David Sharrett’s family still wants justice for friendly fire death in Iraq
By Tom Jackman,
Dave Sharrett Sr. still sees his son in his dreams.
In one, the son is home on leave from Iraq, a warrior, a man. His boots are caked in mud. His fatigues are dirty. “And as we talk,” Sharrett says, “I realize I have to tell him that I know how he is going to die.”
Four years after Pfc. David H. Sharrett II of Oakton bled to death near a clump of scrub trees in Balad, Iraq, the father finally knows how the son was killed: shot by his own lieutenant in a case of “friendly fire.” But he still doesn’t know why.
Sharrett, for years a beloved English teacher at Langley High School, simply wanted the full story and some accountability. He did not see that as a massive imposition on the Army brass.
Now Sharrett wonders, as he prepares to meet this week with the secretary of the Army, whether justice will ever be done.
Justice is the final thing he owes his son, a bear of a man who played defensive end at Oakton High School, bounced around Fairfax County for several years and then joined the Army in 2006, at age 26, in his quest to find himself as a man.
A year after Dave Sharrett II died, his parents, Vicki and Dave Sr., were nearly at peace. They had come to accept the Army’s explanation of how it all happened in the “fog of war.” They were confident in the Army’s promises of transparency and accountability for the lieutenant who fired the fatal shot.
Then came the third knock on the door.
After a memorial service for their son at Fort Campbell, Ky., in February 2009, soldiers who fought alongside him paid a surprise visit to the Sharretts. In a cramped room at the Holiday Inn Express, the soldiers used words such as “cover-up” and “lies.” They brought video recordings shot from aircraft high above the chaos that showed how Dave Sharrett II and two other American soldiers were killed.
The flames of outrage and injustice, nearly extinguished, erupted again. From that meeting at the hotel, Dave Sharrett Sr. began his own quest, one that has yet to end.
For the elder Sharrett, the first knock on the door came Jan. 16, 2008, while he was teaching English at Chantilly High School, where he had transferred after 17 years at Langley. A family friend stood outside the classroom. “Vicki needs you to come home,” the friend said.
It was appropriate that he would get the word about his son while teaching, because his son had grown up inside the classrooms of Langley High. The elder Sharrett and his first wife split up not long after Dave II was born, and Sharrett assumed full custody as a single parent. When day care fell through, little Dave spent the day in his father’s English classes at Langley, where many teenagers over the years came to know him as “Bean.”
Dave Sharrett Sr. had a devoted following at Langley, where he’d been a star football player and sprinter in the early 1970s, before playing college football at Colorado State University. Ruggedly handsome, with long flowing hair, he was also a guitarist who loved classic rock-and-roll. As a teacher, his charisma and fluency in both Shakespeare and Dylan endeared him to students, many of whom stayed in touch long after they had left Langley and Chantilly. Now retired from teaching, he has a large Facebook following. Continue to Page 2: Three more families forever devastated.
There were solemn knocks at other doors that same morning. In Fisher, Ill., outside Champaign, Doug Kimme received one. In Waterville, N.Y., so did Jim and Susan Sigsbee. Three American soldiers gone. Three families forever devastated. No details of their deaths were immediately available. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this article gave an incorrect name for Doug Kimme’s hometown.)
Jan. 16, 2008
The surge was on in Iraq. President George W. Bush had resolved that an infusion of U.S. forces would lead to an end of the sectarian strife. Pfc. Dave Sharrett II was an infantryman, part of the 101st Airborne Division, which was shipped into Balad in September 2007.
In the Bichigan region north of Baghdad, the Army discovered that members of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq were equipping suicide bombers and terrorizing residents. As part of Operation Hood Harvest, Sharrett’s seven-man Team 6, headed by Staff Sgt. Chris McGraw, boards two Black Hawk helicopters and prepares to hunt down and arrest, or kill if necessary, any suspected terrorists spotted after curfew. For Hood Harvest, Team 6 was joined by an eighth man, the company’s executive officer, 1st Lt. Timothy Hanson, who would handle communications with the air power overhead.
