The Army announced Thursday that it was investigating the awarding of a prestigious combat badge to the lieutenant who shot and killed Pfc. David H. Sharrett II of Oakton during a friendly fire incident in Iraq in 2008.
Then-Lt. Timothy R. Hanson was given the “combat infantryman badge” specifically for his actions on Jan. 16, 2008, according to a document supplied to Sharrett’s father, David H. Sharrett Sr., last week. On that day, Hanson led a team of seven other soldiers into an ambush in which two Americans were killed by insurgents near Balad. When David Sharrett II stood up and sprinted away from the enemy, investigations showed that Hanson turned and shot Sharrett once at close range, then got up and ran in the opposite direction and never told anyone what he had done.
About 45 minutes later, the unhurt Hanson climbed on a helicopter and left with two wounded men. Sharrett lay on the ground for another 30 minutes before he was found. He died an hour later. Though Hanson’s superior officers knew he had left the battlefield, and a February 2008 investigation of the fratricide noted it, Hanson was given the combat infantryman badge in March 2008, and promoted to captain the following year. He now works full-time as a captain in the Army Reserve in Wisconsin. In a brief conversation in February, he apologized for the shooting, but he has never communicated with the Sharretts.
After receiving the documentation of Hanson’s award, Dave Sharrett Sr. sent an angry letter on Monday to Secretary of the Army John McHugh.
“Hanson’s commanders clearly knew what he did,” Sharrett wrote. ”By covering up Hanson’s cowardice, they paved the way for and approved the same award my son was given posthumously. This reeks of total hypocrisy and makes the Army look rotten to the core.”
Thursday evening, Army spokesman George B. Wright Jr. said that ”the Army takes matters of improper award allegations very seriously. In the case of Lt. Hanson’s Combat Infantryman Badge award order dated March 27, 2008, the Army has directed a formal review of the award. The review is ongoing, and expected to be complete within the next two months.”
Wright declined to say who had ordered the review of the award, or how the award had been approved in the first place. The Army did not inform Sharrett of the investigation Thursday.
According to the Army’s Military Awards criteria, the Combat Infantryman Badge was created during World War II as the “fighter badge,” to “enhance morale and the prestige” of the infantry soldiers who operated under the worst conditions, suffered the most casualties and received the least public recognition.
The specific criteria for the award is that a soldier must be an Army infantry or special forces officer or soldier, must have “satisfactorily performed duty” in active ground combat, and in a unit “actively engaged in ground combat with the enemy,” in any unit smaller than a brigade.
The review of the award to Hanson is a small consolation to David Sharrett Sr., who has been pressing for more information on the specifics of his son’s death, and specifically the Army’s handling of its aftermath, for four years. He has felt that Army commanders knew of Hanson’s actions and covered them up, and finding that Hanson had received a prestigious award for the specific day he killed Sharrett’s son was a new and devastating wound.
When soldiers first located the dying David Sharrett II, unconscious on the ground in the darkness but still alive, they couldn’t find a wound on him. That was because he had been shot at close range with a 5.56-mm rifle round, which severed his femoral artery, an autopsy showed.
When Sharrett’s body was shipped back to the United States, the green-tipped NATO bullet was found. Forensics tests linked the bullet to Hanson’s rifle. An investigation was done in February 2008 which said that Hanson mistook Sharrett for an enemy fighter, though Hanson’s own statements never said that. In 2011, Hanson told an investigator he didn’t know he had shot anyone, though the video showed him moving away immediately after Sharrett fell.
Sharrett Sr. and reporter James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News began seeking more information, and found that Hanson’s immediate commanders, Maj. Michael Loveall and Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, were aware that Hanson had fled the battlefield and left behind two dead, two living and one wounded soldier. Then they learned that overhead video of the episode existed, showing nearly the entire battle, though not the moment when Sharrett was shot.
As a result of the investigation by Sharrett and Meek, aided by Douglas Kimme, the father of one of the other soldiers killed, the Army performed a more detailed investigation in 2011. That probe heavily criticized Hanson and appeared to formally reprimand him, though the recommended action was redacted.
After a story about the case appeared in The Washington Post in February, the Army released a summary of Hanson’s military record, including a list of his awards. Sharrett asked the Army to explain how Hanson received any recognition for what was reportedly his only brush with battle, and last Friday he received the order authorizing the infantry badge to Hanson.
“We’re glad to see that someone in the United States Army takes matters of ‘improper award allegations very seriously’,” Sharrett said Thursday night. “And we hope the Army will target its investigation into Lt. Hanson’s chain of command, who made a conscious decision to cover up Hanson’s desertion and reward his cowardice with a coveted combat badge.”
The order authorizing the award to Hanson is here.
Other stories on the Sharrett case:
The main story about Dave Sharrett Sr.’s four-year struggle for truth and accountability;
VIDEO: Overhead helicopter and drone video of the battle where Dave Sharrett II and two other American soldiers were killed;
A graphic showing how the battle unfolded;
Profiles of the key players in the Sharrett saga;
A photo gallery of the Sharretts.
The Army’s 2008 investigation into the case, later found to be incomplete.
VIDEO: Dave Sharrett Sr. discusses how his faith helped him handle the death of his son.
The aftermath of The Post’s story, including the Sharrett family’s frustrating meeting with Army Secretary McHugh.