Copyright by John T. Reed
Where Men Win Glory is a biography of NFL football player turned Army ranger Pat Tillman and the cover-up of the facts of his death by the Army. Krakauer was unable to obtain the cooperation of Tillman’s blood relatives and they have denounced him and his book publicly. He did obtain the cooperation of Tillman’s widow Marie. He also did extensive journalistic work including traveling to Afghanistan twice and reading all the pertinent documents and books.
The book seemed too wide ranging to me and other reviewers. Some background was necessary to understand Pat Tillman and the Afghan war. All page numbers below are for the 2009 hardcover edition.
As far as whether Krakauer got it right, I did see some minor errors regarding military stuff. For example, he mentioned the “front lean & rest” position. That is the starting position for a push-up. The correct phrase is “front leaning rest.” He also characterizes Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s decision to pursue an “economy of force” strategy with contributing to Tillman’s death. “Economy of force” is not a Rumsfeldian strategy. It is one of the nine principles of war. It means,
Employ all combat power available in the most effective way possible; allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts. Economy of force is the judicious employment and distribution of forces. No part of the force should ever be left without purpose. The allocation of available combat power to such tasks as limited attacks, defense, delays, deception, or even retrograde operations is measured in order to achieve mass elsewhere at the decisive point and time on the battlefield. (Army Field Manual FM 3-0)
For the record, the U.S. military is incapable of economy of anything. It is probably the most wasteful, inefficient, large organization in the U.S. I was in the Army for eight years and can recall not a single memory of any mention or effort to be efficient or economize. Their attitude is money is no object and the American people need to give us whatever we want instantly.
These errors about military matters indicate there was no fact-checker or proof reader with military knowledge. That is surprising and disappointing in a 383-page hardcover book published by a major publisher: Doubleday.
Krakauer seems to suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome and evidence of it surfaces repeatedly in the book. President George W. Bush learned of the cover-up of the truth about Tillman’s death before the public did and Bush appears to have done nothing to end the cover-up. He also was commander in chief at the time Tillman was killed. Beyond that, I am not aware of any need to mention Bush in the book. But there are repeated denunciations of Bush sprinkled throughout it.
The strength of the book is that Krakauer ascertained the names of all the players and names them, including the soldier who killed Tillman, Trevor Alders. Other documentaries seem determined to protect most players below the rank of colonel. I do not understand that and I even heard Amir Bar-Lev, the director of The Tillman Story movie get asked that question and listened to his answer and I did not find it logical or persuasive. See my review of his movie.
Krakauer also employs some devices I learned about in my investigative reporter training like lists of all the people involved including their names and ranks and jobs, maps of the events, and photographic diagrams showing where each key figure was during the events leading up to Tillman’s death. He does not provide a timeline , another standard investigative reporter technique, but there is one at http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=tillmantimeline. There is another Tillman timeline at http://uspolitics.about.com/od/wariniraq/a/pat_tillman.htm.
The U.S. Army committed two categories of crime involving the Tillman family:
• they killed Pat
• they lied and continue to lie about the details of his death and the subsequent cover-up
Almost no one was punished and the few who were got featherweight slaps on the wrist. The whole thing is an outrage and Krakauer does a good job of conveying that.
Krakauer sort of allocates blame for both the killing and the cover-up. I will try to do a better job of that than he did. I am a West Point graduate, airborne ranger Vietnam platoon leader. I was in the Signal (communications) branch, not the infantry like Tillman’s unit. I volunteered for, and was sent to Vietnam to be the communications officer of, D Company 75th Rangers. One of my West Point classmates with the same resume arrived the day before me and got the job instead. I am not aware of whether he wanted that assignment. Tillman was in A Company of the 75th Rangers.
I have never been to Afghanistan or Iraq and had no involvement with the recent wars. So there are more qualified men than I to allocate blame. However, I have found throughout my life that the vast majority of those who know, especially about bureaucratic screw-ups like the Tillman death and cover-up, are unwilling to say. So we are left with a situation where my willingness to say becomes a case of:
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
I hope those who know better than I will write their views of the blame allocation. But I have learned not to hold my breath.
I will allocate blame on both the macro and micro levels. By macro I mean things like Tillman’s decision to enlist in the Army and request assignment to the rangers and to Iraq and Afghanistan and President Bush/Congress’s decision to invade and occupy Afghanistan. By micro I mean the tactics and decisions made by Tillman’s 75th Ranger Regiment personnel on the several days of the mission on which Tillman was killed.
My fellow West Point graduates played many roles in these events including both in the killing and the cover-up, mainly the latter.
Here are their names, West Point classes, and jobs:
|Name||West Point class||Job relating to Tillman|
|Lieutenant David A. Uthlaut*||2001||Platoon leader|
|Captain William Saunders||I cannot tell if this guy was West Point. His name is too common including among West Point graduates.||Company commander|
|Major David M. Hodne||1991||“cross-functional team commander,” whatever that is, on 2nd Ranger Battalion staff (apparently the S-3 or operations officer)|
|Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich**||1988||Executive Officer (2nd in command) 75th Ranger Regiment|
|Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, Jr.||1970||Commander U.S. Army Special Operations Command|
|Major General Stanley A. McChrystal||1976||Commander Joint Special Operations Command|
|General John Abizaid||1973||CENTCOM Commander|
|Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody||1972||co-briefer of media with Army Secretary Geren on 7/31/0|
* David Uthlaut was the First Captain of his West Point class. That is the top cadet in the student body military chain of command also know as the brigade commander of the corps of cadets. Other Cadet First Captains in West Point history include Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, John J. Pershing, William Westmoreland, and Pete Dawkins. I did not know any first captains personally but I would say they are generally guys who are popular and respected by both peers and the officers stationed at West Point, they are often athletic and excellent students, and they are typically handsome recruiting-poster types. Notwithstanding the above list of famous former first captains, many have totally undistinguished careers as Army officers or may not even have stayed in the Army past their commitment. That is as you would expect when you try to spot future stars in the summer before their senior year of college. First captains are very good at making a good impression on the cadets and faculty at West Point during their first three years there. Whether they are good at anything else is to be determined and there is often little correlation between First Captaincy and later success in life. There have been over 200 first captains. The list of the famous above only contains five of them. One of my Harvard Business School MBA classmates was First Captain of a well-known non-West Point military college. He flunked out of Harvard Business.
A number of people seem to have become friends with Uthlaut and are extremely reluctant to criticize him at all. Perhaps it is good and useful that I do not know him because I think the others who do are biased by his personality. I have no interest in any of that. I am just trying to extract lessons to prevent this from happening again. I want to write about what Uthlaut should have done. I am not interested in bending over backwards to protect him because he is a handsome, nice guy, fellow West Point graduate.
I graduated from West Point in 1968.
Krakauer starts his story with the day Tillman died. The first event was a humvee belonging to Second Platoon Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment breaking down. Why? Apparently humvees built to U.S. Army specifications are way to fragile for the terrain in Afghanistan. Probably no vehicle can handle that terrain. They should be using horses and mules. Really. People often joke about what a great invention the wheel was. Actually, the wheel wasn’t and isn’t worth a shit without another invention called the road. In Afghanistan, the road had not yet been invented when Tillman died in 2004.
Whose fault? The guys who thought Uthlaut’s platoon could accomplish their mission with humvees, the guys who told the Army Humvees would work in Afghanistan off road, the guys who refused to send enough Chinook helicopters to Afghanistan so the broken down humvee could be airlifted out, the officer who said you could not abandon or destroy a humvee in combat unless you got permission from a general in Fort Bragg, NC; the officer who refused Platoon leader Lieutenant Uthlaut’s request to keep the whole platoon together as it dragged the broken-down humvee back to the distant paved road where it could be towed, and perhaps Lieutenant Uthlaut for allowing a bunch of Afghans to listen in the discussion to hire an Afghan with a truck to tow the humvee. This discussion including telling what route the platoon was going over—necessary information for ambushing them. Lieutenant Uthlaut should, in my opinion, refused the order to split the platoon and continue on the mission to visit the village of Mana with half of it and should have headed back to the paved road with the whole platoon as soon as the situation was clear. Might Uthlaut refusing that order have ended Uthlaut’s career. Yup. His not refusing it may have ended Tillman’s and Sayed Farhad’s (Afhgan ally killed next to Tillman) lives.
I finished writing a book called How to Protect Your Life Savings From Hyperinflation & Depression 6/21/10. Researching that, I became alarmed at the grotesque and suicidal deficit spending and borrowing the U.S. has been doing for decades. It appears likely that our nation’s defacto current bankruptcy contributed to Tillman’s death. We have far too few troops in Afghanistan. That country is four times the size of South Vietnam yet we have only about one-third as many troops per square mile in Afghanistan as we had in South Vietnam. We have far too few Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan. They are the only ones strong enough for many of the high altitudes in Afghanistan and the only way to remove broken-down vehicles where there are no roads. Finally, the fact that you have to get permission from Fort Bragg, NC to abandon and/or destroy a humvee in a combat zone manifests an impoverished Army that regards broken down vehicles as worth risking dozens of lives—and, in this case, losing the lives of Tillman and Farhad—to retrieve the humvee. In Vietnam, we would have abandoned it, perhaps blowing it up with C-4 to deny any benefit to the enemy. We would barely have called our battalion headquarters about it, let alone some General in Fort Bragg, NC.
The division of Uthlaut’s platoon into two groups is reminiscent of General George Custer’s decision to make a similar mistake at the Little Big Horn leading to the deaths of all Custer’s men in Custer’s Last Stand.
Krakauer reports in his growing-up discussion that Pat was “skeptical of conventional wisdom…trust in himself and unafraid to buck the herd.” Someone should have told Pat that such people are hated and attacked by the Army. He did not suffer overtly from that, but it was a background morale problem for him throughout his time in the Army. Had he been an ordinary Joe instead of famous, he would have been overtly punished for his independent mind set.
I am the author of a book titled Football Clock Management. It has a zillion actual case histories. One of the most intriguing and longest in the book was the 1997 Rose Bowl between Arizona State and Ohio State. ASU was undefeated at the time and would have probably shared the national championship if they had won. The game is famous for Jake the Snake Plummer’s miraculous comeback to take the lead but that was followed by OSU’s Joe Germane leading an even more spectacular comeback that won it.
ASU lost because their Coach Bruce Snyder called a hurry-up timeout when he should have called a slowdown timeout. Until I read Krakauer’s book, I did not realize Pat Tillman played in that game. My explanation of how Pat Tillman’s ASU lost the Rose Bowl and national championship because of a momentary technical coach mistake parallels the way Pat later lost his life. Bruce Snyder was supposed to know how to manage the clock. He did not and it cost his team enormously. The Army claims it knows how to fight in Afghanistan. It does not and it cost Pat Tillman his life. I have urged the Army to learn from football coaches in my web article “A football coach analyzes U.S. military tactics and strategy.” One of its main points is do more film study. Tillman was killed by the same mistakes that the U.S. Army has made again and again for decades, not anything new. The reason is they refuse to even admit their mistakes, much less learn from them.
Before I published that analysis of the ASU-OSU Rose Bowl, I sent a copy of it to Snyder for his comments. He did not respond. He was famous for putting losses behind him with no further thought about them. But I later read in Sports illustrated that he had forced himself to go back and look at that film and he explicitly mentioned that he looked at the timeout usage. His mistake in that game was clear to me at the time because of my research into clock management as I was writing the book. But it was a subtle mistake at the time to almost all football coaches because my book did not come out until the end of the following season. So I am pretty sure Snyder made the timeout comment because of my analysis. He has since died. (The mistake was he was correctly in a hurry-up trying to take the lead at the end of the game. But after he made a huge gain on a long pass, he needed to switch to a slowdown because he then had more than enough time to go the remaining distance to the goal line. He did switch to a slowdown with regard to calling for subsequent snaps, but after a sack, he panicked and called a hurry-up timeout (soon after the end of the previous play). He should have called a slowdown timeout (at the end of the play clock) if at all. The extra time he left on the clock gave OSU the time it needed to do its comeback. Krakauer actually mentions the timeout on page 71, but he gives no indication of its significance. Indeed, hardly anyone but readers of my clock book know, to this day, why that game was lost (as defined by the easiest mistake to fix).
Note: In another of the occasional mistakes in Kaka’s book, he says the 1997 Rose Bowl was played in Anaheim. Actually, it was played in the Rose Bowl, which is now and always has been in Pasadena, pretty far from Anaheim. Anaheim is famous for being the location of Disneyland.
It appears from the facts that Tillman would not have died if any of the above humvee-related mistakes had not occurred, let alone all of them.