Shortly before 5 a.m., the overhead observers spot movement: six men, apparently unarmed, running single file into a palm grove and then across an open field. The helicopters and drone, beaming live images to the operations center, watch as the six men climb inside an oval-shaped thicket of branches and vines .
Nine days after the Sharretts learned their son was dead, they were preparing for his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. And there was a second knock on the door.
It was the Sharretts’ casualty assistance officer, Master Sgt. James Blake.
“He told us it was possibly friendly fire, but he didn’t have any details,” Dave Sharrett Sr. recalled.
An internal investigation, called an AR 15-6, is standard anytime a soldier is killed. In fact, one had already been completed on the incident, finding no fault with any of the soldiers’ actions. But after a NATO 5.56mm bullet was pulled from Dave Sharrett II’s body, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling ordered a second AR 15-6.
Dave Sharrett Sr. was unfamiliar with any of this. He hadn’t served a day in the military and knew nothing of its procedures. He was preparing for his son’s burial in three days, trying to write the eulogy. Blake’s tentative suggestion of friendly fire merely added to the confusion. Sharrett asked whether he could speak to someone directly in Iraq, maybe one of his son’s commanders.
That night, Dave Sharrett Sr. received a call from Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, the leader of Operation Hood Harvest. Sharrett asked him about the report that his son had been killed by one of his own men. “That’s not true!” Sharrett recalled McCarthy yelling through the phone, so loudly he held it away from his ear. That was good enough for Sharrett.
McCarthy is vehement that he never denied the friendly fire. He told investigators that he only denied that Dave Sharrett II was killed by helicopter fire, as commanders initially feared. Dave Sharrett Sr. said he never knew, or asked, anything about helicopters. Continue to Page 3: ‘Dad...I want out.”
McCarthy declined to comment.
In central Illinois, Doug Kimme couldn’t quite understand why his son was killed. As a former Air Force paratrooper, and now a police officer and weapons trainer with the Champaign Police Department, he had trained his son to be a smart soldier and a precise shooter.
As a veteran cop, he began to investigate. He reached out to other members of Team 6, and to Dave Sharrett Sr.
In comparing notes, they found one striking similarity: Both soldiers had said virtually the same words shortly before they died: “Dad, we’re doing too much stupid stuff. I want out of the infantry.”
Team 6 climbs out of the helicopter, about 200 meters from the thicket containing six “unknown enemies,” or UEs. It is pitch-black — no moon, no stars, no ambient light at all. Each of the eight soldiers is wearing a night-vision goggle over one eye, with the other eye clear to help with depth of field.
To reduce confusion, the soldiers are equipped with infrared lights, called “bud lights,” flashing strobes visible only through the night vision goggles or infrared cameras. But in their haste, Hanson and McGraw forget to tell their team to assemble the lights and turn them on.
Sharrett doesn’t put his light on.
5:08 a.m.: The six UEs in the thicket quickly arm themselves with AK-47 rifles from a hidden underground cache, then lie down and remain still.
5:15 a.m.: Overhead video shows the eight soldiers casually walk up to the thicket, four on one side and four on the other, forming an armed circle.
5:16 a.m.: Sharrett and Spec. Raphael Collins, on the north end of the thicket, step toward the bush. Collins yells in English for those in the bush to show their hands and come out. No answer. Collins leans his head in and sees two eyes staring back at him.
Collins raises his gun to fire. “Allahu akbar!” someone yells. Collins snaps off one round as another shot comes right at him, pierces his shoulder and knocks him backward. Gunfire erupts from the enemy thicket in all directions. Chaos.
In May 2008, Dave and Vicki Sharrett received another visit from their casualty assistance officer, Master Sgt. Blake. He carried the findings of the second AR 15-6 investigation and a PowerPoint presentation. The Sharretts were simply blown away.
