This is the second in an ongoing series of posts attempting to bring the readers along as a reporter researches, writes and publishes an article in The Washington Post.
When the Army investigates a battlefield death, it compiles a report called an AR 15-6, for Army Regulation 15-6. In the case of Pfc. David Sharrett of Oakton, it actually produced two of them, not long after he was killed on Jan. 16, 2008. This involves taking statements from everyone involved, diagrams of the scene and other crucial information, keeping security in mind.
A reporter has to do the reading to understand the background of a story. And if you want to do the reading, you can too. The Army released the reports in 2010, and they are available, in three volumes, right here.
It is not light reading, and I’ll summarize what’s in there. First, Sharrett, who was 27, was one of three soldiers killed that morning near the town of Bichigan, Iraq. Also killed were Pfc. Danny L. Kimme, 27, of Fisher, Ill., and Spc. John P. Sigsbee, 21, of Waterville, N.Y. I plan on interviewing the families of both men.
An investigation done in the days immediately after the three deaths — six suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members were also killed — determined that no one had acted improperly and the soldiers were killed by enemy fire. “No substantial evidence leads to any type of negligence or culpability on the part of any U.S. Service Member involved in this attack,” the first AR 15-6 concluded.
But at virtually the same time, in an autopsy of Sharrett at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, a NATO bullet was found in Sharrett. This meant he was not shot by Al-Qaeda. The discovery led to a second, more detailed AR 15-6 investigation, including ballistics tests which determined the fatal shot was fired by 1st Lt. Timothy Hanson, of Janesville, Wis.
But the second AR 15-6 report, among other failings, did not mention that Hanson fled the battlefield and left Sharrett bleeding on the ground for more than an hour. It also resulted in only a temporary reprimand for Hanson, that was shredded when he left Iraq, enabling his subsequent promotion to captain.
“Based on the evidence, I did not find any violations of the law, regulations, or policies during this investigation,” an anonymous commander concluded.
For about a year, Dave Sharrett, the father, didn’t know what the report was missing. But then he met up with some of his son’s comrades, and learned of an apparent cover-up. He also learned that five (!) video cameras, from two helicopters, two jets and an unmanned drone, captured all or part of the episode. He obtained those videos
A third investigation was launched in 2010, but its findings again were unsatisfactory to the Sharretts. Early this year, a fourth investigation — and a third AR 15-6 — was undertaken. Recently, three Army generals traveled to the Sharretts’ home to brief them on the findings, but they did not provide a copy of the AR 15-6. And what they said about why now-Captain Hanson shot their son opened up new questions. More to come on that, and I will certainly offer the Army every opportunity to explain this process and their conclusions.
The Sharretts are now waiting for the third AR 15-6, to see if their questions are answered. And that is the status of the case at this moment.
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ORIGINAL POST: Introduction
I met Dave Sharrett for the first time recently. I had spoken to him once on the phone, three years ago. That was the day after his son, Army Private 1st Class David H. Sharrett II, a former star football player at Oakton High School, was killed in combat in Iraq.
That day, Dave Sharrett was at the start of a horrible odyssey, accompanied in spirit by hundreds of his friends, family members and former students at Langley and Chantilly high schools, where he was a hugely popular English teacher for 30 years. Those friends and family members, including his wife, Vicki, and younger sons Chris and Brooks, have watched in disgust as the U.S. Army hinted at, then forcefully denied, and then finally admitted that Pfc. Sharrett was shot down by his own lieutenant amidst a ferocious firefight in the pre-dawn darkness of Northern Iraq.
Dave Sharrett probably could have lived with that, if that was the end of the story. War is messy. But it was not the end of the story. In bits and pieces, Sharrett learned that his son’s lieutenant fled the battlefield in a helicopter and refused to return, with Pfc. Sharrett lying on the frozen ground, bleeding for more than an hour. It is unknown whether prompt medical attention would have saved him.
When Dave Sharrett asked what would happen to the lieutenant who had killed his son, he was told this: He was promoted to captain.
Because Dave Sharrett refused to accept this as the final chapter of the tragedy, the Army has investigated and reinvestigated the incident on Jan. 16, 2008, in which two other soldiers were killed by enemy fighters. A fourth probe has recently concluded, Sharrett has been told, and he is awaiting the results.
I will periodically update this blog with developments in the case, as well as progress in my reporting and writing of a story that will attempt to capture the drama and heroism inherent in the life stories of father and the son. I must read and organize a mountain of paperwork produced by the Army and obtained by Sharrett through various means over the past three years.
Then I must interview other participants and witnesses in the saga, and ask the Army how and why they treated the family of a fallen soldier as they did. The process, from beginning to end, may take weeks or even months. I have other stories, and this blog, to write.
But in the wake of the friendly fire death of former NFL player Pat Tillman and the cover-up of the true facts of that episode, you’d think the Army would be ready to handle another friendly fire death appropriately. By all accounts, they were not.