Tillman’s success in college and pro football was unlikely. He was relatively short and light for his position of linebacker in college and strong safety in the NFL. But he was the Pac-10 defensive player of the year and led the NFL Cardinals in tackles. Sports Illustrated’s “Dr. Z” (Paul Zimmerman) put Tillman on his all-pro team (NFL all-star team), albeit Pat did not make the actual All-Pro team which is selected by less knowledgeable people than Zimmerman. (Zimmerman has since suffered a stroke and can no longer communicate.) Krakauer does an excellent job of detailing Pat’s unlikely success as a guy who was not expected to even play college football let alone star there and in the NFL. He did it with determination and shrewdness and hard work like extra film of the next opponent. He also went full speed at every opportunity. In his first NFL camp when he was trying to make the team, he hit a veteran running back so hard he ended the man’s career on that play. Clean hit; unfortunate knee injury.
Krakauer’s football discussion is probably worth the price of the book alone for football fans. Although he does suggest that if Tillman had made the same number of tackles on a better team than the Cardinals, he would have made the Pro-Bowl (all-star game). Actually, I think the fact that a strong safety made so many tackles was a manifestation of the weakness of the Cardinals. Good teams are strong everywhere so the opposing offense has to attack everywhere trying to find a weak spot. The fact that strong safety Tillman made the most tackles on the Cardinals that year tells me that the strong (same side as the tight end of the offense) side of the Cardinal defensive line was a weak spot that opponents often exploited. If one player makes an extraordinary number of tackles, the opponents must have been running toward him or his teammates in front of him a lot. As a defensive back, Tillman was a rear line of defense. Offenses might be able to drive up and down the field against a team where the strong safety was making a lot of tackles because they may have gained four or five yards a play by the time the strong safety gets to the ball carrier. I am not denigrating Tillman’s number of tackles. “Dr. Z” did put him on his pro bowl team. I am just acknowledging that analyzing football player performance may not be Krakauer’s strong suit.
I do not suffer from Bush-can-do-no-wrong syndrome. On page 123, Krakauer quotes President Bush’s post-9/11 speech from the oval office which was broadcast, among other places to the football stadium JumboTron where Tillman was playing NFL football. hat speech contains five lies related to Tillman’s death:
|Bush said||I say|
|A Commander-in Chief sends America’s sons and daughters into a battle in a foreign land only after the greatest care and a lot of prayer.||That’s what they should do, but we should not have occupied either Iraq or Afghanistan. Invading Afghanistan probably made sense in the aftermath of 9/11. Osama Bin Laden was there. But our invasion of Iraq was probably not warranted. Occupation was a bad idea in both cases. The last time we should have invaded countries militarily was probably World War II and Desert Storm. Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon, etc. were all situations where the commander in chief did not take the greatest care. If you could somehow make George W. Bush tell the real truth, I expect he regrets invading Iraq and occupying Afghanistan and would not do either if he had it to do over.|
|Your mission is defined||
Bullshit! Here is a truly defined mission regarding the D-Day invasion in World War II:
You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.
That was the mission given to General of the Armies Dwight Eisenhower by the Commander in Chief of the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I have no idea what the hell our military mission is in Iraq or Afghanistan. I am not even sure who the enemy is in Iraq.
|your objectives are clear||“Show presence!?” “Boots on the ground!?” what the hell kind of clarity is that?|
|you will have every tool you need to carry out your duty||except enough Chinooks, enough troops, enough artillery, sturdy vehicles, enough authority to make appropriate local decision without having to consult for-away bureaucrats|
|Will will not waiver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail.||We did all those things in the second half of the Korean War, in Vietnam, in Lebanon, in Somalia. The jury is still out on Iraq and I see no net progress in Afghanistan, which is already America’s longest-ever war. I think the most likely end in Afghanistan will be a Vietnam style bug out. Iraq could go either way.|
In his Bush Derangement mode, Krakauer complains at length about the Bush v. Gore U.S. Supreme Court decision. He says it was decided 5-4 leaving out that the Court decided 7-2 that the Florida recount law was unconstitutional. But more to the point, what did that case have to do with Pat Tillman other than it happening during his lifetime and resulting in the first term of Tillman’s commander in chief? Like most who hate Bush, Krakauer seems to hold Bush responsible for the court decision and sort of seems to be implying that it was all part of Bush’s evil plan to sell the war in Iraq including using Tillman’s death for that purpose. it is one of a number of subjects that are in the book but should not be.
Krakauer tells how Bin Laden got away in Tora Bora—bribing old friends from the Soviet war days. Interesting but I am not sure it’s necessary to tell Tillman’s story.
Krakauer begins each chapter with a quote—all very well chosen. His book title is from one of them. Part Two begins with this one:
War is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics and of troops by politicians.
There is no question that Pat Tillman was young, idealistic, and a troop. And there is no question he was betrayed by almost every non-family member that he trusted in his decision to enlist and service in the Army. On page 161 he is quoted from his diary after completing basic and advanced infantry training:
All our altruistic goals coming into this place have been ignored and trampled on. As we move along we expect to meet more people who are here [to accomplish] good as opposed to, “being here because they have to be here.”
The word “we” refers to Pat and his bother Kevin who enlisted with him. His expectations of meeting more people with altruistic goals refers to his future ranger colleagues. Later, on page 167, he tells his diary of his pending deployment to Iraq,
All we ask is that it is duly noted that we harbor no illusions of virtue.
He is referring to the noble goals they had of serving their country and freedom and all that when they enlisted as contrasted with the invasion of Iraq which Pat Tillman believed was illegal. In other words, Pat had realized at that point that he had been betrayed by the old, the cynical, and the politicians. He had enlisted in the abstract, heroic, noble Army of his Hollywood images and civics class description only to find himself in the real Army,the opposite of the mythical one.
When he as not chosen to go on a mission in Iraq—left behind the guard humvees, he wrote,
I want to fucking hurt something. I threw away or postponed a great deal to come here. Here, nothing is based on merit. Everything has to do with time in battalion, time of rank—no comment on ability, aptitude, or skill. Fuck this place.
Another topic that takes too much space in the book is the Jessica Lynch story. Remember that she was the transportation company clerk in a convoy run by Captain Troy King. Early in the Iraq war. King got lost repeatedly and ended up wandering around Nasiriyah. The Iraqis could not believe their good luck and shot the convoy to pieces.
Lynch was hurt in a resulting vehicle accident and was captured by the Iraqis and put in one of their hospitals. Later, U.S. special ops guys made a big deal of rescuing her. Her story was hyped and exaggerated like Pat’s was later. Lynch angrily denied all the heroics attributed to her. Pat was part of the rescue and was disgusted that it was postponed a day for no reason other than to wait for a camera crew so they could get film of their heroics. He also complained that they used a zillion too many men. There was little or no resistance. They basically just checked her out of the hospital, but made it look like some Hollywood secret mission against great odds.
If any were needed, the story of the Lynch convoy is one SNAFU after another as if the Three Stooges were acting out one of their comedy scripts. Broken gas pumps, wrong type of radio, being strafed and bombed by the U.S. Air National Guard, etc. etc. Oh, and the U.S. military lied about what happened in the Lynch disaster.
Krakauer pauses in the Lynch story to get in a dig at Karl Rove whom he said “managed public perception by means of deceit.” I don’t know Rove personally but I see him on TV and he seems like a pretty good guy. In any event, it did not relate to the Tillman story. Krakauer was published by Doubleday. Don’t they have any non-deragement-syndrome editors to remove these partisan Democrat digressions from the advertised story?
Krakauer seems to indicate that Pat was motivated in part by “masculine pride” and wanting a Combat Infantryman Badge. That is a sort of medal that says you were actually in combat with the enemy for a time. The criterion for earning it seem to go up and down with the situation. One reader told me in Desert Storm the CIB was called the “Crossed Iraqi Border” badge because that was all you had to do to get it. My impression is that its basic idea is that not 100% will get it in a given war but they will darned well make sure than a whole bunch of infantry guys get it. So in a short war without much fighting like Desert Storm, you get it for almost nothing. In Vietnam, you needed six months of combat patrols or some such. A surprising number of top generals never got it. See my article on military medals.
I do not mean to diminish Pat’s patriotism or any of that. Neither does Krakauer. We are just noting this is part of the equation. Among the reasons young men go into combat are hoping to test and prove themselves, to gather war stories to tell later, to win medals, to be admired, to gain mystique. Krakauer seems to be saying that not even NFL star Tillman was immune to that lure. I am not surprised and I would point out that if “he who is without desire for any of that” is the only one allowed to fight the U.S. military will have almost no soldiers or marines.
In addition to being hazed at basic training, advanced infantry training, and parachutist school, Pat and Kevin were hazed when they arrived at their ranger unit. Based on what? They were “new guys” and had not yet attended ranger school. For example, when Pat was 26-year old former NFL star, he was once told by some 20-year old ranger twit to shine his boots, scuff them up, then shine them again. Pat said he would shine them once but no scuff and second shine “…because that’s just retarded.” He got “counseled” for such “misbehavior.” I was always getting “counseled,” too—in my case for refusing to sign false documents and for refusing to do stuff that was supposed to be voluntary like attending parties hosted by colonels, forcing my men to buy savings bonds, joining the officers club, etc. I went through it so much that I memorized the “counseling” session. You can read it at my article, “Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?” It is probably almost identical to what Tillman was put through.
Make no mistake, maybe a little bit of hazing makes sense in basic training to transform the whiny immature recruit into a mature responsible soldier. But the Army’s habit of putting you through this shit whenever you encounter some nobody with a slightly longer resume than your with regard to some trivia like having graduating from basic before you or having gone to ranger school a couple of months before you is stupid, stupid, stupid. Making the Tillmans go through it—both former late twenties professional athletes who had to go through it in their sports teams, is really stupid.
When he was getting ready to go to ranger school, Pat Tillman flunked the Army Physical Fitness Test. Had he allowed himself to get out of shape? Not really. So what happened? The sergeant running the test disallowed “several” of his sit-ups. In my ranger school article, I told of sergeants flunking newly minted, extremely fit West Point graduates similarly by disallowing reps of an exercise—apparently arbitrarily or falsely so they could brag about how many people could not make the grade. This essentially ended the careers of the West Pointers after four years of busting their asses to graduate from West Point and at great expense to the taxpayers. The sergeants seemed to think it was funny in many cases. I can imagine some ranger sergeant might be eager to get the bragging rights of having been the guy who flunked Pat Tillman on the pre-ranger school Army Physical Fitness test.
Tillman took it a second time and passed and he and his brother then went to ranger school, which they passed. The Tillmans had not been impressed with military training before that, but they found ranger school a satisfying challenge. That’s one way to put it. It’s starving and being sleep deprived for two months while being driven on 10 kilometer forced marches carrying a heavy pack most days. Read my article about it ad do not go there. You can get killed or severely injured. You can get flunked out for no reason other than someone did not like you or because one of your patrol members screwed up when you were patrol leader. (I graduated and was recommended to be brought back as an instructor! And I hated every minute of it.)
Tillman had a brief tour in Iraq before his two in Afghanistan. He thought the Iraq war was illegal. Krakauer says Tillman agreed with Naom Chomsky’s statement,
If the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.
I agree with that statement. A lot of my military articles say that same thing in various ways. I have said that if our moms saw some of the stuff that was done to us at West Point, most notably shower formations, they would have strangled the superintendent (top officer). There were many subsequent incidents when I was in the Army.
The problem is that millions of Americans know exactly what happened in the military. That’s because they were in the military. I seem to be almost the only one of them who is trying to tell the public about that stuff. I have no idea why that is.
I do not mean to imply that Pat Tillman was in favor of the Afghanistan war. I think he was before he enlisted. But I also suspect he did or would have turned against it during his tour in Afghanistan.
Although Tillman was very unhappy with his fellow soldiers in basic training and elsewhere, he was favorably impressed with his ranger platoon, saying so in his first entry in his diary when he was on the plane to Afghanistan. Specifically, he named his platoon leader, squad leader, First sergeant (top NCO in the company). He said,
…I feel confident in how we’ll react and trust those who are leading us.
The plain truth is he was wrong about that. That is a recurring theme through Pat Tillman’s involvement with the Army. He repeatedly failed to adequately check out the people with whom he and his brother were trusting their lives. My military web articles are warning after warning trying to tell prospective military and their parents and other loved ones: think twice or three times before you do this. You have no idea what you are getting yourself into because you are relying too much on Hollywood images or too few veterans.
Probably the main reason for Tillman’s death was that he was with a dozen or so fellow rangers who were combat cherries and extremely overeager to be in a firefight to the point where they would throw all caution with regard to possibly shooting at their own colleagues. They did not have a Combat Infantryman’s Badge and were extremely eager to win one. That requires what war correspondents call “bang bang.” The squad leader of the squad that was all blasting away at Tillman was the most respected NCO in the platoon, maybe company. Tillman said that sergeant, Baker, was “shit hot.” Baker directed the fire that all was aimed at the Americans. He was punished by the Army by being thrown out of the rangers. So was platoon leader Uthlaut.