The last they’d heard, it wasn’t friendly fire. But here was Blake going over the 15-6 with them. The report concluded that Team 6 had wrongly encircled the bush, that five of the eight soldiers — including Sharrett — hadn’t activated their infrared strobe lights and that Sharrett “was killed by friendly fire when he moved toward the lieutenant’s position and was misidentified as an enemy fleeing the thicket.”
In essence, the Sharretts felt, the report blamed Dave Sharrett II for his own death because he hadn’t activated his infrared light.
Hanson’s name, and the names of everyone who survived the firefight, were redacted and remain redacted in every report to this day, under Army privacy rules. One sentence in the report by Maj. Rob Young stated that the lieutenant “accompanied the medevac aircraft to the combat support hospital . . . leaving no leader . . . on the ground to assist with accountability of Soldiers.” Continue to Page 4: Outrage replaces grief.
But Young did not note that the unnamed lieutenant never mentioned to anyone that he had shot Sharrett.
The report also did not point out that the lieutenant never helped anyone locate Sharrett while he lay bleeding for 75 minutes from a gunshot wound, which entered his left buttock and severed his femoral artery. The 15-6 also made no mention that there were video recordings of the firefight. And it determined that the lieutenant had “misidentified” Sharrett as the enemy, though the lieutenant’s two sworn statements make no mention that he’d even fired at anyone, much less misidentified them.
“I did not find any violations of the law, regulations, or policies during this investigation,” Young concluded.
Blake appeared stunned, Dave Sharrett Sr. recalled. He said Blake “shook his head and said, ‘Man, there’s something wrong here,’ ” referring to Hanson’s departure from the battlefield. “ ‘Never ever would anybody do that.’ ”
It appeared no one was being held accountable. Blake’s candid reaction to the report raised red flags for the Sharretts.
In addition to Hanson’s unexplained leaving of the battlefield, the Sharretts now learned that their son had lain on the frozen ground for more than an hour after being shot and was still alive when he was found. Grief was slowly being replaced by outrage.
“Shots fired! Shots fired! Troops in contact!” Hanson yells into his radio as he darts away from the bush and hits the ground. Cpl. John Sigsbee, standing on the west side of the thicket, is shot and mortally wounded. Pfc. Danny Kimme begins to get down into the prone position and is fatally shot in the head.
Sharrett sprints around the west side of the thicket and dives to the ground next to Sigsbee. Sharrett is quiet and still, perhaps four feet from the enemies, who are firing automatic rounds from AK-47 rifles.
5:20 a.m.: Sharrett stands and runs south toward Hanson. Sharrett fires a blast back over his left shoulder at a man in the thicket, apparently hitting him.
Within five seconds, another soldier runs east. It is Hanson. And as the helicopters continue to circle, Sharrett comes back into view, writhing on the ground, just a few yards from where Hanson had just been.
In the fall of 2008, Sharrett went to McCarthy’s supervisor in the 101st Airborne, Col. Scott McBride.
McBride offered his condolences and, in response to the complaints of Sharrett and Kimme, wrote a letter of reprimand for Hanson in October 2008. “Without us, [Hanson] would have skated,” Sharrett said.
McBride sent a copy of the letter to Sharrett. “Based on your actions,” McBride wrote to Hanson, “I have grave doubts concerning your potential for future military service.”
But the reprimand was placed in Hanson’s local file, rather than his permanent file, meaning it would be destroyed when the 101st left Iraq, which was in a few weeks.
Again, the Sharretts were angry. There would be no trace of this incident on Hanson’s record. He would be promoted to captain, and probably higher. Sharrett contacted McBride, who agreed to meet with the Sharrett family when the 101st returned stateside. Continue to Page 5: ‘Does it matter how one soldier died?’
In January 2009, McBride drove to the Sharretts’ new home in Forest, Va., outside Lynchburg, where Dave Sharrett Sr. had been planning to retire before his son’s death. Also present for the meeting were Sharrett’s wife, Vicki; their two teenage sons, Chris and Brooks; and Sharrett’s two brothers, a Presbyterian minister and a circuit court judge.
