Charles Keith Springle was a “kind and gentle person, just the kind of person you want in a social worker,” and he was well prepared to assist soldiers who were mentally scarred by combat.
That’s how former School of Social Work colleagues and others remembered Springle after learning that the Navy commander and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate was among five people U.S. military officials say were shot and killed at a military clinic in Baghdad on May 11. Springle, a decorated officer, husband and father of two, was 52.
Army Sgt. John Russell from Sherman, Texas, was charged in the shooting incident, which the Associated Press reported as the “deadliest case of soldier-on-soldier violence” among American forces in the six-year Iraq war. Military officials identified the other victims as an Army officer, also on the clinic staff, and three enlisted soldiers, who were at the clinic at the time of the shooting.
Springle’s 1984 School of Social Work yearbook photo
It was unclear if Springle knew Russell or if he targeted any of the victims. According to media reports, the soldier had been ordered in recent weeks to turn over his weapon and seek psychological counseling at the clinic where Springle worked.
Springle was stationed at Camp Liberty, a center that serves soldiers battling combat stress.
A licensed clinical social worker, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UNC in 1979, a master’s degree in social work from UNC in 1984 and his doctorate in social work from the University of Alabama in 2003. He was assigned to the 55th Medical Company and served as the director of the Community Counseling Center at Camp Lejeune.
Those who worked closely with Springle say he demonstrated his commitment to the men and women in the military every day. Lindsay Teplesky (MSW ’04), who worked with Springle at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in 2007, remembers how he “fought tooth and nail” to work in the adult psychiatry clinic even though he knew this troubled population could be emotionally draining. Still, Teplesky, who is currently stationed in Iraq, said Springle “had a laid-back, calming presence that was undoubtedly felt by patients and colleagues alike.”
“I could always count on him for rational, sensible guidance when I had a particularly challenging case I needed to staff,” she said.
Springle was just as concerned about ensuring that returning service members received needed mental health services at home, said Sheryl Pacelli, director of mental health education for the South East Area Health Education Center. The two met last year through the North Carolina-based Citizen Soldier Support Program. Pacelli helped develop training to assist mental health workers, clinical clergy and substance abuse counselors to recognize and assess individuals with post traumatic stress disorder. Springle led sessions around the state on that training.
“He was very excited to be a part of this,” Pacelli said, “and he always got great reviews from participants. They loved his sense of humor and thought he was so sincere and very concerned about all soldiers with PTSD.”
Springle’s training sessions were vital, Pacelli said, because often, returning soldiers, especially those in the Reserve service and National Guard, don’t seek mental health services through the Veterans Administration. Many don’t even tell their personal doctors that they have been in combat. But such information can be key to a diagnosis and proper medical attention, she said.
“That incident in itself is why this training and why treatment is so important,” Pacelli said of the Baghdad shooting. “It’s so what happened over there doesn’t happen again. So that people can get the treatment they want in a setting that they choose.”
That Springle spent much of his career in the armed services didn’t surprise Dorothy “Dee” Gamble, a former clinical associate professor at UNC’s School of Social Work. A North Carolina native, Springle had been a commander since 2002 and had served in the Navy for 21 years.
At UNC, Springle spoke passionately for those who served, Gamble recalled, and he enjoyed engaging her on the subject, despite their differing opinions on the military. “He knew that I was associated with the local chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, but it was the kind of conversation that helped us connect to each other’s perspectives,” Gamble recalled. “I thought at the time how lucky the military would be to have a social worker who deeply understood why we needed a military, but who was prepared for the tragedy and torment to young lives that an actual war could bring.
“He must have helped so many soldiers in his time. My sympathies go out to his family and all his colleagues helping other soldiers in the military.”
Jack Richman, dean of the UNC School of Social Work, echoed Gamble’s condolences and praised Springle for serving in such an important field.
“Dr. Springle was working in a critical area in terms of supporting military personnel in dealing with post traumatic stress,” Richman said. “His loss is a great loss to the field and clearly to the profession and to the military.”
Springle is survived by his wife of 25 years, Susan; his son, Corporal Charles K. Springle, Jr., USMC; his daughter, Sarah Monday and son-in-law, Sergeant Michael Monday, USMC; parents, Charles E. and Ruth B. Springle; sister, Tammy Mahouchick and husband, Dennis; brother, Cmdr.Thomas Springle (U.S. Navy, Ret.) and wife, Marilyn; sister, Donna Lynn Smith; and grandson, Joshua Phillip Monday.
Family and friends have established the Charles Keith Springle, Ph.D. Memorial Scholarship Fund for interested donors. The scholarship will support military-dependent students in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, who are working with military families or have an interest in mental health care for veterans and their families. Contributions may be made to the UNC School of Social Work (payee) c/o UNC School of Social Work Development Office, 325 Pittsboro St., Campus Box 3550, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3550.
By Susan White
Springle family sets up memorial scholarship fund
Remembering Keith Springle (NPR radio/May 20)
Keith Springle didn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer (NPR radio/June 9)
Navy counselor slain in clinic shooting laid to rest at Arlington
Uniformed Social Worker of the Year award presented to Cmdr. Springle’s family