I don’t buy the implication that those still in the rangers are all better than Uthlaut and Baker. I suspect Uthlaut and Baker were, and still are, above average for the 75th Ranger Regiment. I also think they both did a horse shit job leading up to and during the Tillman incident. I just figure the rangers who did not happen to be at the Tillman location probably would have done the same or worse. The problem is the crappy mission in Afghanistan and the lack of adequate training of U.S. military personnel for avoiding friendly fire incidents. I do not recall ever receiving any friendly fire avoidance training in four years of West Point and another year of post-West Point training. But friendly-fire incidents have been a significant part of warfare throughout recorded history since the bow and arrow and gun were invented. I think the military does not train its members to avoid friendly fire because they think they can get away with more or less denying it is a problem. They would have you believe all such incidents are freak accidents. They need to acknowledge it’s a big problem and launch the Corporal Pat Tillman Memorial Fratricide Avoidance School.
At ranger school, where we were supposedly behind enemy lines, we were taught to move only at night and hide by day. Apparently, the ranger units in Afghanistan were told to do the same thing to avoid ambush. Makes sense, although when you are driving in humvees you make a lot of noise. Perhaps the enemy in Afghanistan is so far away from the U.S. forces that they cannot see far enough to trigger their IEDs in the dark.
If I understand correctly from Krakauer’s book, Tillman’s platoon intended to travel to the village of Mana, their final destination of the patrol, before sunrise no April 22, 2004, thereby complying with the travel only at night rule. But the broken-down humvee delayed them. That meant their rule against traveling in the day light conflicted with the mission of getting to Mana. The battalion staff officer Major David Hodne or battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Bailey decided to expose the platoon to the increased risk of traveling in daylight in order for no reason other than checking visiting Mana off the to-do list. They risked, and lost, the lives of Pat Tillman and Sayed Farhad for nothing but another meaningless to-do-list item.
Platoon leader Uthlaut and his men essentially argued with Hodne repeatedly that going to Mana in daylight was such a bad idea that it should be abandoned. Hodne refused to reconsider. Hodne angrily said,
Hey, we can’t have a whole platoon brought to a stop for one broken vehicle.
Makes sense, until you remember that abandoning the vehicle was out of the question because the Army is and was short of money. Towing with a tow truck rather than another humvee wasn’t an option because of the terrain and lack of roads. And airlifting wasn’t an option because you had to make a reservation four days in advance or some such to get a Chinook. The choice was postponing the Mana mission to another day and getting the humvee back in the dark or risking men’s lives by splitting the platoon and dragging the broken humvee and driving around in daylight.
Hodne’s phrase “whole platoon” implies that splitting a platoon, which is only about 40 guys at full strength, in two is standard operating procedure for a unit far from help in Afghanistan. That is George Custer thinking. If they thought about it, 75th Rangers would probably have a rule that platoons could not be split in that situation. In short, Hodne’s “we can’t” statement, which seems to espouse some military best practice, was, in fact, just intellectually dishonest bullshit. “We can do” whatever the hell we want to do.
The end of the argument was Uthlaut asking Captain Dennis, the company executive officer,
So the only reason that you want me to split my platoon is to have boots on the ground in the sector before dark?
Pat Tillman’s mom made that phrase—“Boots on the ground before dusk”—the title of her book which is subtitled, “My tribute to Pat Tillman.” She is horrified and outraged that her treasured son died for such a stupid reason. She should be. So should a lot if not most of the others who have died there for similar reasons.
Government employees do a lot of stuff to look busy and to pretend they are doing something. Boots on the ground before dark in Mana is a classic example of the “do something no matter what it is” mind set of the government including the military. I like the way Krakauer put it.
In other words, the sense of urgency attached to the mission came from little more than a bureaucratic fixation on meeting arbitrary deadlines so missions could be checked off a list and tallied as “accomplished.”
That’s what Tillman died for. Not freedom or his country or any of that. Probably there as a bar chart of the different platoons, companies and battalions at higher headquarters. Every time a mission was accomplished, some lifer officer’s bar got longer. Figuring size matters when it comes to bar charts and their careers, they sent men out to risk their lives—not for duty or honor or country or freedom or any of that—but for the career advancement of the lifers in charge.
I must say that the prolonged argument about the mission also helped the enemy set up the ambush. If Uthlaut had complied with the order immediately when it was ordered, the enemy might not have had time to set up the ambush. Arriving at Mana before sunrise probably would have helped avoid the ambush. But the road home essentially went through Mana anyway. Uthlaut and his men thought there was a shorter route that did not have to go through the narrow canyon where they were ambushed. They were mistaken. A local guy said that route was too dangerous for vehicles slipping off the road and falling off a cliff and apparently he was right. In other words, the platoon had to go through Mana to get home. So they had to go through the canyon where they were ambushed no matter what. All they could do was go through at night or as early as possible after daybreak. The haggling about the broken down truck, overheard by many local Afghans, helped the Taliban set up the ambush.
It sounds like Uthlaut needed to follow his own conclusion when the broken-down humvee could not be fixed or airlifted, that is, go straight home ASAP regardless of orders from above. If that ends his career or even gets him court martialed, so be it. Better that than getting Tillman and Farhad killed. See my article on “The morality of obeying stupid orders.”
On page 249, Krakauer says standard Army procedure is to respond to an ambush by everyone spraying the ambush enemy with massive return fire. That is what we were taught in ranger school in 1968. However, I lately have commented that I thought that was a waste of ammunition, especially in Afghanistan where many if not most ambushers seem to fire from beyond the effective range of their small arms. I have repeatedly read that the Taliban ambush Americans from 500 to 600 yards with AK-47s and RPGs. The effective range of each is about 300 meters on automatic.
It does not make sense to me for U.S. military to return fire in an volume if the enemy is shooting from beyond the effective range of their weapons. Effective range refers mainly to accuracy, but after a point, also to the bullet slowing down so much it would not hurt you. An “ambush” from 500 meters away with AK-47s is more of an annoyance than a serious threat. In the ambush I drove through in Vietnam, the enemy gunners were about three meters from me. (The enemy held their fire against my lone jeep and instead waited until a convoy a mile or two behind me came through.)
Krakauer further says that after the initial burst of return fire, U.S. soldiers are supposed to “quickly ‘control your fires’—that is, to sharply reduce the volume of fire and shoot no more than necessary.” I never heard that but it sort of goes without saying. You can only carry a limited amount of ammunition. The problem that resulted in the deaths of Tillman and Farhad is that the “elite” highly trained Army rangers used they weapons as if they were fire hoses attached to bullet hydrants for an extended period. They did not “quickly control their fires.” Furthermore, their leaders—platoon leader and platoon sergeant Godec seem not to have taken any step in that direction other than trying the radio in Uthlaut’s case.
According to Krakauer, the elapsed time between when the enemy started attacking at 6:34 PM and when Uthlaut was wounded at 6:45 PM, Uthlaut either did not try or did not succeed in getting his men’s firing to stop. Same is true of Godec who was never wounded. I do not know how effective Uthlaut was able to be after he was wounded. His radio operator Jade Lane had to tell him he was wounded seriously. Uthlaut knew he had been hit but was apparently not aware of how seriously until told by Lane. Farhad and Tillman were killed one minute after Uthlaut was hit.
Sergeant Baker, who was in charge of the unit doing the shooting, was himself blasting away. He is the guy who killed Farhad. Generally, squad leaders are supposed to be directing their subordinates, not firing their own weapons, but if they see an urgent target they can shoot.
Krakauer says Uthlaut could not get the Godec/Baker group on the radio. So drive your humvee toward them and tell them in person. I do not know what Sergeant Godec, the second in command of the platoon and the guy in overall charge of the group of vehicles that was shooting at Tillman et al, was doing. I surmise reading between the lines that he was not in the lead vehicle and the lead vehicle was where the action against their own men was. Part of a combat leader’s job is to figure out where the key location is so he can get there and thereby better control his men.
More importantly, everyone with a radio cannot push the push-to-talk button continuously and pause only briefly for an answer. The lower level commanders can do that once or twice, but then they need to shut up and listen to see if the top commander is trying to talk to them. I do not recall any specific training in that, but again, if you have ever done any maneuvers you would quickly recognize the need to stay off the party line other than to give one situation report. But if everyone is on the radio at once, it should be obvious that they all need to shut up and let loose of the push-to-talk button until they have ascertained whether the platoon leader has any instructions—like “Cease fire!”—or questions. Typically, he would ask for a situation report from each sub-unit. That is when squads leaders or their radio operators should do their talking.
I would have thought this sort of basic radio discipline was worked out 80 years ago.
Krakauer says U.S. soldiers are also trained and reminded to “PID” their targets before shooting. That is, positively identify.
So much for that. All these “elite” clowns knew was that they were shooting at humans. They did not care from which side
Apparently, Uthlaut and his platoon sergeant Godec were connected only by FM radios. Those are the most common type mounted on military vehicles. But they use line-of-sight radio waves. In Afghanistan, those are often useless because of steep mountains and narrow canyons like the two groups of trucks passed through during the Tillman incident. Another type of radio is satellite. I was trained as a radio officer in 1968-9 and I graduated from the first class of satellite communications officers in Army history in 1969. Satellite communications bounces the signal off a satellite in outer space. In the case of synchronous satellites which stay over the same point on earth all the time (by orbiting at the same speed as the earth’s rotation), they are 23,000 miles up. For satellite communications to work, both radios have to point at and “see” the satellite. Again, with steep mountains and narrow canyons, they have trouble just like your satellite TV antenna would if it were blocked by a building or some such.
Bottom line: if you have no radios capable of communicating with our subordinate units in the vicinity, you cannot split your platoon. (HF radios, more commonly called ham or short-wave radios, might have worked. They bounce their signals off the ionosphere.The down side is you are on a world-wide party line that may also be busy.)
Uthlaut should have refused the order to split his platoon on the grounds of inability to communicate when split. Don’t write from Afghanistan to tell that happens all the time over there. It is unacceptable. “Command and control” is a catch phrase in the military. If you cannot communicate with your subordinate units, you are no longer their commander. They have, in effect, seceded from you and are now independent. Since you are responsible for their actions and inactions, you have to maintain communications at all times. If you have no radios that work in that terrain, do not split up.
Bush and Obama have pledged to the troops that they will have whatever they need to complete their mission. They lied. They lack adequate radios. Maybe they also need loudspeakers on their vehicles, like police cars, so they can yell at each other to cease fire.
Krakauer says Uthlaut’s superiors now claim they did not tell him to split his platoon. Yeah, right. They just told him to accomplish two different missions at two widely different locations at the same time. That’s like telling a subordinate to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles (382 miles) in three hours then admonish them not to violate the speed limit.
Some reports confusion between whether it was mortars, an IED, or RPGs that caused the initial explosion that triggered the firing by the Americans. I can see how a mortar explosion might sound like an IED explosion, but mortars are fired in large numbers and have to be adjusted using multiple shots to walk into the target. You do not aim a mortar at a moving vehicle and hit it.An IED is planted in or right next to the road. It typically goes off when a vehicle is right next to it although they screw up the timing sometimes and set it off too early or too late.
It is hard to mistake a mortar for an RPG. RPGs are rockets that fly in a line drive straight line leaving a trail of smoke as they go. A mortar is an artillery-like shell that is lobbed high in the air and falls steeply on the target area. Mortar rounds move so slowly you can see them flying through the air.
Pat’s brother Kevin was manning a Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. He decided not to fire when the explosion occurred because he was afraid the steep canyon walls would cause the grenades to end up bouncing back into his own men. Smart move. I discussed the lack of understanding of that danger in my web article http://www.johntreed.com/weapons.html.
But he did try to chamber a round in case he changed his mind or hit more suitable terrain and the M-19. The gun jammed in the process of trying to get it ready to fire. That’s odd. Such jams-before-firing to me signal a very dirty weapon, but I have never laid eyes on an M-19 and know nothing about it. It may also be a defective weapons design or ammo fed in backwards or not quite in right position in the belt-feed area or a number of other causes. I do not know what Kevin’s relationship to the weapon was, that is, whether it was normally his, whether he had been trained to use it or experienced in using it, and so on. It was not a factor in Pat’s death but it is further evidence that this “elite” ranger unit was a cluster fuck.
Another machine gun mounted on a truck in the group that fired at Tillman lost that machine gun because they did not pull it in as they went through the narrow canyon and a rock knocked it off. They retrieved it from the ground but part of the stock that rests against your shoulder had been cut off.
