himself. The solder, it turned out, was William Howell, who had been part of Pogany's twelve-man team in Iraq.