Several people asked me to weigh in on this one, so I guess I'll take a shot at it. This is an uncomfortable subject for all the obvious reasons.
Tillman's parents are outraged, and his brother is in a very difficult position. I can't blame anyone for being angry. The WaPo ran a two-part story on the subject, and it took a predictable point of view- this story is about the victims (Tillman and his surviving family) and the villains (all rolled up into a faceless entity called "the Army"). I knew that I would disagree with the premise as soon as I read the headline for part two of the story- "Army Spun Tale Around Ill-Fated Mission." Right. There goes the evil "Army" spinning tales again. Let's go in a little deeper...
As the facts continue to surface, there were clearly some contributing factors that helped the tragedy to unravel. The conditions were set by an unnecessary sense of urgency combined with an ill-advised decision to split up the platoon in an area where line-of-sight communications would be rendered totally useless. Leadership failures happen at all levels from time to time- they rarely result in fratricide. Fratricides usually happen when poor planning and/or poor decision-making combine with any amount of bad luck and usually some degree of enemy activity. This was one of those situations.
I doubt the line-of-site issues even came up when the platoon leader argued with his company commander over whether or not to split the platoon. I doubt they discussed the implications of having allied Afghan fighters (who could easily be mistaken for Taliban fighters in the fading light) in the mix. When the pressure's on and people are nervous, these are the things that are sometimes overlooked. The enemy apparently struck, and a series of blunders culminated with a gun truck unloading on Pat Tillman and his Afghan partner. He apparently did everything in his power to prevent it from happening. When he realized his radio was useless, he used a smoke grenade to mark his position. This supposedly stopped the shooting for a few seconds. When he emerged from the smoke with his arms waving and him screaming "I'm Pat F'n Tillman!" (Afghan ally by his side), the gun truck apparently spotted the Afghan, mistook him for Taliban, and unloaded on them. It also seems that the gunners in the truck were inexperienced, scared, and altogether reckless.
I still haven't seen anything even resembling a solid account of what happened to the Taliban attackers. Were they really ever there? Personally, I need to see more evidence- it still seems quite possible that the Rangers who reported seeing enemy fighters might have been looking at their buddies. The one thing we know for certain is that explosions did happen. Apparently, it was impacting mortar rounds. When a round impacts right between two separate friendly elements with faulty communications who are operating in rugged terrain as darkness unfolds- it can result in something much worse than a direct hit- I believe that's what happened in this case. There may have been enemy fighters present- maybe not. I don't think it matters either way. The explosion went off and it set everything in motion. The enemy scored a dreadfully lucky shot. Whatever the case, Pat Tillman acted properly and heroically- of that I have no doubt. Others in his unit and chain of command made what turned out to be deadly mistakes. Having said that, I am 100% certain that "kill America's most well-known hero" was not on any Ranger's checklist that day.
The WaPo's major indictment was simple- the Army was deceitful at worst and incompetent at best in it's handling of the case- and now the Tillman's are justifiably eager for some heads to roll. I'm not a defense attorney- but I think there are some extenuating circumstances here that are worth mentioning. I'll try to lay it out as best I can- specifically by answering the question- just who are they talking about when they say "The Army" spun a tale around the ill-fated mission? Let's put some faces on this "villain" and see if it's really that simple.
First of all, nobody was trying to hurt Tillman's family or save anyone from due justice here. The Army officials were dealing with a vast array of internal struggles that occur whenever fratricide happens. Sorting through the facts often takes a long time- fog of war and strained emotions always generate several versions of the truth. As I mentioned- the disposition of the alleged enemy gunmen is yet to be resolved. Sometimes people will generate "false memories" (lies) in an effort to paint a more "tolerable" picture for the victim's family. The intentions are almost always kind-hearted and sincere- it's the results that often generate the unforeseen feelings of betrayal and disgust. Senator John McCain, ever the diplomat, came up with what might be the only words that could possibly describe it- "you may have at least a subconscious desire here to portray the situation in the best light, which may not have been totally justified."
