The story of how Oakton’s Pfc. David H. Sharrett II died in Iraq, at the hands of his own lieutenant, and how his family has pushed for truth and accountability in the aftermath, was published today on the front page of the print edition, and first appeared online Sunday night. If you recall, I’ve been writing about the Sharretts in various blog posts.
Here’s how it all unfolded.
It started in July, when I drove down to the Lynchburg suburb of Forest, Va., to meet Dave Sharrett Sr. and his wife Vicki. They are ridiculously nice people. I’m not sure how a person has the strength to discuss such a terrible topic in such detail, but Dave Sharrett Sr. has that strength. I spent the day and evening with the Sharretts, and at the end of all that shot a brief video interview, which wound up on our Web site. It’s a good snapshot of how eloquent Sharrett can be even off-the-cuff after nine hours of talking.
Both Sharrett and former New York Daily News reporter James Gordon Meek supplied me with stacks of Army documents as well as the videos of the firefight. In November, I traveled to central Illinois and interviewed both Doug Kimme, the father of fallen soldier Pfc. Danny Kimme, and retired Col. Scott McBride. By coincidence, McBride has retired to Champaign, Ill., where Doug Kimme is a police patrol officer. A year after the fratricide, McBride tried to recommend a permanent reprimand for Lt. Timothy Hanson, but he said too much time had passed, and the Army was simply too reluctant to revisit a case and reconsider discipline at that point.
I then tracked down other members of Dave Sharrett II’s platoon by phone, including Spc. Karl Wood in Michigan, Spc. Raphael Collins in Louisiana and Spc. Jerwien Fuentes in Missouri, though their comments were largely edited out of the final version. All had very clear memories of the dark morning of Jan. 16, 2008. The other two surviving members of Team 6, Spc. Brendan Quinn and Staff Sgt. Chris McGraw, did not respond to my e-mails. The two commanders most closely involved with the case, now-Maj. Mike Loveall and Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, said by e-mail they did not want to comment.
In Falls Church, I interviewed Brig. Gen. Steven Townsend, who is now at the Pentagon, and who rejected McBride’s 2009 request for discipline on Hanson. He candidly discussed his reasoning with me. Similarly, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a three-star general and commander of U.S. forces in Europe, patiently spent two hours on the phone discussing the case with me in January, and why he felt the Army came to different conclusions at different times.
Also in January, I met and interviewed Heather Shell, the young widow of Dave Sharrett II. She is still devastated by his death, and until recently had been unaware that her father-in-law was still pursuing the case.
Finally, one night in February, I called now-Capt. Tim Hanson at his home in Wisconsin. His wife answered, and though she said he was putting their child to bed, he came to the phone, which he could have avoided. He was gracious and polite, like all people from Wisconsin.
But he was mostly silent. He said he had nothing to add. I explained that the story would focus mostly on Dave Sharrett Sr. and his struggles over the last four years. I said I had heard from the Sharretts’ side, from the Army’s side, from the soldiers’ side. People want to hear your side.
I said, “The Sharretts want to hear your side.” I knew he had never reached out to them. “Do you have anything to say to them?”
And Hanson said, “I've always wanted to apologize to the Sharretts. Eventually, I'd like to do it in person.”
So why don't you say that?
"I do want to say I'm sorry."
Can I write that down?
“Well, I don’t know how the media operates, and what you want to do.”
I explained that I would only quote him if he agreed to go on the record, and that he should really let people know how he felt. Can I write it down?
But that was as far as he would go, saying again that he had nothing more to add.
The Army still has not told us what Hanson’s status in the Army is.
From Feb. 6 to 10, I wrote a draft of the story, which was extremely long, over 9,200 words. It is my way, painful as it is to the editors, of figuring out what the most important parts are. Over the next two weeks, Deputy Local Editor Mike Semel, Local Editor Vernon Loeb and I pared it down to a crisp (!) 5,800 words, though this meant losing comments from some of the soldiers involved and from Heather Shell, Dave Sharrett II’s widow, as well as details and background from all sides. I also wrote short profiles of the four main participants in the story.
Meanwhile, Post filmmaker A.J. Chavar began working with three different video recordings of the battle, and combined them into a riveting five-minute film. He wrote a script for me to use as narration, and needlessly filmed me for the introduction. Please skip over this when you watch. I was low on sleep. Bad hair day. Poor lighting. My whining about my slovenly appearance apparently convinced him to cut me out of the end portion. Thanks, A.J.
Also, Post graphic artist Cristina Rivero set about to do a graphic re-creation of the battle. She used official Army documents to devise the ”failures in leadership protocol,” and we worked together to locate the dots and sharpen the text. Assistant photo editor Mark Miller compiled a photo gallery to accompany the story. Katie Myrick did a stunning layout and Brian Cleveland on the copy desk brought it all home.
The article was scheduled to be published in the Sunday paper, and was even advertised in the early Sunday edition, the “Bulldog” version which is distributed to stores on Saturday. But, as often happens in our business, breaking news out of Afghanistan pushed it to the Monday edition. It was first published online Sunday night.
So far, Dave Sharrett Sr. has not raised any complaints with it, and he is fielding calls from other news media. He has a meeting scheduled with the Secretary of the Army on Thursday, and hopes that we will continue to follow the story. We will.