The family pressed McBride for answers, and he was open with them.
“We underestimated the enemy,” McBride told them, according to Sharrett’s telling. “We made tactical mistakes.”
Chris Sharrett, then 19, asked, “What are you going to do to the man who shot my brother?”
McBride responded, “That’s a good question.”
Judge Allan W. Sharrett told McBride, according to his brother’s notes, “If there’s no reprimand, historically there’s no accountability and the whole thing stands as an example of what you can get away with.”
McBride agreed. He told the Sharretts he would write a permanent reprimand for Hanson, which would prevent his promotion and stall his Army career. And in February 2009, he wrote the letter.
McBride did not tell the Sharretts that, after the incident, he had immediately obtained videos of the shooting and then pulled Hanson out of active combat and “brought him up to the staff,” he said in a recent interview.
At first, McBride said, he felt sorry for Hanson. He carried the guilt of having killed one of his own men.
“Then I spent some time with him,” McBride said. “After talking to him, I got the sense he was weak. Just his demeanor, his decisions. Having spent time with him, and then looked Mr. and Mrs. Sharrett in the eye, and meeting his two brothers, and knowing Dave Sharrett doesn’t have closure,” he decided to seek a formal reprimand of Hanson.
Dave Sharrett Sr. said that after McBride left their house, there was a sense of muted optimism in the family. “For the first time it seemed that we had turned a corner in our search for truth,” he said.
He and his wife reversed themselves and decided to attend a memorial service for the three fallen soldiers at Fort Campbell in February 2009, to meet Doug Kimme and the Sigsbees for the first time.
A team of snipers and other soldiers, Team 4, arrives to help Team 6, led by Lt. Tim Cunningham. His radio operator, Spec. Jerwien Fuentes, and Cunningham encounter Hanson first. Fuentes later said, “His exact words still make me so angry. He said, ‘We’re getting shot at, and I don’t know where any of my guys are.’ ”
Cunningham, who was killed in action three months later, said in his sworn statement soon after the incident that Hanson and his fellow Team 6 members “pointed us to the enemy bush, and told us that they did not know where Kimme, Sigsbee or Sharrett were.”
Cunningham patiently lines up his team for an assault on the thicket, then methodically moves in on it, discovering the bodies of Sigsbee and Kimme on their approach. But it’s still dark, and they do not see Sharrett.
At Fort Campbell in February 2009, Dave and Vicki Sharrett met Doug Kimme in person for the first time, and Jim and Susan Sigsbee. The Sharretts also met Lt. Col. McCarthy for the first time, had lunch with him and said he wept as he recalled the day their son died.
McCarthy also assured them that their son hadn’t been found more quickly because he had moved outside the view of the live video feed from a drone being monitored back at the operations center. They had heard that explanation before and accepted it.
That night, after the memorial service, the Sharretts went back to Doug Kimme’s room at the Holiday Inn Express. The parents shared a bottle of Scotch, and their pain, before the soldiers from the 101st arrived.
They were carrying portable hard drives, used in Iraq to avoid widespread computer viruses. On the drives, they said, were video recordings shot by a drone and an F-16 jet.
“They said the Army was covering up,” Sharrett recalled.
The soldiers kept saying, “You’ve got to see these, you’ve got to see these,” the Sharretts recalled. But in the small hotel room, no one could get the videos to play.
The Sharretts had sat with McCarthy that day, and he told them their son had crawled out of the cameras’ range. But the soldiers said that wasn’t true. The drone video, remote-controlled by someone back at base, shows everyone involved in solid black forms and could have been used to locate the wounded soldier, Sharrett said.
While the soldiers tinkered with laptop computers, Sharrett ducked into the hotel bathroom and called one of his former students, a New York Daily News reporter named James Gordon Meek, back in Arlington.
“We’ve been [expletive] lied to!” he yelled into his cellphone. “We’ve been here with these soldiers, and they’re telling us about a cover-up.”