One of the terrible things that come with such tragedies, and this was not even mentioned by the WaPo, is the myriad of soldiers who end up feeling like cold-blooded murderers. That feeling of guilt will never leave them. All parties involved will feel it. Not just the triggermen in that truck- it's the commanders who rushed the mission, the company commander who ordered the split, the platoon leader who lost control in the chaos, and several others I'm sure.
There's a reason why the men involved refused to talk about the incident with the WaPo reporter. It makes them sick. Every single day. It's the first thing they think about when they wake up in the morning, and it's the last thing they think about when they go to bed at night.
Sure, punishments were administered in one form or another- the article dismisses them as "slaps on the wrist," but I can tell you that in the "officer world" a "slap on the wrist" is often a career killer- they may get promoted once or twice, but they certainly won't achieve the goals they had set out for themselves. These are people with families- and futures that will no longer play out the way that they had envisioned. But no amount of punishment could ever compare to the stomach-grinding guilt that these officers and soldiers will live with every single day of their lives. Please forgive the Army officials for not wanting to string these people up and administer public floggings.
I would argue that the WaPo is wrong- there are no American villains in this story- only victims. Lots of them. My hope is that the Tillman family can accept this someday- and leave it at that.
Silent Majority Becoming Less Silent
Our favorite Small Town Vet brings us an email from an Iraqi who sounds off about the Marine in Fallujah:
I just spoke to my father in Baghdad. I asked him if there is any further mention of the U.S. Marine taped killing the terrorist in the Mosque last month in Felujah. He says there was not much mention at the time and there is sporadic mention of it now. Most of the news about it and what people talk about is in favor to what the Marine did. Most Iraqis including Sunnis are fed up with the terrorists and are very please with the strong stance we are taking against the terrorists. Terrorist who hide in a mosque deserve no sanctuary is the general sentiment. Sunni Mullahs who are still trying to make an issue of it are seeing people leave their mosques. Sunnis also feel that our Marine did the right thing, and wish us to continue to kill these terrorist.
Read the whole post- looks like this Haider Ajina guy is becoming a self-appointed spokesman for the "good" people in Iraqi- the ones who are tired of being ignored while the MSM gives voice to the lunatic radicals who enjoy cutting off heads and blowing up children.
Thanks for sharing, Bill.
Former SEAL Matt Heidt of Froggy Ruminations gave his $0.02 regarding the SEAL photos:
Unfortunately, this is not all the NCIS' fault, because somebody in the platoon took the pictures, and perhaps that same somebody let their wife see them. If that somebody is the same somebody in both instances then somebody might want to rethink bringing their camera on deployment next time. It has been a well-known unwritten rule that no pictures are taken of activities occurring away from home. This rule is in place for a reason, and its violation has caused marriages to end, and other distasteful consequences to occur in the past.
But while the Navy refuses to identify the SEALs that have been subject to Article 32 hearings in a related trumped up case, the WaPo has seen fit to publish unredacted photographs of active duty SEALs in its web addition, and probably in print as well. If the WaPo wants to hate Bush and his "war for oil" that's fine, but our Special Operators deserve the benefit of the doubt at a minimum, let alone having their mugshot beamed around the world.
Very true about the "no pictures" policy. We need to crack down on the "stupid camera tricks."
For more than 8 months, I lived less than 1 mile from the detainee facility in Mosul. Signs were everywhere- "Absolutely NO PICTURES!" For what it's worth, I never once saw (or heard of) anyone violating this rule while I was there.
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I've been getting lots of emails from people who want to send care packages or other niceties to me and my buddies. Thanks to everyone for caring- we really do appreciate it. Don't worry about me- I'm outta here in just a few short weeks. But if you want to help some of my buddies who are still up north fighting the good fight- I think this My Soldier program might be a good place to start. If you sign up, please send me some updates on how you liked it and all that. Thanks!