Early reports said that Pat Tillman, on his on initiative, charged up the mountain next to the road calling on others to follow him. In fact Sergeant Weeks, the squad leader did that, perhaps at the direction of platoon leader Uthlaut. Tillman followed Weeks as he was required to do in his role as a team leader. (His “team” consisted of one guy: Bryan O’Neal.)
My best estimate at the distance between Pat Tillman and Trevor Alders, the guy who killed him is 45 yards. I got that from Krakauer’s book as well as several documentaries and other books. The time of day was 1846 when tillman died. The date was 4/22/04 and the light was affected by the high steep mountains. Sunset in Kabul Afghanistan on April 22, 2010 was at 6:30 PM. Mana was about 100 miles south of Kabul.
When running up the mountain behind Sergeant Weeks, Tillman asked the squad leader if he could take off his body armor so he could move faster. Weeks said no. Apparently this is Army policy from the Pentagon. Fuck the Pentagon! The soldiers on the scene ought to decide that. Protection is nice, but so is speed.
Tillman knew that football teams have 325-pound offensive linemen to protect the quarterback on drop-back pass plays. He also knew that football teams have cornerbacks who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 or 4.3 seconds. He perceived the situation as more cornerback than lineman but the body armor was canceling out his speed which might enable him to end the apparent attack on his fellows quicker.
I have long thought that if I were a platoon leader or company commander in Afghanistan or Iraq, I would vary my patrolling methods as much as possible and one would be wearing sneakers and shorts and tee shirts and moving at high speed on that patrol. I had supper with some West Point class of ’07 guys and asked about that. The one who had been in Afghanistan said he would not do that there but I do not know why not.
In the event, whether Tillman was wearing his body armor or not appears not to have been decisive. He was shot in the temple, an area that is not protected by body armor. Perhaps being faster would have taken him to a safer spot on the hill. or maybe being faster might only have caused the bullets that hit him in the temple to hit him in his unprotected chest.
But clearly the Pentagon has no business making such decisions. In Vietnam the standard orders no wear flak jackets (our body armor of the time) were routinely ignored except at Big Red One base camp and by ROKs. One of the considerations is that body armor increases your chances of heat stroke, which can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage, in humid or hot weather. The Pentagon’s job is to supply body armor. But local commanders should decide when to wear it or not wear it.
I hasten to add that the decision cannot be left to the lowest level troops because they are typically quite immature and irresponsible. In Vietnam, we were supposed to take malaria pills every day. I did. Most did not. Once, I was in the hospital there (quonset hut in Long Binh). A doctor stopped one day in the door to our Quonset hut and asked those of us who took our malaria pill every day to raise our hands. I was the only one who did. “Do you have malaria?” he asked. “No, sir. Fever of unknown origin.” He held out his hands palms up as if to say, “See, we told you so,” and walked away shaking his head at the stupidity of the troops.
When I took out a patrol in Vietnam, I made each trooper take two instead of the normal one canteen I forbade them from drinking from the canteen until we were outside the wire, and I made them all drink their fill of water in front of me and show me their topped off canteens just before we left. Later, a JAG officer (lawyer) berated me for treating my men like children, i.e., making them drink water in front of me. I responded with, “Sir, they often behave like children.” I could see other officers nodding in agreement around me. JAG officers wear the same uniform, but they generally know nothing about the way the Army work and the ways soldiers behave.
The Army confirmed that a Predator was overhead during the Tillman death incident, and a civilian contractor said he saw the live feed from the Predator at Bagram Air Force Base, but the Army denied the contractor’s claim and said no tape of the incident existed. This is reminiscent of the incident where U.S. Marine jets cut the cable in the Italian Alps then erased the tape from their aircraft and were found not guilty.
When I was a freshman at West Point, I was once made squad leader in a war game where we attacked up a hill and took over an enemy position. I blasted away with my rifle as we charged up the hill. The observing officer admonished me not fire my weapon. He said my job was to control my two fire teams maneuvers and firing, not to fire my own weapon.
In the Tillman incident, his squad leader Weeks apparently did the right thing, and the squad leader of the squad that killed Tillman, Baker, was doing the wrong thing. He is the one who put eight bullets into Sayed Farhad’s chest. He should have been ascertaining where the enemy was, where friendlies were, and exactly what fire, if any, his squad was receiving. In fact, no Americans were injured in the squad that was killing Tillman and Farhad. No U.S. vehicles were hit by any bullets or fragments or anything. All U.S. wounded and killed were caused by the rear group of trucks firing at the front group of trucks.
Although Krakauer says the rear group was attacked by mortars, there was not a scratch on the vehicles or men of that group. That suggests the enemy were very far away—beyond range of most of the U.S. weapons, and therefore there was no reason for any American to be firing at all. Weeks only fired one round in the Tillman incident. That would be appropriate if he saw a true bad guy within range of his weapon and about to disappear.
According to Krakauer quoting testimony, Major David Hodne promised Kevin Tillman that they would exact revenge on the ambushers. As far as I know, the U.S. military did nothing to the Taliban who ambushed the trailing group of vehicles.
Hodne also said whoever was responsible for Pat’s death would pay dearly for their actions.
Here is a list of those and how they “paid dearly:”
Shooter Trevor Alders—forced out of rangers but still in the Army
Steve Elliott shot at Tillman but missed—forced out of the rangers but not the Army
Stephen Ashpole, shot at Tillman but missed—forced out of the rangers but not the Army
Alders’ Squad Leader Staff Sergeant Greg Baker—busted in rank and forced out of rangers but still in the Army
Platoon Sergeant Eric Godec, highest ranking soldier in the group of trucks that killed Tillman, Farhad, and wounded Uthlaut and Lane—I am not aware of any punishment
Platoon Leader 1st Lieutenant David Uthlaut—verbal reprimanded, forced out of rangers but still in the Army
Captain William Saunders—reprimand
Sort of S-3 Major David Hodne—reprimand, promoted to lieutenant colonel
Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Bailey—promoted to full colonel; on 11/10/10 he was recommended to be promoted to brigadier general, one of many manifestation of the U.S. Army and Department of Defense spitting repeatedly into the faces of the Tillman family as if to show them what happens to people who dare complain about U.S. officers lying
Regimental Commander Colonel James Nixon—promoted to brigadier general
Apparently Hodne meant pay dearly if they are below him in rank and that being sent to a non-ranger unit constitutes serious punishment. Seems to me that all these people should have been court martialed either for the splitting-the-platoon-save-the-humvee nonsense or for failure to control the firing at friendlies of the trailing group of vehicles. Some may feel Uthlaut was punished enough by getting wounded. His being wounded by his own men is actually just additional evidence that he was not controlling them adequately.
Uthlaut’s radio operator, Jade Lane, who was wounded by his own men in the Tillman incident, said being forced out of the rangers only was the equivalent of a traffic ticket, the same punishment as for talking back to an officer.
The four shooters and Baker objected vehemently to being forced out of the rangers for their roles in killing Tillman and Farhad.
It should be noted that Uthlaut’s men think he was unfairly treated by being reprimanded and thrown out of the ranger regiment. I am not sure they understand the responsibilities of a platoon leader enough to be relied upon on this question. They probably are relating to his personality and their own generally uninformed notions of what a platoon leader is supposed to do.
Would I have done better than Uthlaut when the explosions in the canyon went off and thereafter? If it was my first firefight, maybe not. I thought I was in a firefight once in Vietnam (an ammo dump was blowing up and after the initial explosion a fire burning small arms ammunition made it sound like small arms fire). I wondered what am I supposed to do. We were in a big base camp near Long Binh, the U.S. Pentagon of Vietnam. I thought about running to one of the bunkers on the perimeter to direct its fire at approaching enemy, if any. Then I concluded that was very unwise since it was dark, the troops in the bunker were total rookies and probably hyper. They probably would have shot me. plus, I realized they already had a chain of command and my inserting myself in it might confuse things. Our battalion commander should have given us battle stations like on a Navy ship. Afterward, I told him he should and he did. Ultimately, I decided I should go to my platoon area—a yard with vehicles and a building with MARs radios and a radio teletype. That radioteletype was a back up to the microwave primary radioteletypes. It might be needed if the primary got knocked off the air. Was that the right thing to do? In the absence of battle stations, probably.
Would I have gotten on the radio and stayed on it until I was wounded by my own men like Uthlaut did? Possibly. I don’t know enough about the situation and I never experienced precisely that situation.
Would I have rejected the orders to split the platoon? Almost certainly. On two occasions in Vietnam I had somewhat similar orders and simply ignored them without even asking. One example was I was told to drive from Long Binh to Phu Loi late in the after noon. As I went about gathering the jeep and driver, it got closer to dusk. I concluded that we could not make to Phu Loi before dark and that would violate SOP that U.S. units did not travel on roads in Vietnam—the reverse of the Afghanistan U.S. SOP. I told the driver to find a place to sleep and that I would meet him after breakfast in the morning. When I got back to Phu Loi they asked why I had not come back the day before. “It was too late in the day. We could not have made it back before dark.” Nothing further was said.
Uthlaut spent six hours arguing about the matter. Fuck that! Blow up the vehicle and get your platoon to Mana before daybreak. Don’t ask higher for approval of a decision like that. Ask for a chopper to airlift it out. When that is denied, make a command decision and blow it up. When they chew your ass when you get back, tell them it seemed like the best decision at the time and that you take full responsibility for it. If that means your career is over and/or you get court martialed, so be it.
Someone said that a West Point graduate will risk his life but not his career. That is an extremely damning statement, but I cannot name a West Point graduate who disproves it. Uthlaut’s behavior in the Tillman incident supports the risk-life-but-not-career allegation.
But actually, the underlying truth of the accusation is broader than “his life.” Being an Army commander is not a solitary activity like being a high jumper or a boxer. A military commander has men—44 in Uthlaut’s case on the day Tillman was killed. When a platoon leader risks his life, he is typically also risking the lives of his men. Certainly Uthlaut was doing that when he split his platoon, traveled in daylight, and dragged a broken-down humvee with him after discussing this for six hours in front of local Afghans who could and probably did set up the ambush. Had Uthlaut placed the welfare of his men first, which he should have because there was no great mission to be accomplished that warranted risking men’s lives unnecessarily, he would have overrode the orders from battalion headquarters. No splitting the platoon, no traveling in daylight, no dragging a broken-down humvee.
Had he done so, Pat Tillman would almost certainly be alive today. But Uthlaut’s career might have been damaged or ended. In Sophie’s Choice, Sophie says, “Take the girl.” Asked to make a risk-not-certainty Sophie’s Choice between life and career, Uthlaut essentially answered, “Risk the life.” It could have been his. It was Pat’s.
Uthlaut sounds too wimpy about asking to be micromanaged. He apparently was trying to stay out of career trouble and avoid making a decision that might anger the brass. He should have tried harder to stay out of driving in daylight or split his platoon. If I had been him and they gave me a direct order not to blow it up, I still would have blown it up.
I disobeyed a number of direct orders to attend Friday or Saturday night colonel’s parties. I realize that sounds less serious, but they threw me out of the Army primarily for that refusal so they did not consider it much less serious. And that was just a matter of not compromising my dignity and trying to prevent the brass from adversely affecting my free time. If the issue were risking the lives of my men and me, I would be more inclined to disobey the order. My defense would be, “I was there. You were not. It was the right thing to do. Dragging that humvee and splitting up the platoon would likely interfere with the accomplishment of our mission and the welfare of my men. The dollar value of the vehicle was tertiary. For the want of a Chinook flight, a truck was lost, but not accomplishment of the mission or any men. Blame the guys who decided not to send the Chinook.”
I would take the story to the press. “Pentagon court martials lieutenant for placing the accomplishment of his mission and safety of his men ahead of salvaging a broken-down humvee.” See you in court, colonel. Would I have won that court martial? Probably some split-the-difference result ending my career in the military.
Are the other officers who were not thrown out of the rangers better than Uthlaut? I doubt it.
Would they have done differently had they been in Uthlaut’s position? Some probably would, especially if they had more experience (better handling of the “firefight”) or were not committed to a career (better handling of the broken-down-humvee-split-the-platoon decision). Others probably would have done the same or worse. I sure as hell do not believe Uthlaut is the only lieutenant in the rangers who might not handle that situation optimally. He probably handled it better than the average ranger lieutenant with the same experience would have.
Uthlaut may have had too little experience to be in that position, although that has long been standard practice by the Army with lieutenants. Uthlaut may also be more of a garrison soldier (e.g., parading around West Point) than a combat soldier (totally different requirements)
If that is the case, why did his ranger superiors throw him under the bus?
To protect themselves and to maintain the fiction that the rangers have high standards (other than surviving sleep and food deprivation for two months).