The Army was still dealing with its mishandling of the friendly-fire death of former professional football player Pat Tillman, whose fatal shooting by fellow Army Rangers in Afghanistan was initially covered up and became the subject of high-profile investigations. Since 2001, about 55 American soldiers have been killed by friendly fire, according to a military spokesman.
Kimme and Meek soon obtained the drone and F-16 videos from different sources and could see the tragic drama unfold for the first time. Kimme watched the death of his son.
Neither video showed the exact moment when Sharrett was shot. But in the drone video he can be seen standing up, firing back into the thicket and heading toward Hanson. The camera then panned away, and when it returned, Sharrett was down, and Hanson had moved about 30 yards away.
Several weeks later, Kimme heard from some soldiers in the 101st again. Timothy Hanson had been promoted to captain. McBride’s request to discipline him had been rejected by a new general at Fort Campbell.
Black Hawk pilot Lyndle Ratliff, low on fuel and hurt by flying glass from enemy bullets, lands north of the thicket and picks up the wounded McGraw and Collins. Hanson, not wounded, also gets on the helicopter.
6:05 a.m.: The Black Hawk lifts off. Ratliff lands at the combat support hospital in Balad a little later, and McGraw and Collins climb off the helicopter without assistance from Hanson, according to their statements. In his statement, Ratliff wrote, “One of the three on board (LT) was apparently either not wounded or refused treatment, because he refused to get off of the aircraft.”
Ratliff flies to a refueling station and then back to Camp Paliwoda. Hanson goes inside but does not brief command staff.
The new commander at Fort Campbell, Brig. Gen. Steven Townsend, told Dave Sharrett Sr. that he would review McBride’s request to discipline Hanson with an open mind. In an interview, Townsend said he spoke with McBride and asked him what would justify reopening the case.
Ultimately, Townsend said, “I was not willing to overrule all the commanders in the field based on the information I had at that time.” Townsend had not been with the 101st Airborne at the time of the incident. In an e-mail to his supervisors, Townsend wrote that after being given a local reprimand and living with the “the heavy burden that his personal mistakes contributed to the deaths of his men,” Hanson “served the rest of his tour honorably. He has continued to serve well since this incident and was recently promoted to Captain by the Army.”
Once again, the Sharretts were floored.
Though Meek had advised the Sharretts for a year not to go public, he and Dave Sharrett now agreed that an article was warranted. Meek sent a list of questions to Townsend and lined up an interview at Fort Campbell with McCarthy.
According to a transcript, Meek asked McCarthy about Hanson’s failure to seek any help for Sharrett or tell anyone that Sharrett was wounded, noting that Hanson’s helicopter left for the hospital 45 minutes before Sharrett was placed on a medevac helicopter. That difference might have saved Sharrett’s life, Meek said.
“Yes,” McCarthy said.
“Why didn’t you reprimand him for leaving the field of battle with unaccounted-for men?” Meek asked.
“I don’t think he deliberately left it,” McCarthy answered, explaining that the helicopter was ordered to take off while in a hot battle zone.
Several months earlier, Kimme had asked McCarthy the same question about Hanson. He said McCarthy responded: “Why should I ruin another life? He didn’t do it intentionally.”
The headline in the Daily News on April 1, 2009, blared, “Army lied, sez slain G.I.’s dad.”
But the Army shrugged off the brief burst of publicity and took no action.
Team 4 determines that all six enemy fighters in the thicket are dead. They begin searching for Sharrett but can’t find him.
6:35 a.m. Someone shoots flares into the sky to illuminate the area, Fuentes said, and Sharrett is finally spotted. He has a faint pulse. Fuentes begins doing CPR, taking turns with another soldier.
“Cunningham says, ‘Keep him alive guys, keep him alive.’ We were near exhaustion just trying to keep this guy alive” while wearing heavy combat gear, Fuentes said. Capt. Michael Loveall, Hanson’s supervisor, lands and watches the rescue effort, then asks for Hanson. No one knows where he is. Loveall tries to raise the lieutenant on the radio but fails.
