Family fears Circle Pines Marine won't get treatment after being whisked to N.C.
By Tad Vezner Press
Updated:10/02/2009 07:48:31 AM CDT

Military mother Jamie Hafterson has one thought about her U.S. Marine son getting treatment at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I don't think they're going to treat him," said Hafterson, a member of the Minnesota Patriot Guard. "Civilian is civilian, and military is military — especially with the few and the proud."

Pvt. Travis Hafterson, of Circle Pines, who had been AWOL for roughly a month and a half — which, after 30 days, officially made him a deserter — turned himself in at Fort Snelling on Monday. The hope of his family and attorney was that he would receive psychiatric treatment in Minnesota and then be sent to Camp Lejeune for punishment, which he accepted.

Instead, Hafterson, 21, was released to the military from Ramsey County Jail on Thursday morning and taken to Camp Lejeune. Even though Hafterson wasn't in Minnesota, on Thursday afternoon a Ramsey County District Court judge ruled to commit Hafterson — in absentia — to six months of treatment at Regions Hospital.

Part of what the judge considered was that Hafterson has been diagnosed twice with post-traumatic stress disorder in the past week — including once by a jail psychiatrist.

"It got all complicated — he was going to turn himself in. We just wanted to be sure he was treated," his mother said.

A spokesperson at Camp Lejeune could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Hafterson joined the Marines out of Forest Lake High School, and from September 2007 to April 2008 was the point man of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Task Force 1-8 in the city of Ramadi in central Iraq. He was promoted to lance corporal.

Upon his return home to Circle Pines, he went to church in uniform, his mother said, and "some idiot started yelling at him about the military in Iraq."

That night he threw his "dress blues" in a corner, crying to his family: "I'm defending this country, and I'm wearing my dress blues for our fallen — not for me. I'm not wearing these for me!"

He was called up for a second tour in March, but after a month he was court-martialed and demoted for smoking marijuana and was sent home to serve the remainder of his tour stateside. The military has a zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse. According to his family and one diagnosis, the pot was Hafterson's way of coping with his disorder.

At home, several events from his first tour woke him at night or disturbed him during the day, according to a psychiatric diagnosis Saturday by Dr. Peter Meyers.

In one instance, a suicide bomber sprinted toward his platoon and detonated. Hafterson saw a good friend "ripped into 12 separate pieces" and a lieutenant's leg torn off.

He killed, several times. He was forced to arduously sever the throat of a man who had already had his arm blown off.

"My bayonet was so damn dull, it took me five minutes to cut this guy's throat," he told his mother. His girlfriend said he often woke at night, hearing the man's gurgling.

"He has talked about suicide countless times, but there are two times where I literally had to take his gun out of his hand because he felt it easier to shoot himself than to live with his conscious (sic)," his girlfriend, Lindsay Moore, of Richmond, Va., wrote in an e-mail to support the petition to commit him.

According to Hafterson's mother, he was reassigned to the headquarters division at Camp Lejeune and given leave on Aug. 10, which he took to visit family in Minnesota. The leave was rescinded two days later when Hafterson was in Minnesota. He eventually reported within a 30-day deadline, after which he would have been deemed a deserter, and was told he'd be redeployed.

He had previously asked to be redeployed with his old unit, but that wasn't up to him.

"He didn't want to be deployed with somebody he didn't know," said his mother, who urged him to come home for psychiatric treatment. Eventually, he did.

His family and a psychiatrist agreed that he needed treatment — but also that he needed to turn himself in.

The family's attorney, Ronald Bradley, contacted Fort Snelling and said he was given assurances by an officer that Hafterson would receive somewhat of a soft landing and be given help. The family, their attorney and a psychiatrist were stopped by security at Fort Snelling's gate Monday, Bradley said, and Hafterson was taken into custody and put into Ramsey County jail.

A Fort Snelling spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

The family moved to get Hafterson committed, and a hearing slated for next week was moved up to Thursday. The day before, a court ordered him held and transported to Regions Hospital, pending the hearing.

But because Hafterson had a federal warrant, he needed permission from the military to be moved from the jail. Bradley called the warrant unit for the Marine Corps asking for permission, but also told them "we probably would have a commitment order by noon Thursday."

On Tuesday, during a 3:30 p.m. shift change in cell 300B, a guard with a "high and tight" haircut walked up to him, Hafterson told his mother.

"Are you the deserter? You chicken-(expletive) mother (expletive)," the guard allegedly said.

"We tell him to keep his hands down when he's angry," his mother said. "That guard is very lucky that Travis didn't punch him in the throat and twist his head off."

Sheriff Bob Fletcher said he hadn't heard any allegation about an employee making such a comment.

Thursday morning, hours before Hafterson's committal hearing, Marines appeared at the jail and took him into their custody.

"The Ramsey County attorney's office advised us the federal warrant trumps the civil process," Fletcher said.

A letter Bradley was copied on from a Camp Lejeune official Thursday evening said they were preparing for Hafterson's condition.

"This is the first indication that there'll be any attempt to treat him. And I got it today, after dealing with this all week. Who knows if they're going to follow through or not," Bradley said, noting that during his court-martial Hafterson was told he would get treatment for chemical dependency, but Bradley later was told by a camp chaplain that such programs were not available for active-duty personnel.

"I get the feeling that they know it's (PTSD) there," Bradley said, "but there's so much of it there, they're worried about opening the floodgates."

Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report. Tad Vezner can be reached at 651-228-5461.