I suspect all who are knowledgeable about the Army and the rangers would say that mainly what happened to Uthlaut was at the “wrong place wrong time.” See my article about former Army football quarterback Nate Sassaman in Iraq for another example of wrong place wrong time. In fact, I was in enough bull sessions in the Army to know exactly the words the other ranger officers would use about Uthlaut:
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Captain Saunders found Pat’s brain on the ground at the sight of his killing the following day. He put it into a Ziploc bag and an ammo can and sent it to be with Pat’s body. The “elite” rangers lost it.
Before he left to accompany Pat’s body home, Kevin Tillman got everyone from the battalion commander on down to promise to to return it to the family. They never did.
Sergeant James Valdez say that on April 23, 2004, the day after Tillman was killed, Captain Wade Bovard gave him an orange bag he said was filled with Tillman’s clothes and that he wanted it burned for security purposes. That would be career security of the brass. It is, in fact, explicitly illegal to burn the closed of a soldier killed in the line of duty. Valdez said Tillman’s journal was in the cargo pocket of his pants. Valdez burned it. Bovard checked repeatedly to make sure the burning was proceeding and complete. Why did Bovard not burn the stuff himself? It’s illegal. Army officers get underlings to do illegal stuff so they have “deniability” if later discovered.
Who is Captain Wade Bovard? Krakauer does not say. No one named Wade Bovard ever graduated from West Point. I goggled the name and found a company commander by that name in the 75th Ranger Regiment. So what pray tell was he doing working the Tillman case when he was not in the chain of command? Is he some dirty tricks guy whom the brass trusted more than Captain Saunders—Tillman’s actual company commander? Bovard was promoted to major the year after he burned Tillman’s journal.
Much of Krakauer’s book comes from Pat Tillman journals that were not destroyed by the Army.
Dr. Craig Mallak was the military medical examiner who autopsied Tillman’s body. He was outraged that the clothing had all been removed. Tillman’s body was naked. The clothing is required to be sent to the medical examiner with the body. He and his assistant refused to sign the autopsy report. The family, then still unaware there was any investigation remaining to be done, had the body cremated. Mallak asked the Army Criminal Investigation Division to look into it but they refused.
Their motto is “Seek diligently to discover the truth deterred by neither fear nor prejudice.” Ha! They were not deterred by prejudice in the Tillman case, only fear, fear they were going to see their own careers go up in smoke if they diligently or even lazily sought the truth about Tillman. So they didn’t.
The military is big on toughness. But as the great philosopher Clint Eastwood said,
A man’s got to know his limitations.
Pat Tillman was probably the toughest man in the U.S. military the day he was killed. And the man who killed him—: 5,5" 140-pound Trevor Alders— was not a contender for that title. But Alders had what is often called an equalizer: a firearm known as a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), the same weapon Tillman was carrying. With slight pressure from a finger, the SAW can kill a dozens of the world’s toughest men from 1,000 meters away. In a fair hand-to-hand fight, Tillman probably could have licked every Taliban on earth as well as every U.S. ranger. But war is not a fair hand-to-hand fight. Pat Tillman’s right temple was no match for three 5.56 mm bullets traveling at 3,000 feet per second. Toughness could not have been more irrelevant at that moment.
So memo to young men who think the fact that they were honorable mention all league in their high school football league will mean they will be more successful and less likely to be killed in combat: Bullshit! Athletic success or toughness means absolutely nothing against bayonets, bullets, or explosives. The same goes for Alders being the “littlest man” in the unit as he put it. Many small children have killed many men with guns.
|Captain Wade Bovard||ordered and presided over destruction of evidence namely Pat Tillman’s uniform, equipment, and personal journal in violation of military law and promises made to Kevin Tillman|
|Major David Hodne||denied his central role in the 6-hour argument with platoon leader David Uthlaut regarding traveling in daylight, going to Mana for no good reason, splitting the platoon, and dragging the broken-down humvee—promised Kevin Tillman that whoever was responsible for Pat’s death would pay dearly—Hodne was one of the people who was responsible; he got promoted to lieutenant colonel; no one “paid dearly.” Hodne appointed Captain Richard Scott to do the initial 15-6 investigation even though Scott was Hodne’s subordinate and regulations require “the investigating officer to be senior in rank to anyone whose conduct or performance he may investigate.” That’s easy to explain. Hodne did not want to be investigated so he assigned the job to someone too low in rank to investigate a major, someone whose efficiency report Hodne wrote; said Afghan Gul Zaman was the leader of the ambush; in fact, Zaman was in Guantanamo at the time of the ambush; wrote first draft of Tillman Silver Star recommendation in spite of the fact that the Silver Star requires actions against the enemy|
|Major General Stanley A. McChrystal||approved Tillman’s Silver Star commendation; wrote notorious P4 cable to General Abizaid warning President Bush not to commend Tillman bravery because might come out that he was killed by friendly fire|
|Kauzlarich, Nixon, and/or McChrystal||altered the words of PFC Ryan O’Neal’s typed-into-a-computer, unsigned statement|
|Kauzlarich, Nixon, and/or McChrystal||altered the words of, or created from whole cloth, Sergeant Mel Ward’s typed-into-a-computer, unsigned statement|
|Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee||signed Tillman’s Silver Star commendation—a blogger tells me that Brownlee seemed unaware that it was false. If that is the case, he apparently got snookered by his subordinates who did not want to sign the false citation they had created. It should have been signed by someone who knew the facts.|
|Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Bailey||directed Major Hodne to recommend Tillman for a Silver Star; approved Tillman’s Silver Star commendation; changed his story when briefing the Tillman family multiple times, e.g. there was a lull in the fire aimed at Pat because the troops had to reload—thereby eliminating the excuse they could not hear the “cease fire” command because of gun fire then said later there was no lull, seeming to reinstate the too noisy excuse for not ceasing fire|
|Colonel James Nixon||approved Tillman’s Silver Star commendation, failed to report a suspected friendly fire incident to the Army Safety Center as required by law|
|author of Army news release issued 4/30/04||no mention of friendly fire cause of death|
|President George W. Bush||no mention of friendly fire cause of death after he knew about it; could not recall when he learned Tillman was killed by friendly fire; refused to produce certain Tillman-related documents requested by the Congress “because they implicate Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”|
|Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld||could not recall or ascertain when he heard Tillman was killed and how|
|CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid||could not recall or ascertain when he received McChrystal’s P4 cable or heard Tillman was killed and how|
|General Bryan Brown||could not recall or ascertain when he heard Tillman was killed and how|
|Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers||could not recall or ascertain when he heard Tillman was killed and how|
|Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, Jr.||could not recall or ascertain when he received McChrystal’s P4 cable; could not remember hardly anything; wondered aloud if he was coming down with Alzheimer’s disease; attended Tillman Memorial Service after he knew Tillman had been killed by friendly fire; gave no indication to Tillman family privately that their belief that Pat had been killed by the Taliban was not true; read false statement on Tillman on 5/29/04 at news conference|
|Specialist Russell Baer||told Tillman family false story about how Pat died at reception after memorial service as ordered by Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Bailey|
|Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich||author of second 15-6 investigation to replace Captain Scott’s truthful one; a human train wreck|
|Secretary of the Army Peter Geren||said there was no cover-up, no intent to deceive, no evidence of a conspiracy, to deceive or mislead and that noting happened by a misunderstanding of Army regulations and policy about secrecy 7/31/07|
|Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody||Co-briefer of media with Army Secretary Geren on 7/31/07|
|everyone involved||Did not want to tell Tillman family “something that was not true,” namely that he died by friendly fire, until confirmed by investigation; so why did they tell the family something else that was not true, that he died by enemy fire, which was never even suspected by any of them; why not say “no comment until the investigation is complete” even though they all knew what the investigation would say within about a half hour of Tillman dying|
|Captain Richard Scott||
author of the initial 15-6 investigation; the Army later denied Scott’s report existed; Regimental Commander Nixon said it was deficient and therefore never signed it; Nixon said that “Scott did not have the experience to investigate the matter”—I surmise that means he had not been in the Army long enough to understand that no one up the chain of command wanted anything remotely resembling an honest report.
Scott is not a West Point graduate. He is now a major which means he stayed in the Army after all this. How honest people could stay in the Army after what the Army did to Tillman, the Tillman family, and to guys like Scott is way beyond me.
|Dr. Craig Mallak||chief of Armed Forces Medical Examiners involved with autopsy of Tillman, refused to sign the report; still in the Army|
|Dr. James Caruso||performed autopsy on Tillman, refused to sign the report|
|Sergeant Jason Parsons||disobeyed orders not to tell Kevin Tillman his brother was dead|
|Seregant Mel Ward||said the Silver Star statement atributed to him was not made by him, left the rangers and Army in disgust as a result of the incident|
I would hope that others involved also told the truth. If there were such people, I hope someone will point them out to me for me to add to this one-person list. I would also like to know what happened to Captain Richard Scott. Knowing the Army as I do, I expect he was informed subtly enough to give “deniability” to the brass who did it that he probably had no future in the U.S. Army officer corps other than being allowed to stay until 20 years, make the automatic promotions (up to lieutenant colonel), then retire and get his benefits. No full colonel or general rank, and keep your fucking Boy Scout, non-team player mouth shut the rest of the time you’re in if you know what’s good for you. The military career officers who wear huge gold rings with the word “honor” engraved on them, and their ROTC peers, absolutely do not tolerate honest officers. Been there. Tried to do that.
This guy is something else. One of the five investigations was headed by Brigadier General Gary Jones. He asked Kauzlarich, executive officer (2nd in command) of the 75th Ranger Regiment for explanations of the deficiencies in his 15-6 investigation alleged by the Tillmans.
His duck-the-question non-answer was,
Nobody is satisfied with the answers in that family that they’ve been given.
Yeah, Ralph. That would be because the answers to many questions are obvious lies that conflict with each other or with earlier versions of the stories. But nice try at using the intellectually dishonest tactic of changing the subject to avoid answering questions from an official investigator who out ranked you, albeit apparently not in intelligence or integrity.
When Kauzlarich, an evangelical Christian, was setting up the ceremony for returning Tillman’s body to his family, he was arranging for a chaplain. A sergeant told Kauzlarich Tillman did not want a chaplain because they were atheists. Kauzlarich responded,
Well, you can tell Specialist [Kevin] Tillman that this ceremony ain’t about him, it is about everybody in the Joint Task Force bidding farewell to his brother, so there will be a chaplain and there will be a prayer.
I think I speak for many when I say, “Fuck you, colonel!” A repatriation ceremony of a dead soldier as about no one but the soldier and those whom he chooses to be in it. Pat Tillman, like all other soldiers, filled out a form stating his wishes if he were killed. So did I in Vietnam. Among the questions are some about whether he wants the military or chaplains involved. Tillman answered those questions no. The form has a ‘special instructions” block where Tillman wrote in all caps,
I DO NOT WANT THE MILITARY TO HAVE ANY DIRECT INVOLVEMENT WITH MY FUNERAL.
A chaplain is a military officer. They showed Pat Tillman’s form in the movie The Tillman Story. Tillman suspected some asshole lifer like Kauzlarich might intercept the form and destroy it so he smuggled it to his wife [apparently via another solider who was going home].
With regard to the Tillman family’s lack of interest in religion, Kauzlarich told Jones in his official statement,
Those that are Christians can come to terms with faith and the fact there is an afterlife, heaven, or whatnot. I’m not really sure what they believe or how they can get their head around death. So, in my personal opinion, sir, that is why I don’t think they’ll ever be satisfied.
Then there was this gem from Kauzlarich in an interview he gave to ESPN.com.
Kauzlarich: …these people [Tillman family] have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs…So when you die I mean there is supposedly a better life, right? Well if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die what is there to go to? Nothing. You’re worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more—that is pretty hard to get your head around that.
Interviewer: So you suspect that is probably a reason that this thing is dragging on?
Kauzlarich: I think so…
Interviewer: OK What do you think will make the family happy?…
Kauzlarich: You know what, I don’t think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don’t know, maybe they want somebody’s head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can’t bring their son back.
For the record, Pat Tillman did believe in something. He wrote in his journal that he wanted,
to do good, influence lives, show truth and right [have] faith in himself…a general goodness free of religious pretensions…
That is apparently far more that the lying evangelical Christian believes in. Judging by his actions, Kauzlarich is an atheist who ignores Christian principles like telling the truth in pursuit of his purely earthly career ambitions.