6:50 a.m.: A medevac helicopter lands. Sharrett is loaded aboard and flown to a hospital.
7:50 a.m.: Pfc. David H. Sharrett II is pronounced dead upon his arrival at Camp Paliwoda.
In December 2009, Dave Sharrett Sr. was still seething. They now had video, which had been monitored live in the Iraq command center, showing that his son had lain on the ground for 75 minutes before being found — and 25 minutes after the battle ended — while plainly visible through the drone. The soldier who shot Dave Sharrett II had not given any explanation for his actions, which appeared on the video to include turning at least 45 degrees to his left, shooting Sharrett at close range, and then standing and running in the opposite direction.
Meanwhile, Meek had a chance encounter with President Obama at Dave Sharrett II’s grave at Arlington Cemetery on Veterans Day and wrote a widely read article that mentioned Sharrett and the friendly fire. Encouraged, Dave Sharrett Sr. wrote a detailed, emotional letter to the Army chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., in hopes of shaking loose some interest.
“The pain we live with will never subside,” Sharrett wrote. “It may lessen in time — if the whole truth is laid bare . . . Still, more can, and should, be done, sir.”
Casey responded by assigning Col. David Bishop to do a “senior level review.” Bishop re-read the statements and AR 15-6 reports. He also obtained two new Apache helicopter videos, with audio from the pilots, Hanson and his commanders. The recordings clearly showed Dave Sharrett II running toward Hanson, then Hanson almost immediately running in the opposite direction, and then later climbing onto a Black Hawk helicopter and leaving.
Bishop summoned the Sharretts and Kimme to the Pentagon for a briefing in August 2010. He showed them the new Apache video and handed them a report finding no real fault with the investigations. And he told them he had spoken with Hanson the day before. He asked Hanson why he left the battle, and Hanson told him he needed to assist his wounded men, then get back to headquarters and brief his commanders.
But the meeting grew testy as Bishop discussed the Army’s assertion that the wounded Dave Sharrett II couldn’t be located by the video cameras. The elder Sharrett watched the new Apache video, as well as the drone video, showing his son clearly on the screen.
“I can see my son!” Dave Sharrett Sr. yelled. “He’s right there!”
Lt. Gen. William J. Troy had just been promoted to director of the Army staff, one of the military’s top posts, and sat in on the meeting. He seemed openly troubled, Sharrett said.
In the fall of 2010, Sharrett finally got the autopsy report on his son. The angle and size of the wound indicated a nearly point-blank shot.
In February 2011, Troy ordered a third AR 15-6, to be conducted by Bishop, now a general.
The members of Team 6 are told to write statements about what happened. Hanson writes that when the shooting started, he went to the ground, fired six to 10 shots at the thicket, and then saw Sharrett and Sigsbee “lying face down no more than 10 feet from the enemy position,” not moving. “At one point in time the enemy began to fire again in all directions and either Pfc. Sharrett or Spc.[sic] Sigsbee yelled in pain and said I’m hit. I could not get close enough to the two soldiers to provide aid and I could hear two enemy personnel talking to each other, so I decided to break contact across the ditch.”
Hanson does not mention firing his weapon again after his initial burst. And though he initially told Cunningham and Fuentes that he didn’t know where his men were, he draws a detailed diagram of their whereabouts to accompany his statement.
Jan. 25: Hanson writes a second statement, answering specific questions about tactics and the enemy but again does not mention shooting anyone. Soon after, forensics tests establish that Hanson’s rifle fired the shot that killed Sharrett.
For his new investigation, Bishop traveled the world, doing face-to-face or phone interviews with all of the participants. Twice he sat down with Hanson, the second time reading him his Miranda rights against self-incrimination.
And then he went through the new Apache video with the captain, now stationed in Wisconsin, transcripts show. Showing Hanson the key moments as Sharrett ran toward him, Bishop asked Hanson, “Can you explain to me what might have happened that caused him to be shot in the left buttocks without you knowing it?”
“Were you engaging the bush?” Bishop asked.
