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Sarah Hautzinger Research: Soldiers as Heroes or Perpetrators?

Colorado College Professor of Anthropology Sarah Hautzinger has co-authored an article in The International Journal of Human Rights titled “‘Victim/Volunteer’: Heroes versus Perpetrators and the Weight of U.S. Service members’ Pasts in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Hautzinger and Jean Scandlyn, of the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado – Denver, frequently collaborate on articles about  military service members and post-deployment issues.

In it, the authors note that the question of how military service members figure as perpetrators of human rights violations remains taboo, a painful and suppressed topic in United States’ communities with strong veteran and active-duty presences. Their 2008–2014 ethnographic, team-based anthropological fieldwork, which over the course of time included more than 20 Colorado College student researchers, focused on the Colorado Springs community and the neighboring army base, Fort Carson.

Hautzinger and Scandlyn argue that the ambiguities and contradictions between soldiers-as-perpetrators and more common and public designations for soldiers and veterans – as heroes, protectors, and volunteers, but also as victims of circumstance and injury – impede such exploration.

The researchers interviewed active-duty combat soldiers upon their return from Iraq, from the self-named “Lethal Warrior” battalion (eight of whose soldiers would later be revealed as disproportionately responsible for a rash of local murders), and shadowed them as they processed through mental health screening and attended “reintegration university.”

The researchers began with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological injuries related to combat stress, then focused on deployment stress more generally as the project expanded with participant observation at a variety of settings off-post, including homes, schools, health care providers’ offices, and other service institutions. The researchers also attended more formal town hall meetings where discussions were held about military impact and reintegration challenges, as military and civilians negotiated their relations and constructed their narrations of the wars.