The Tillman family will never be happy about what happened to Pat. Who would. But the Tillman family has a right to hold the U.S. Army to its own values, regulations, laws, and direct promises to the Tillman family to make those responsible “pay dearly” and President Bush’s statement that“… the best way to honor [Tillman’s] commitment is to find out the truth.” They have a perfect right to demand that the Army produce a truthful report—which has not yet happened in five tries—and a right to expect the Army to comply with the recommendations of the investigations they have done. One recommended that General McChrystal be disciplined for his part in the cover-up. Department of Defense Inspector General Gimble said that McChrystal was “accountable” for the inaccurate Silver Star. McChrystal was not disciplined. He was promoted from two-star general to four-star and made head of the Afghanistan area of operations.
The Tillman’s were not the only ones to condemn Kauzlarich’s statements. The head Democrat and Republican on the Congressional Committee that investigated the Army’s conduct in the Tillman case said Kauzlarich’s comments were
…crass, insulting to the Tillman family, and completely inappropriate for an Army officer and an official representative speaking to the press.
What do you suppose the Army did to Kauzlarich for the above statements?
They promoted him to full colonel. If you like the way Kauzlarich treated Pat Tillman and his family, join the Army because Kauzlarich is what the Army thinks an officer ought to be. Relatively few Army officers ever make full colonel.
The Army still maintains that there was never any attempt to cover-up or mislead, that all the behavior was correct or honest mistakes. That is a barefaced lie.
For one thing, multiple honest mistakes cut both ways. Some protect the Army from embarrassment or prosecution and some do the opposite. There were no mistakes against the Army in this. All were against the Tillman’s. This is well known in financial fraud. If all the mistakes result in the taxpayer paying significantly less taxes, it is almost certainly illegal tax evasion.
My 1988 federal income tax return was audited in a TCMP audit. That means Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program audit. That’s the one where they make you prove every single entry on the return. For example, we had to produce our marriage license and the birth certificates of our kids. The result of the audit of that 23-page tax return was finding some errors in my favor and some in the IRS’s favor. The auditor decided to wash them and I got a commendation letter for a “no change” TCMP audit.
One of the Rangers in Tillman’s unit was Mel Ward. He was one of the first to get to Tillman’s body after the killing.The Army used a statement by Ward to support the Silver Star award to Tillman. Ward said he never made any statement and that we would not have said what the statement attributed to him said. Inspector General Gimble said the fallacious creation of Ward’s “statement” appeared to have been done by either Kauzlarich, Nixon, or McChrystal. As far as I recall from reading, Ward never participated in any cover-up. He was so disgusted with what happened in Mana and afterward that he decided to leave the rangers.
Well, duh! Other than Kevin Tillman, Ward is the first guy I read about who did that from Tillman’s unit. Why didn’t they all? And why did Ward not figure it out until the Tillman incident? In the Tillman Story movie, specialist Russell Baer said he was ordered to lie about what happened (by battalion commander Bailey) and did. He accompanied the body to the memorial service and handed the flag to Mrs. Tillman. He also attended a reception with the family afterward and when asked to tell what happened when Pat was killed, he alternately tried to avoid talking about it and lied about it as he had been ordered by Ltc., now full colonel, Jeff Bailey. By the time of the filming, he had gotten out of the Army and recanted his prior cover-up behavior.
Until July 1966, I planned to make a career of the Army. I entered West Point July 1, 1964 and was a rising junior in July 1966. I figured out from being in a 101st Airborne Artillery battery that month as a “third” lieutenant. Civilians would call it an internship. Watching the incompetence and dishonesty in that “elite” unit, and getting advice from the battalion commander on the real world ways to succeed in an Army officer career, I was appalled and disgusted. Indeed, I changed from being a committed career Army officer to let me out of this organization in about ten days of being in the 101st. Ward was apparently in the Army for three to six years when he decided to get out of the Army because of the Tillman incident. Why did I see this stuff in ten days, starting from being gung ho, and it took him years?
But better late than never. The rest of them seem to be unsurprised by the Tillman incident and unaffected by it as far as thinking an Army career was still the best thing they could do with their only life. I can see why the Tillman rangers who stayed in were not surprised by the Tillman incident. Friendly fire deaths and lying by officers are routine daily or almost daily occurrences in the U.S. military. But what kind of people stay in the Army after all this stuff is revealed to the public in incidents like the Tillman killing and others I have chronicled in my military Web pages?
Ward rips the military and the rangers at eloquent length on page 326 of Where Men Win Glory. Why is he the only one other than Kevin Tillman?
Even after his brother was killed and the army lied about it, Kevin Tillman decided to stay in the Army and fulfill his three-year commitment. Pat had done the same. There was talk the Army would let him out early after his Iraq tour. I do not know if it was true, but Pat did not test it by seeking to get out. His attitude was, I committed to three years. I will keep that promise.
Kevin knew that and took the same attitude even after Pat’s death.
It must be noted that I am not aware that Kevin had any choice. Military service contracts are the last indentured servitude in the Western World. As far as I know, Kevin had no choice. Perhaps for public relations reasons they would have let him out.
The public and the media love Pat and Kevin keeping their commitments. Allow me to offer a contrary perspective.
Coming out of West Point, my classmates and I had a five-year commitment to pay the American people back for our “free” education. One of my roommates was allowed to get out on graduation day because of a minor medical condition. The officer at West Point told him he could probably get a waiver if he requested it. He did not. I thought that was wrong.
But as I tried to fulfill my five-year commitment, I came to the conclusion that I had no moral obligation to do so. Basically, they refused to let me pay the American people back. My first year was fine—more training at ranger airborne, signal officers basic, radio officer school, and satellite communications officer school. At my first unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, I was a communications platoon leader in an infantry battalion at Fort Bragg, NC. That was a real job, but I was not really allowed to do it. I spent most of the summer as a squad leader of a heavy mortar squad rehearsing for a V.I.P. demonstration at the end of the summer.
That wasted my ranger, airborne, signal officer, radio officer, and satellite officer training. Furthermore, the rank of a mortar squad commander is probably staff sergeant or sergeant first class, not first lieutenant. And I was a communications officer, not a heavy weapons platoon leader. So, I, a 1st lieutenant, I was being used in an NCO job for which I was neither trained nor qualified—a job about two ranks below my rank. And there was a trained qualified mortar squad leader in that unit. I was only there because they wanted officers doing sergeants’ jobs to make really sure everything went OK. I was also overpaid for all that. Why was such a mismatch going on? The division commander was anxious to impress the Pentagon brass who came for the demo—including Chief of Staff of the Army William C. Westmoreland, the former Vietnam commander.
Not only was I not paying off my debt, I was collecting more pay from the taxpayers and was not really asked to do anything that was needed for it.
My next assignment in Vietnam included to periods where I was an assistant to guys who were not authorized to have an assistant. For several months, I was a communications platoon leader of an artillery battalion, but my battalion commander just used my being there—as a punishment for refusing to sign a false motor vehicle maintenance report—as an opportunity to torment me. He made me drive to Firebase Wade in Lon Ninh again and again. Once, my platoon sergeant and I drove through a North Vietnamese ambush. They let us pass through unharmed because we were a lone jeep. Lone jeeps were not supposed to drive on the boondocks roads there. Instead, the ambush was triggered against a convoy we did not know was five miles or so behind us.
After the ambush, my platoon sergeant instantly invoked sole surviving son and was immediately sent back to the states. The new platoon sergeant was from corp headquarters—the boss of my battalion commander—so no more making me and my sergeant drive through ambushes. Instead, the battalion commander would take me alone to Loc Ninh and force me to hitchhike back to Phu Loi. It always took me three days and I had no razor, change of clothes, etc. Once, he sent me to the top of Nui Ba Din mountain indefinitely. That place was like a submarine. I had to sleep on the floor next to the mountain commander’s cot. That commander,a West Point captain from the class or two ahead of me was very angry about my being there. I told him it was not my idea and that I was just being jerked around. (Two guys from my platoon were stationed there to watch an automatic radio relay in 12-hours shifts each day. They had no problems at all for me to address.) The battalion commander only sent me there once apparently because the mountain commander complained to the II Field Force Commander through the chain of command.
My actual platoon that I was supposed to e commanding consisted of a wire squad (switchboard operators at battalion headquarters), an FM radio squad (who operated voice radios that communicated with the 3 artillery batteries—any problems were from South Vietnamese units using our frequency forcing us to switch o the alternate frequency and occasional unknown-origin static, also fixed by switching to the alternate frequency), and a commo equipment repair squad. We had no problems in any of those units but that was what I was supposed to be running and I could not do so while hitchhiking or hanging around batteries where no one from my platoon was stationed. So, on paper, I had a legit job. But in reality, every time I got back to Phu Loi where I could command my platoon, they took me back to Loc Ninh and another three-day hitchhike.
Neither Pat nor Kevin Tillman was deliberately underused, although Pat was left behind on initial missions in Iraq because he was a new guy. In other words, he left the NFL to lay it all on the line and fight for his county and was forced to hang around the motor pool and base camp doing essentially nothing useful because they had too many men. Roughly speaking, my not being used was also permitted by their having too many men in Vietnam and at Fort Bragg.
Throughout all this hitchhiking, I was getting paid 1st lieutenant salary plus combat pay and getting free room and board (in a combat zone). In other words, I was more running up additional debt to the taxpayers than paying for my education. When I got back to the U.S., I was a company XO then CO for about five months. hose were real jobs where I earned my pay. Then they made me assistant to various guys who were not entitled to assistants again essentially to torment me and jerk me around. Little or nothing to do. For a while, I was doing a corporal’s job of accepting turn in of equipment by guys getting out of the Army.They took that away when I refused to sign papers saying guys had turned in their field jackets when they had not. Ultimately, I requested and to leave without pay. That at least stopped the taxpayers from having to pay additional money for me to do little or nothing.
My point is that from a mile away, it looks like Pat staying when he could have gotten out and Kevin staying after the Army killed his brother and treated him and his family like shit is a simple matter of keeping your promise. But as my experience and that of the Tillman’s shows when you look at it closely, staying in often accomplishes nothing or less than nothing with regard to the original purpose: defending America and freedom and all that.
Basically, both I and the Tillman’s had irreconcilable differences with the Army and vice versa. Staying in under those circumstances only makes sense if you are trying to impress people “a mile away.” Actual close-up reality said it was in the interests of all concerned to get the fastest “divorces” possible.
|Specialist Trevor Alders||
He killed Tillman. This is known by the fact that SAW bullets killed Tillman and Alders was the only SAW gunner shooting at the time. The only other SAW gunner in the area of the shooting was Pat Tillman who never fired his weapon. The other shooters all had different weapons. They either missed Tillman or hit him in the bulletproof vest or legs. We do not know how many U.S. bullets hit Tillman in the vest because the Army (Captain Wade Bovard) deliberately desroyed the evidence in direct violation of U.S. law.
|Sergeant Greg Baker||Squad leader of the squad that killed Tillman. Baker himself killed the Afghan ally standing near Tillman with eight bullets to the chest. He is the guy who should have controlled the fires and radio monitoring of the out-of-control squad that did all the shooting.|
|President George W. Bush||He occupied Afghanistan in spite of having no freaking idea of an objective or how to achieve it, Obama has repeated that mistake albeit after Tillman was killed. Obama has thus accumulated his own list of Tillmans by making the same mistake as Bush.|
|Congress||They voted to authorize and continue the invasion and occupation of Aghanistan. They have long been on notice that the U.S. Army is SNAFU and systemically dishonest. No one other than Congress can fix these problems. They choose not to. Tillman is just one of many friendly fire/accident/homicides that occur i the U.S. military every year.|
|American people||They voted for the Congress and the President. They, too, have long been on notice that the U.S. Army is SNAFU and systemically dishonest. They choose not to care about our military personnel dying for various unworthy reasons. By their actions, the American people, Congress, and the Commander in Chief indicate that they accept the deaths of Pat Tillman and the others who died in similar circumstances. To paraphrase the name of a 1945 film,the American people and government regard Tillman and our thousands of other friendly-fire casualties as expendable. Shame on them. A relatively modest effort could dramatically reduce the number of friendly fire casualties. Or police departments have long emphasized avoidance of friendly fire casualties in their training. The U.S. military cannot be bothered.|
|Pat Tillman enlisting||
I quote Krakauer from page 343, “[Pat Tillman] trusted that those responsible for sending him into battle would do so in good faith.” They are scum bag politicians, including the chain of command above him in the military. They used him when he was alive and dead to advance or protect their own careers.
I get a sense that one of Pat’s main stated reasons for leaving the NFL and enlisting in the Army was, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I do not like speaking ill of the dead but I need to here to perhaps save some of the living. That “man’s gotta do” line is just country-and-western song bullshit. It contains no facts or logic. It is not man-like. It is child-like. It means nothing more than “because I want to.” Since 1973, the U.S. has not used its selective-service option (military draft). In the absence of a draft, no one “has to” join the military. I think no one should be allowed into the U.S. military except as a draftee. See my article on that. Many vehement draft opponents have told me the article shocked them with its many persuasive arguments. But Pat Tillman died as a member of an all-volunteer Army.
