Shortly after the article appeared about the friendly fire death of Pfc. David H. Sharrett II, the fallen soldier’s parents and younger brother Chris met with the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. After the meeting, Dave Sharrett Sr. started to consider that perhaps his journey for truth and accountability for his son’s death was over.
Then, in short order, that changed:
They learned that Capt. Timothy R. Hanson, the soldier who killed their son, was not only still serving in the Army (despite assurances to the contrary) but also had received honors for his service in Iraq, including the “Combat Infantryman Badge.” The same badge given posthumously to their son for the same battle.
Next, they found that Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, a commanding officer who declined to discipline Hanson after learning he had not only shot his own man but abandoned him and others on the battlefield, was in line for promotion to full colonel.
In the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) raised the Sharrett case in a dialogue with Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno. But when Odierno gave a pure non-answer to Webb, Webb didn’t press for more.
Then the Sharretts went back and reviewed the 22 questions they had sent to McHugh in advance of their meeting, hoping for some clarity. They determined he had answered none of them.
And Dave Sharrett decided he was not done with the Army yet.
Details are after the jump. Below is an amazing, one-time only live performance of “All Along the Watchtower” by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, two of the Sharrett family’s musical heroes. Neil goes nuts..
I met with Dave and Vicki Sharrett and their son Chris immediately after they left the Pentagon. They were clearly trying to make sense of their audience with the top man in the United States Army, in a high-security (SCIF) room with just themselves, McHugh and two of his aides. And the message they clearly took away was, “The Army has nothing more for you.”
Over lunch, the Sharretts replayed the meeting. They said that after everyone shook hands and sat down, McHugh turned to them and opened up with, “It’s your meeting,” what did they want to know?
This was startling to the Sharretts. They had sent him 22 specific questions about the years of investigations into their son’s death and the lack of accountability for anyone involved. There had been a front-page article in The Washington Post three days earlier. McHugh made no acknowledgment of any of that.
Dave Sharrett Sr. returned to one of his favorite Shakespeare quotes, ”Where does the great axe fall?” Who is being held responsible for the actions of Hanson, and the non-actions of his superior officers? Sharrett asked particularly about Maj. Michael Loveall and Lt. Col. McCarthy, both on scene on January 16, 2008, both aware of Hanson’s abandoning a mortally wounded man (plus two other surviving soldiers and two dead), then soon apprised that the lieutenant had killed his own private.
McHugh seemed surprised at the focus on Loveall and McCarthy, the Sharretts felt. He thought they wanted to talk about Hanson. He allowed that Hanson was still an Army employee, still promoted to captain after the incident, though other Army officials had said Hanson was out of the Army. The Sharretts thought that McHugh hadn’t read their letter.
McHugh and an Army lawyer told them there was no legal precedent for prosecuting commanders for failing to discipline someone or report his wrongful actions. In the end, Dave Sharrett Sr. told McHugh, “the great axe fell on our family.” Vicki Sharrett told him, “If you had just told us the truth from day one, we wouldn’t have been here.”
After the meeting, the Sharretts did a round of media interviews with local TV, radio and print reporters. The Post’s original story was published on the front page of Stars and Stripes. The Army seemed disinclined to help them further, beyond an apology from McHugh for forcing the family to spend four years uncovering the facts of the case. Sharrett wondered if he had reached the end of the line.
But his passion was quickly reignited when the Army released Hanson’s military records the next day. The Army confirmed that Hanson was a full-time captain for the Army Reserves in Wisconsin.
More galling to the Sharretts though, was the listing of the medals and ribbons Hanson had been awarded during his active service, from July 2005 to September 2010. “Meritorious Unit Commendation; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star; Combat Infantryman Badge,” and several others.
The Sharretts had been told by the investigating general on their case that the firefight in which their son was killed had been Hanson’s only combat experience. He was the executive officer of their troop, formerly a platoon leader, but not a regular member of Sharrett’s Team 6. He appeared to have received the Combat Infantryman Badge for the same battle as their son, except he killed their son.
“The fact that this coward has the same CIB that my son was awarded is an insult and diminishes its meaning,” Dave Sharrett Sr. said. “Whoever signed off on this should answer for it.”
Sharrett sent e-mails to the three commanding officers who approved the award to Hanson. “It seems incredible that he would be recommended for such a coveted award,” Sharrett wrote to Loveall, McCarthy and retired Col. Scott McBride. “We’ve read the requirements for the CIB and are hard pressed to understand why any honorable officer would embrace and award such cowardice.
“I’ve spoken to numerous Army officers who are sickened that this man wears that badge,”Sharrett added. He is pressing for more documentation and explanation of why Hanson was given an award for his actions that day.
Only McBride responded. He said he probably approved it, as did McCarthy and then-Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, but did so with countless such awards requests and didn’t really recall it.
Then the Sharretts learned that McCarthy’s name is on the promotion list to full colonel. The promotion must be approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Dave Sharrett said they will urge that McCarthy not be promoted.
Also in the Armed Services Committee, former Marine and military author Sen. James Webb made it clear he was familiar with Sharrett’s case, and his office has worked with the Army on the family’s behalf. Last week, with Odierno and McHugh across from him, Webb asked the general about three incidents: the Pat Tillman friendly fire death where the family was misinformed about what happened, the Battle of Wanat in 2008 where nine soldiers were killed and families pressed for accountability, and the Sharrett case.
“In all three cases,” Webb said, “there were people, sometimes family members who ...became so frustrated with an inability to get answers that they had to come over to us. Obviously, I am going to help anybody who comes over here, but I do not think we should have to be doing that. I think the Army should be doing that. The question in all three of these cases boiled down to whether proper accountability was being put into place for people who had taken certain actions during the incidents. Can you just tell us, do you think those incidents are unusual? Do you think there is something you need to be doing? What is going on here?”
Odierno replied, “I am in agreement with you that accountability is critical...sometimes it takes time to figure out exactly what did happen...and then once we do that, it is imperative that we hold those accountable. And one of the things I talk about all the time is ensuring that we do this.”
Odierno concluded, “If there is misconduct or negligence then we hold those people accountable who have done that. And that is key for us as we move forward, sir.”
Except in the Sharrett case, at least, no one was held accountable. Webb didn’t note that, but he did say the Army’s review actions in Tillman and Wanat sent “very confusing signals to people who have suffered a lot with individual losses...If nothing else, I am glad to hear that you are putting this into your training packages — the lessons learned and the discussions.” And he was done.
I asked Webb’s spokesman, Will Jenkins, why the senator raised the Sharrett case, and whether he intended to pursue it. He said Webb did not want to comment further.
“I wish I could have been sitting in front of General Odierno,” Sharrett said, “to encourage him to drop the transparent, meaningless military drivel that we've heard for four years now and step up to do the right thing. Admit your chain of command failed when it covered for a coward who deserted the battlefield and then rewarded him with a coveted honor. Why is this man still in the Army and why are the men who covered for him being considered for promotion?”