“No idea, sir,” Hanson replied again.
Showing the tape again, Bishop asked, “You never saw him?”
“I did not, sir.”
Bishop continued, “In order to engage him in the left buttocks, what kind of change to your weapon orientation would you have had to made?”
“In order to shoot him, I would have had to shoot to the left,” Hanson said.
“Do you recall shooting to your left?” Bishop asked.
“No, sir,” Hanson replied. “I thought I was shooting directly at the bush.” Hanson also said that he did not hear Sharrett cry out or fall.
“At no time did you ever think that you may have shot someone?” Bishop asked.
“No,” Hanson answered.
Bishop wrote a 29-page report, which was released to the Sharretts and Kimme in late August. For the first time, the Army forcefully criticized Hanson, but the recommended discipline was redacted under Army personnel privacy rules.
Bishop noted that there was no evidence to support the Army’s initial assertion that Hanson mistook Sharrett for the enemy, because Hanson repeatedly denied ever identifying or engaging anyone. Bishop said the video and physical evidence “suggests that Pfc. Sharrett may have been within six feet of Hanson around the time he was shot.”
Bishop concluded that Hanson “failed to perform basic tasks expected of all infantry officers . . . [which] resulted in the engagement that ended with three U.S. soldiers killed, one from fratricide . . . he abdicated his duty when he left his unit for no compelling reason with four of his Soldiers unaccounted for and without conducting an adequate battle handover . . .
“Hanson’s multiple failures to meet expectations immediately following the engagement reflect serious personal judgment errors in leadership and I recommend that Hanson be held accountable for his actions.” The actual action taken against Hanson was not made public, but Hertling said recently that Hanson was no longer in the Army.
Reached at his home in Wisconsin, Hanson declined to be interviewed. But he did make his first public comment on the case when he said, “I’ve always wanted to apologize to the Sharretts. Eventually, I’d like to do it in person. I do want to say I’m sorry.”
Bishop also addressed the lack of discipline accorded Hanson in the previous years of review.
Asked why he didn’t reach the same conclusions as Bishop, Hertling said he wasn’t focused on Hanson’s actions after the firefight: “I was concerned about was there a fratricide, why did it happen, what do we do to prevent it from happening again.”
McBride, now retired, said: “I think we did two incomplete investigations that didn’t address the entirety of the operation. It focused on the firefight. And it took a father’s will to push the leadership to make it happen. It’s been all about his will.”
Dave Sharrett Sr. and Doug Kimme remain unsatisfied. They want to know what action, exactly, Bishop recommended for Hanson and whether it was imposed. They wonder why none of Hanson’s commanders were reprimanded, though Bishop criticized some of the commanders’ preparation of the soldiers.
In December, Sharrett wrote a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh asking why Hanson wasn’t court-martialed for abandoning his men or charged for his contradictory statements about his actions. He wanted to know why Hertling and his then-boss, Gen. Lloyd Austin, “did not have any apparent curiosity” about Hanson’s “inexcusable abandonment of his men.”
Bishop declined to be interviewed. Army spokesman George Wright said the Army had done a “formal and detailed investigation. We recognize that Pfc. Sharrett’s family views events and draws conclusions differently than that of investigators and commanders. We stand by our investigation and decisions that affected individuals involved in this incident.”
Sharrett’s letter noted that McHugh, in October, published his top priorities for the Army. In it, McHugh wrote, “Accountability in word and deed is at the very core of what it means to be an Army leader. ”
And mindful of that, Sharrett told McHugh about his dream of seeing his son, of saying to him, “ ‘I know how you get killed.’ In that moment, the great dilemma of changing time and outcomes flashes before me,” Sharrett wrote. “He looks at me, listening to me breaking like a twig, and we both understand the great question facing us: Does he go back?
“Likewise, do we go back? Should we look back? Does it matter how one soldier died in that long sad roll call? Out of all the thousands, does it make any difference that the 3,925th American who fell in Iraq should not have perished from this Earth?”
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
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