Somewhere in Krakauer’s book I recall reading that Pat Tillman laughingly reflected on the “noble intentions” with which he and Kevin had enlisted. His finding humor in the situation stemmed from the way the actual, real U.S. Army made a mockery of their noble intentions with its SNAFU, FUBAR, FUBB day-to-day Kafkaesque insanity. Finding humor in all that is a necessary coping skill possessed by almost all U.S. military personnel. But that SNAFU, FUBAR, FUBB Kafkaesque insanity is also what killed Pat Tillman. That accurate depiction of the way the U.S. military works is not funny. It is a screaming outrage. When she learned that Pat had been killed, his mom went screaming out into the front yard clutching his photo. And that was before she knew about all the friendly fire and cover-up. There is a huge difference between using humor to cope and accepting an insane, dishonest, inept American military. The SNAFU nature of the U.S. military needs to be corrected immediately. Not only do the soldiers like Pat Tillman need and deserve that, the nation needs it. The military plays a sometimes crucial role. It cannot be a colossal joke.
I do not mean to put myself above Pat Tillman. Indeed, I, too, volunteered to join the military (becoming a West Point cadet which is an active-duty Army job). I also volunteered for and graduated from ranger and airborne schools. I was in the 82nd Airborne Division and volunteered for both D Company of the 75th Rangers and the 5th Special Forces Group (green berets) in Vietnam. (The Tillman’s were in A Company of the 75th Rangers.)
And I used that same word “noble” to describe our intentions in an article I wrote for my West Point class’s 40th reunion memory book called Both Sides of the Wall. The “Wall” to which the title refers is the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington, DC. 20 of our classmates are listed on it. That article, titled “The Class of the Gulf of Tonkin,” notes that as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of our graduating from West Point, we should also remember the day four years earlier—July 1, 1964, when we “magnificent, noble” teenagers entered West Point as new cadets. I said we were more united on that day by those intentions than we were on graduation day when we had become far less naive, gained far more self-knowledge, far more real-world knowledge about the West Point and the Army, and had adopted divergent plans for our futures.
The final paragraph of Krakauer’s book well summarizes the character of Pat Tillman and the naive, noble intentions that drove him and his brother to enlist and seek assignment to the rangers and led to his death.
A compelling argument can be made…that the sad end he met in Afghanistan was more accurately a function of his stubborn idealism—his insistence on trying to do the right thing. In which case it wasn’t a tragic flaw that brought Tillman down, but a tragic virtue.
I would put it a little more precisely: he was brought down by the combination of the virtue of idealism and the flaw of simply failing to do enough homework and to seek contraindications to his enlistment/ranger decision diligently enough.
I have no objection to praising most U.S. military personnel for their noble intentions when they joined. I was once one of them. But I also have no problem condemning those who find the dishonesty and ineptitude in the actual, not mythological, Hollywood U.S. military, then go along with it to get along—in many cases, making a career out of the SNAFU!!! If you accept SNAFU, you are AFU. That’s wrong and their original, noble intentions do not absolve them from responsibility for the mess that is the U.S. military. See my web article on why I created and maintain my military web pages. It explains why not trying to fix the U.S. military is a moral crime once you know about it.
|Pat Tillman requesting to be assigned to a ranger unit||Krakauer said the family and the brothers thought they would be safer in a “highly trained” unit than a regular unit. Rangers are not highly trained. They go through two months of primarily sleep and food deprivation. Doctors are highly trained. So are machinists, FL football players, plumbers, engineers, and computer programmers. The rangers attract many immature individuals using rangerness to prove their manhood. The rangers seek the most dangerous assignments. Tillman failed to check his theory that military service in general and rangers in particular were what their Hollywood images told him they were, especially with regard to the quality and safety of the rangers. Pat Tillman did make extraordinary efforts to check out the Army and rangers before he enlisted, but it was not enough. He seems to have committed the sin of confirmation bias, that is, he searched for information that would confirm his preconceived notions. He failed to seek contrary information by talking to former rangers who are critical of the training and experience. (My book Best Practices for the Intelligent Real Estate Investor has a chapter on confirmation bias and dozens of other common analytical mistakes that apply to all sorts of decisions, not just investing. They comprise a relatively new academic field called behavioral economics.)|
|Pat Tillman staying in after he had a chance to get out.||
He would not have left his brother Kevin behind. Both would have had to get that deal for Pat to accept it. His focus on his three-year commitment was inappropriate. He should have incorporated the new information he had acquired since he joined the Army and made the decision that made the most sense for him, his brother, and his family. He was morally and physically courageous. But he seems to have been too concerned about the reaction of the public to that, which is uncharacteristic of him. I have an extensive discussion of the similar subject of quitting West Point at http://www.johntreed.com/gotousma.html. It covers bogus analysis like “I’m no quitter” and similar bogus rationales for stubbornly staying somewhere after you realize it was a mistake to go there to begin with.
Pat could have held a news conference and stated his reasons. That might have saved his life and perhaps those of others thinking of following his example. I suspect he and Kevin would now say to prospective Army rangers, “Don’t do it.”
|me for not trying to talk him out of it||
When I first heard of Pat Tillman’s plan to quit the NFL and join the Army rangers, I thought, “I have to write to him and try to talk him out of that.” I coached 15 football teams at the youth and high school levels. My oldest son was an Ivy League tailback. I have written close to 20 books about football coaching including two that are used by NFL coaches. I also am an airborne, ranger, West Point graduate, Vietnam vet. I decided against writing to Pat because I sensed he was stubborn and that the die had been cast. When I heard he was killed, I felt remorse for not having tried. I still do. To a large extent, my military web pages are an attempt to save others from Tillman’s fate. A number have thanked me for doing just that.
His family reacted to his announcement that he and Kevin were enlisting by doing a large intervention—really—not some TV ad skit where “intervention” is a punch line. All but his wife tried to talk him and Kevin out of joining the Army. She supported his decision, not because she thought it was a great idea, but because she recognized that Pat believed he needed to do it. The rest of the family, even including his homeless uncle former marine who read about his plan to enlist in the papers, all hurled themselves at Pat with all their might trying to talk him out of it.
But I still may have had a chance to succeed where they did not. Pat apparently would listen and keep an open mind. He did seek out some vets to ask what they thought about his decision. If I could have talked him out of it, it would have been because of his willingness to listen and my combination of football understanding and military experience.
Carroll O’Connor was most famous for his role as Archie Bunker in the TVs sitcom All in the Family. But I think his most compelling performance came in the anti-drug ad he filmed in the aftermath of his son dying from drugs. I see little difference between dying of drugs and dying because you naively trusted your life to the U.S. government and its military as far as the feelings of the surviving family members are concerned. To quote Pat’s bother Richard, “Pat is fucking dead.” And he is not the slightest bit less dead than O’Connor’s son because of his noble intentions. Both Pat Tillman and O’Connor’s son are dead because they trusted someone they should not have trusted. In terms of current vital signs, for Pat Tillman, trusting the U.S. government and his fellow rangers led to an identical result as O’Connor’s son trusting a drug dealer and his drug-using peers. Both using drugs and joining the U.S. Army or Marines are playing Russian Roulette and playing Russian Roulette gets a lot of people killed. The decision to do either is akin to a decision to commit suicide.
There are military crises for which we need our young people to serve in the military perhaps dying at the hands of the enemy in the process. Our nation was created and preserved in such crises by such heroes. But that does not mean that every time politicians declare something a “war” and young people in uniform die that their sacrifice was the same as those who died at the hands of the enemy in wars that were truly necessary.
Paraphrasing Carroll O’Connor,
Do whatever it takes to get between your son and volunteering for the military during an unnecessary war.
I said above that the Tillman family including his in-laws attempted an intervention to try to talk him and Kevin out of enlisting. So how are they also possibly responsible for their enlisting? There are two time frames. Generally, the Tillman family has a proud history of members serving in U.S. wars. Furthermore, they also seemed to be military buffs or militarophiles of sorts, including Mary, Pat’s mom. I will discuss that more when I write about her book Boots on the Ground by Dusk about Pat’s life and death.
Roughly speaking, the Tillman family went out of its way repeatedly during their childhood to impress upon Pat and his brothers that serving one’s country in uniform was often a necessary duty and was honorable and noble and that if the time comes, you should do it.
My family gave my brothers and me a sort of “lite” version of that. There were snapshots of my father and uncles in uniform and occasional mention that they had been drafted during World War II or the Korean War. They told stories that were almost all funny about the various SNAFUs; occasionally unfunny mentions of buddies killed.
One of my uncles, Jack Simonsick, dropped out of high school just before graduation because of an argument with a teacher. He was a top student. He enlisted in 1940, before the war had begun. He later went to OCS and became, at one point, the youngest (non-pilot) captain in the U.S. Army in Europe during the war. I saw the newspaper clipping. After the war, when the vets were still in the Army and in uniform, my uncle had to go back to his old High School, Woodrow Wilson in Camden, NJ, to get some papers. He ran into the teacher with whom he had the argument. The teacher was also in uniform. He was a sergeant. My Uncle Jack was at that time a major. In the early 1960s, he worked at the Hotel Thayer at West Point for one of his old war buddies. Visiting my uncle there is how I got interested in going to West Point.
But my parents did not glorify war or service at all. My impression is that the Tillman family did “sell” it to an extent to the Tillman boys, although the actual veterans in the Tillman family seemed typically to be just quietly proud men who did no bragging or suggesting it was an experience to be sought out unnecessarily.
Generally, those who have not been in the military have an overly sanguine notion of what it’s like. Their image is Hollywood and Memorial Day parades and history books and all that. If that is all you know about the U.S. military, I strongly urge that you keep your mouth totally shut about the wisdom of volunteering for it, including entering the Army the way I did by going to West Point. Refer young people who are interested in volunteering for the U.S. military to veterans and make sure they get both sides. Some vets, like some of those aged sad sacks wearing uniforms who hang around the Vietnam memorial wall in DC, or young guys still on active duty, are playing the selfless servant warrior hero routine for all it is worth. If one of them does that to your son or daughter, they may get them killed.
In the second time frame, Pat and his mom were extremely opposed to the Iraq war which they both thought was illegal. Kevin probably was too but I do not recall for certain. Like the rest of America, the Tillmans were moved by 9/11. Pat and Kevin did a brief tour in Iraq, but Pat wrote vehement criticism of the U.S. being there in his diary. He may have drawn a similar conclusion in Afghanistan, but we do not know for two reasons: Captain Wade Bovard ordered Pat’s journal burned and presided over that burning and because Pat was killed just 14 days after he arrived in Afghanistan. He may have turned against it and said so in his journal, or he may have later concluded it was an unjust war if he had survived the Afghan tour.
|Lieutenant David Uthlaut||
To the extent that he had an opportunity to train his troops before deploying to Afghanistan, Uthlaut should have instilled the habits of fire and radio discipline. Those of you who know the military only from Hollywood will probably assume he spent many months training his men. As a veteran of the U.S. Army in war time, I say, “You gotta be kidding me!” I would be surprised if Uthlaut had a chance to train his men. If he did, it was apparently not very effective. He also should have blown up the humvee and only traveled in the dark as was SOP. Finally, he needed to assess the situation when the shooting started in Mana and get it under control. He did not, resulting in two of his own men dead and two more, including himself, wounded. Three bullets in the temple killed Tillman, but he was apparently hit a dozen or more times by his fellow rangers with many hitting his bulletproof vest and others hitting his legs.
I sent Uthlaut an email summarizing my comments about him and offering to send this whole article to him to get his side before I published this. He did not respond.
|Sergeant First Class Eric Godec||He was Uthlaut’s second in command and was in charge of the trailing group of vehicles that did all the shooting. Like Uthlaut, he did not place himself in the key geographic location in relation to his men when the shooting started. Same responsibility as Uthlaut: training in the states, decision on splitting the platoon, and what he did or failed to do during the shooting. Actually, I recall no information about what he did during the shooting which suggests little or nothing that was relevant.|
|Company XO Captain Kirby Dennis||Sympathetic to Uthlaut’s complaints about splitting the platoon but mainly just dithered and wrang his hands about doing anything about it. Apparently his main focus was to avoid getting on the wrong side of the battalion commander and S-3 Hodne.|
|Company Commander Captain William Saunders||
Same as Dennis but “heroically” (in a way that only a lifer could love) took one for the team after the fact by changing his story to absolve his superior Major Hodne from blame for the decision to split the platoon.
