On the freezing, dark morning of Jan. 16, 2008, during the U.S. military “surge” in Iraq, then-1st Lt. Hanson led a squad of seven soldiers to capture what was reported to be six unarmed “unidentified enemies.” The men were thought to be insurgents with al-Qaeda in Iraq, near the city of Balad. But the insurgents were heavily armed and erupted with gunfire while huddled inside a small thicket. Two American soldiers were killed and two more wounded, while Sharrett hit the ground within feet of the thicket.
Overhead video from a drone, two helicopters and two jets captured nearly all of what happened next: Sharrett stood, fired back into the thicket, and sprinted away from the enemy. Hanson, lying on his stomach, turned to his left and fired one shot into Sharrett’s left buttock from a distance of about six feet. Hanson then stood, ran from Sharrett and dropped to the ground again, pleading for aerial support while his men were too close for helicopters to fire on the thicket.
Dave Sharrett Sr. speaks about his faith and doubts after his son, Dave Sharrett II, was killed in action.
The moment when Hanson shot Sharrett was obscured by trees on the videos. But later, Hanson can be seen boarding a helicopter, which landed to carry two of his wounded men to a hospital, though Hanson was not injured.
Sharrett was alive when he was found 75 minutes after the shooting, but died soon after of massive internal bleeding from a severed femoral artery.
In February, after a story in The Washington Post, the Sharretts met with Army Secretary McHugh and the Army released Hanson’s military record, showing he had received a combat infantryman badge and was active in the Army Reserve. Further digging by Sharrett revealed the badge was issued to Hanson for the battle in which he killed Sharrett’s son. In April, the Army said it was reviewing the award.
Sharrett said that “I’m not sure that [McHugh] was fully briefed on the extent of how atrocious this situation was” before their February meeting. “He reacted the way the rest of the Army has not reacted. Finally, at the top, the lights went on and he thought it was time to do the right thing.”