Capt. Peter J.N. Linnerooth was an amazing Army psychologist who served in Baghdad, Iraq. He was nicknamed “The Wizard” by his colleagues because of his “magic” ability to help people through the most horrific situations by creating a rapport with empathy and a big heart. He had been concerned with the mental health and suicide rate of soldiers even before working with them.
Many soldier leaned on him as he served thousands in the camps and was called on to do a myriad of jobs that he was not trained to do, but did anyway just to help out. He blasted heavy medal music to drown out the outside world while in his office. Yet, when he was able to sleep, he took all of his personal images and those of the soldiers he talked with and dreamt of them vividly.
There were only three mental health personnel for the camp, and he was the only one with a Doctorate of Psychology. While on tour, he ended up on anti-depressants, as did one of his colleagues. He had finally come to the point where he just didn’t know how to handle all of the stories and things he had seen any longer. He went to one of the doctors. The doctor asked if he was going to hurt himself. He responded he didn’t know. He would be leaving as a suicide risk. His own demons and those of others had become too much for him to bear.
In 2007, just a few months short of his 15 month tour, he was sent to Germany and then home. In 2008, after 6 years in the army, he tried to get back into the life he had left behind as a professor, but the trivialness of the concerns of the students and his inability deal with what he had been through made that tough. He nearly overdosed on pills in 2009 in an attempt to just make the pain stop. He realized his mistake and regretted the pain he brought to his wife and kids. He went to marriage counseling to try and save what was left of the life he knew, but he still wasn’t able to talk. His marriage crumbled and ended in divorce.
His behavior at work had brought a friend to suggest a leave of absence so he could get himself together. He headed out to California to get help from his friend Brock McNabb whom was one of the others on the mental health team in Baghdad.
Linnerooth joined McNabb at the Santa Cruz County Vet Center. There he seemed to turn his life around. He lost some weight, shaved his long beard, and spent his evenings talking with McNabb. He kept in contact with his children on the phone nightly and by Skype, sometimes just watching them watch TV. He was helping vets while he himself was also dealing with his PTSD.
In 2010, he started to speak out more on the pressures and stress on military psychologists. He talked to the New York Times and Time Magazine about how there just weren’t enough mantel health experts to deal with all the needs of the soldiers. In the magazine, he also accused the Army of being criminally negligent. He then joined another former Army psychologist, Bret Moore whom he had befriended in Iraq, to write an academic paper about professional burnout. He was finally getting all of the things he had held in so long out of him in a more productive manner.
In July 2011, Linnerooth seemed happy enough and became married for the second time in Lake Tahoe to a woman he had met a decade before. This marriage became strained as well though. He also began missing deadlines for the academic paper. Moore had to go over all of Linnerooth’s work because there was so much anger toward the military as well as his personal life reflected. An American Psychological Association journal published the paper in 2011.
He moved to Reno to be with his new wife and to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Unfortunately, as he approached a two-year deadline for a state license required by the VA, he did not go take the test, even at teh urging of McNabb. He felt betrayed once again when the VA was forced to let him go, even though they had stated they would rehire him when he completed the requirements necessary for the position.
Last summer Linnerooth moved back to Minnesota so he could see his children daily. He did travel back to California for the birth of his son with his second wife.
During the holidays things were busy. Texts to his mother thanking her for the kids gifts. Pictures of his infant son sent to his sister. January 1, 2013 was spent with his older son and plans were being made to visit his infant son again.
On January 2nd, a lethal combination of too much alcohol, a fight with his wife, and a gun ended his life at the age of 42. He left a note giving instructions of what he wanted done from there, but nothing about why he had done the unthinkable, committed suicide. It seemed all the demons he had taken on had finally become too much for him to bear.
Mc Nabb stated Linnerooth did not want to die, he just wanted the pain to end. The man whom had taken on the burdens of so many, never learned how to let his own burdens go. He wanted to help others and not be a burden himself. From the time he was a child, his adoptive mother noticed how he would not open up and instead locked himself in his room to deal with things from a very young age.
Linnerooth’s Army buddies came in from all across the country and celebrated him. They placed a Motorhead T-shirt over his urn as they toasted him with rum and scotch. The next day, his family and friends gathered at Fort Snelling National Cemetery to say their final good-byes.
On a cloudless, 4-degree morning in Minnesota, amid taps and a 21-gun salute, Captain Peter J.N. Linnerooth was laid to rest. McNabb presented Linnerooth’s Bronze Star to his older son and reminded him how proud his dad was of him.
McNabb was given the responsibility of the writing on the headstone. He grappled with how to sum up a man’s life whom had helped so many in 30 characters or less. When the headstone arrived in February, it had the traditional name and military service engraved on it. The epitaph summed up his great deeds to those with the fortune to come his way in few words:
HE SAVED MANY
NOW HE’S HOME.