Elsewhere at my military web site I have an article titled “The 30-year, marathon, single-elimination suck-up tournament or How american selects its generals.” What the guys in the TOC—Dennis, Saunders, and Hodne—were doing when Uthlaut was trying to abandon the humvee was competing in the 30-year suck-up tournament. The safety of Tillman and his platoon mates was secondary, if not tertiary, to that.
|S-3 (operations officer) Major David Hodne||The genius who placed the recovery of a worthless humvee and the need to cross off the village of Mana above the safety of the platoon then threw Uthlaut under the bus and allowed Saunders to throw himself under the bus to protect Hodne’s career.|
|Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bailey||He appears to have been largely out of the loop with regard to splitting Uthlaut’s platoon and the 13 minutes of irresponsible shooting thereafter. He seems to have had little to do with Tillman’s death or preventing it, not because he is a great military leader but only because he was not in the Tactical Operations Center at the time or if he was, he was focused on other things. His misbehavior was mainly with the cover-up.|
|rest of the chain of command above Bailey||These guys had little to do directly with Tillman’s death other than setting the stage generally by not training the men adequately and not listening to the lieutenants on the scene with regard to issues like retrieval of damaged humvees and placing high priority on missions that did not deserve it. They are responsible for the general reluctance to abandon the humvee and the pressure to accomplish the Mana mission even if those two tasks exposed the platoon to much greater dangers for no good reason. Uthlaut’s men were also the men of everyone above Uthlaut in the chain of command. Those men did a horse shit job and that reflects on the entire chain of command above them.|
One recurring entry in Pat Tillman’s journal kind of ripped at me. Here is that entry and a hypothetical conversation between me and some future prospective recruit who told me the same thing.
Page 170-171 of paperback 2010 edition of Where Men Win Glory
Potential future recruit: Naturally, I’m a confident person and know all will be well and in a few years we’ll be right back in the driver’s seat kicking life’s ass. But I’m also aware that there is the possibility I’m wrong. If Marie’s, Ma’s, Kevin’s, and Pooh’s, and Dad’s life was somehow hurt on account of me, I couldn’t forgive myself.
I console myself in the knowledge that I did this with noble intention. Sometimes one must purposefully convince himself that he is right as doubt creeps in. Fortunately the doubt is a small voice and I can control it.
My wife and family mean the world to me, as do my friends; I cannot allow this to bring pain to them.
Me: You’re a confident person?
Me: And we’re talking about the possibility of you getting killed or maimed over there?
Me: How is whether you are a confident person relevant to whether you get hurt?
Recruit: Well, I am optimistic It’s the only way to be.
Me: How is your being optimistic relevant to whether you get hurt over there?
Recruit: I dunno. Don’t you think confident optimistic people generally do better in life?
Me: We are not talking about “life.” We are talking about the probability that a piece of metal flying through the air at thousands of feet per second is going to penetrate your body and damage a vital organ. Or whether expanding gases from an explosion are going to kill you outright or cause you to bleed to death. Do you think the flying metal or explosive gases detour around confident optimistic people?
Recruit: Of course not.
Me: Do they detour around people whose intentions were noble?
Me: Then how about you drop that total bullshit from your analysis of this situation? You say you couldn’t forgive yourself if your wife’s or family’s life was somehow hurt on account of you. I agree. But if you get killed, the reason you won’t be able to forgive yourself is you’ll be fucking dead, not because you’re a nice guy. Actions speak louder than words. If you’re so fucking concerned about causing pain to your wife and family, why are you doing this?
Recruit: It’s just something I have to do.
Me: Bullshit! You haven’t been drafted. It’s just something you WANT to do—in spite of how much it will devastate your wife and family if you get killed. Let’s talk about the amount of hurt that would cause. If you stay out of the military and the war, you will more likely live to a ripe old age. Your wife will probably never be a widow and your family will die in the normal sequence after full lives without any of them ever being hurt by one of you getting killed unnecessarily. Have you ever been a casualty assistance officer?
Recruit: What’s that?
Me: One of the three soldier’s who go to your next of kin in person to tell them you’ve been killed.
Recruit: Of course not. I’ve never been in the military.
Me: So tag along with one. Get in the official U.S. Army van and drive to the house or place of work of the wife or mom. Watch the people on the street at the Army base looking at the van as it goes by—the terror on their faces that it will stop at their house or the house of someone they know. If they go to a work place, watch the terror on the faces of the receptionist or other co-worker of the next of kin when he or she sees your group of three extremely somber-faced people in Class A uniforms. Watch the terror on the next-of-kin’s face the moment they spot your group of soldiers. You may have to look quick. They often collapse to the floor screaming “NO! NO!” and crying hysterically. If the next of kin is a wife who teaches at the base elementary school, watch the children and teachers inside all the classrooms freeze in horror as your van pulls to a stop in front of the school. They know what it means. Somebody’s husband or daddy has been killed. They are only little kids, but they know war. They typically know a dozen or more kids whose fathers’ have been killed and who got taken out of school in the middle of the day to join their family’s grief—often never to be seen again by their friends because their mom no longer had any association with the Army and had to move off the base. Hang around with the family of the dead soldier as they call other family and friends and give them the news. Go back an visit them a month later, a year later. Se if they have gotten over it. See if they have achieved “closure.” Tell the mom or widow of a guy who just died that you are about to enlist in the Army or Marines. She is likely to grab you by the throat and throw you up against a wall screaming you must not do this to your family.
Most people never in their lives go through the unfathomable-to-the-rest-of-us pain of a young loved one being deliberately or accidentally killed in a war. Your family will never have to go through it if you stay out of the military.
Recruit: I guess it’s pretty bad.
Me: You have no fucking clue. Even after I told you what it’s like you have no fucking clue. But you say you cannot allow this to bring pain to them in one breath and that you are still going to enlist in the next. You are totally full of shit. Like I said, actions speak louder than words. We will find out how much you care about your wife and family by how you decide on enlisting. As for this stuff about you couldn’t forgive yourself and you cannot allow this to happen, I don’t know who you think your kidding. Not me.
Recruit: It’s my life; my decision.
Me: Bullshit! Who gave you the right to risk the life of your mom’s son? Your father’s son? Your siblings’ brother? Your grandparents’ grandson? Your friends’ friend. You have no right to make them love you then play Russian Roulette with their loved one in some godforsaken country so you can add a little Hollywood action hero to your self image.
Recruit: Don’t you think you’re overly harsh tongue lashing me like this?
Me: Harsh is your mom or wife finding three soldiers in class A uniforms and horrified facial expressions on her front step. I’m trying to save your fucking life. And I’m trying to save your friends and relatives from ever suffering this searing, never-ending pain. Would anything less than harsh have a chance to get through to you the full meaning of what you are considering here?
Mary Tillman and her family want justice. They want the people who are responsible for Pat’s death and the cover-up of its circumstances to be punished appropriately.
Not gonna happen.
Why not. I explained it in some detail in my web article Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?
The U.S. military is profoundly corrupt from top to bottom. In one way, it is like the Mafia. That is, you are not trusted until you, too, misbehave. That proves you are one of them, not some “Boy Scout” who might rat them out. Plus, when they get you to misbehave, they now have something on you that they can use against you if you violate the Code of Silence or the “I lie and you swear by it” rule. The unspoken contract is you don’t rat me out and I don’t rat you out. The “punishments” meted out to the privates, sergeants, lieutenant, and captains—and the one retired general—in the Tillman case, but not against the higher ranking guys, who were all actually promoted, are as minimal as the brass thought they could get away with.
To put it another way, the Army brass are not going to court martial Trevor Alders and his squad leader Greg Baker or their platoon leader David Uthlaut because they know too much, know where too many bones are buried. Those folks are not happy about being slapped on the wrist, but they are not mad enough to declare war on the brass. If, however, they were court martialed and threatened with penitentiary time, they would get lawyers and probably declare legal war on the Army brass. Brass who live in glass houses cannot throw stones. They know it and they don’t.
They investigate themselves, destroy evidence, change their stories over time to unify tem, and absolve themselves except for minimal punishment they think they have to impose to provide a fig leaf of cover for their general policy that military officers are immune from prosecution for their incompetence or lies.
When I was fired by the Army—six years after I gave them seven years notice that I would be resigning my commission the minute I was allowed to—they seemed to sense that I was not interested in being a snitch or drawing attention to myself. They gave me an honorable discharge and severance pay which basically meant I was a good guy, but not quite up to the high standards of being an officer. Somehow they claim that was true in spite of my being up to the high standards of four years at West Point, airborne, ranger—standards that only a small percentage of those in the Army officer corps have met.
Anyway, the Army sensed right with me. Had they escalated their action against me to say I was some sort of a bad guy, I would have declared holy war on them. If you remember the Vietnam war era, you know I probably would have been on many major TV shows around the world. The media then was ravenously hungry for anti-military stories. At that time, John Kerry was a former young military officer who was bad-mouthing the military. He was trying to jump start his political career. (It worked. He is now a senator and was a presidential nominee in 2004.) I did not want to be mistaken for guys like him who traded on their Vietnam service for personal gain.
As it happened, one daily newspaper did get wind of my case through the grapevine while I was “on trial.” I declined to be interviewed by them—like Pat and Kevin Tillman’s steadfast refusal to be interviewed by the media after they decided to enlist. I quietly stood up to the brass in the hearing where three officers (all non-West Point, non-ranger, non-airborne) fired me very gingerly. They said I had a “defective attitude.” What’s that mean? I looked it up in the Army law books when they first accused me of its. It has no definition. It is just a blank check for the brass to get rid of difficult young officers whenever they want.
I recently heard from other young West Point graduates who are going through the defective-attitude process now. Since my case, although not necessarily because of it, they did away with the hearing. I could have done away with the hearing but I insisted on it so I could have a transcript of the evidence and arguments. I may have been the only one or one of very few who did that. It kept me in the Army another year after they offered to let me out. I would not be surprised if the Army decided it was not prudent for them to be in the business of creating such transcripts. (Although my mom tried to read it. It was too boring.) The phrase “defective attitude” is unconstitutionally vague, but it will continue to be law until someone bothers to challenge it constitutionally in U.S. district court. I was not interested in spending the time or money on that.
Yes, if you are interested in the Tillman case or the general subject is of how competent and honest our military is or isn’t. Krakauer did a lot of work on the book including two extended trips to Afghanistan for research. There are too many partisan, mostly irrelevant, anti-Bush diversions in it. Krakauer probably overdoes giving you background. The book would have been a little better with cooperation from Tillman’s blood relatives. But generally I think it is a necessary book for anyone who wants to understand the Tillman incident in particular and the U.S. Army in general. If you are thinking of joining the Army or the Marines in a fighting unit, or you have a child or grandchild who is, you need to read this book. This is the reality behind the bullshit Hollywood image. If you are just looking for entertainment in reading it, I am not sure this is your best choice.
I think the book needed a little bit more military-expert checking at the final stage. Krakauer talked to a lot of military personnel, but the book still contains some military mistakes that I identified above on just a casual read. It probably needed a West Point graduate proofreader when it was in that stage in addition to the other vet proofreaders.
Krakauer seems biased against Bush and Republicans and in favor of Democrats and his bias adversely affects colors those parts of the book where mention is made of either.
Get the 2010 paperback version. It has been updated and has 50 more pages and new facts.
A blogger has posted extensive Web articles about the Tillman incident at http://www.feralfirefighter.blogspot.com/. His post “The [Untold] Tillman Story” presents his argument that the Democratic Congress and President Obama continued the Army & Bush administration whitewash of Gen. McChrystal and the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death.
I will post a review of Mary Tillman’s book Boots on the Ground by Dusk shortly.
I have had it up to here with friendly fire and the military’s lying and cover-ups. In transportation safety, the National Transportation Safety Board does an excellent job of investigating transportation-related accidents—including pipelines. We need a similarly competent, independent organization with similar authority to investigate friendly-fire incidents and so-called “training accidents” in the military. For one thing, it must be totally separate from the military. For another, it must have the power to punish false statements and destruction of evidence and any other efforts to impede the investigation. That power must be so great that it trumps the power the chain of command has over the people in the military. The chain of command’s power is currently almost absolute.
Because of the nature of combat, some friendly-fire incidents are inevitable. The same may be true of training accidents. But there are far too many friendly-fire and training-accident death and injuries. And there is absolutely no excuse for the lying and covering up that follows almost all such incidents. I call again for a Pat Tillman Memorial Fratricide Avoidance Institute.
Marie Tillman, Pat’s widow, now works full time at www.pattillmanfoundation.org. They mainly run two annual 4.2 mile fund-raising running events (Tillman’s jersey number was 42.) at Tempe, AZ (home of Pat’s alma mater Arizona State University) and San Jose (the major metro area where Pat grew up). Proceeds are used to fund a “Leadership Through Action” two-semester course at the ASU School of Business.