Pat Tillman's Last Day, Reconstructed
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 12:23 AM
-- EDITOR'S NOTE _ Associated Press reporters examined thousands of pages of material accumulated by investigators into Pat Tillman's death _ and interviewed dozens of people with knowledge of the case _ to assemble this reconstruction of the events of that day.
Pat Tillman spent his last day of life on the broken roads of Afghanistan's Paktia province, a thumb on the map that juts into northwestern Pakistan. It's a land of barren and towering mountains that can turn a vehicle into a pile of scrap metal.
That's exactly how Tillman and the rest of his "Black Sheep" platoon, the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, found themselves bogged down in the badlands of Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The primitive roads had crippled yet another Ground Mobility Vehicle, or GMV, a Humvee bolstered for extra durability.
Over the previous week, the platoon had struck into enemy-held territory along the Pakistani border, killing and capturing enemy fighters, including remnants of the Taliban.
Now, as the Black Sheep prepared to move deeper into Afghanistan, one GMV wouldn't start.
A helicopter ferried in a replacement fuel pump, but a mechanic couldn't get the rig to turn over. They hired a local Jinga truck to tow the GMV, but it could only hoist the front end off the ground, and the GMV began to fall apart. They needed a heavy-duty military tow vehicle.
The leader of Tillman's platoon, then-Lt. David Uthlaut, asked for a chopper to do it. But commanders at a remote operations center told him no flight would be available for at least three days.
"We should blow this thing," Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman's brother and fellow Ranger, urged a superior, according to transcripts of sworn testimony he later gave an investigator.
No, commanders decided; its charred carcass might be used as propaganda.
Meanwhile, enemy fighters lurked, unseen, plotting an ambush.
Several soldiers said they had an eerie feeling they would be attacked. Two Rangers in the same battalion had recently been killed during daytime maneuvers, prompting the battalion commander to limit such movements to nighttime hours.
Yet the platoon hunkered down in broad daylight as Uthlaut ironed out a plan with superiors by e-mail.