Longform

The Good Soldier

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The Behavioral Health Department at Evans has also stepped up its mental-health care efforts, she says, developing programs to readily identify and treat these problems. "With very few exceptions, soldiers can walk into the clinic without an appointment," she says. "By implementing these changes, it will reduce the time it takes to get an appointment and time spent waiting in the clinic to see a provider."

And — most surprising — Pogany, whose mug was once on Wanted posters across the base, now has the ear of Fort Carson's commander.


The phone calls are endless. Always look on the bright side of life... Soldiers, mothers, wives, looking for someone, anyone, who will listen, understand, maybe even help. Always look on the bright side of life... They come at night, on weekends, even during vacations. Always look on the bright side of life... They're calls Pogany has a hard time ignoring. One of the latest is from Denver resident Joel Hunt, a former Army specialist who was medically retired in October for chronic foot pain, a disability his Fort Carson superiors concluded didn't warrant a medical pension or health insurance. But Pogany has met with Hunt and knows that this veteran, who had a hard time filling out his own forms, has more problems than just a bad foot.

Collins, Pogany's girlfriend, worries about the constant phone calls. Maybe it's genetic, she thinks, a rebellious gene passed down from his insurgent father: "Asking him not to do this is like asking him not to breathe." Sometimes she wonders if it's something else, if he's fighting the same battle over and over again that started with his cowardice charge. "I think he struggles to keep balance in his life," she says. "What's his quote? 'If you want peace, fight for justice.' I think that's what drew him to the military, and that's why he does what he does now. I don't know anyone who is so persistent and committed."

Pogany's friends and colleagues say he's come a long way since he left the Army, since he was stuck in the toilet. He's found his calling, they say, and it's helped him get busy living. But even Pogany admits he's still broken, shattered — a fact he lives with every day. "It's a process," he says. "I'm definitely not all the way there. You have to understand, healing is ongoing. It's not something you do once and it's done."

Every time he drives through Monument on the way to Fort Carson, for example, he sees the face of his teammate Bill Howell, who put a gun to his own head and pulled the trigger. He used to dream about Howell, him and Kelly Hornbeck, his team sergeant who was killed in Iraq. "The Bill Howell dream was always the same. He and I meet up and talk. And he just says, 'Everything is going to be fine. Everything is gong to be okay. You will be okay.'" His dreams of Hornbeck, who called him a coward and refused him help in Iraq, aren't so encouraging. In one, Pogany runs into an old girlfriend at an airport. "She said, 'Hey, I want you to meet my new husband,'" Pogany remembers. "Then the guy turned around and it's Kelly, and half his head is blown off."

Now there's another casualty from his Special Forces team. Pogany just got the call: Lehman, the medic who'd passed out the Lariam pills, the Green Eggs and Ham guy, had checked himself into an on-base hotel last week, numbed his arm with Lidocaine, and then sliced himself up and bled to death — the day after Pogany had seen him. "What are the odds of me running into him the day before he takes his own life?" Pogany wonders, shaking his head. "I wish I could have..."

He trails off, thinking of their brief conversation. Lehman had talked about Iraq; how, in hindsight, Lariam had messed up everyone on the team. "Manic Mondays," they'd call the days they took the pills. Laughing, he even brought up the Green Eggs and Ham thing. But Lehman, looking disheveled, also mentioned his problems now, his PTSD and TBI, and said was hoping Pogany could help him. Pogany gave him his card, and then that was it. "He took his green beret out of his pocket, put it on and walked out the door," Pogany remembers. "That was the last time I saw him."

They next time he sees him may be in his dreams.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner