Search for friendly-fire accountability

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 in the friendly-fire incident, 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 was 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 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 not answered any of them.

And Dave Sharrett decided he was not done with the Army yet.

In the family’s meeting with McHugh, the secretary and an Army lawyer told them there was no legal precedent for prosecuting commanders for failing to discipline someone or report his wrongful actions. The Army seemed disinclined to help them further, beyond an apology from McHugh for the family having 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 Reserve 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 for 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.

“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.”

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 the panel not to promote McCarthy.

Webb, a former Marine and military author, said he was familiar with Sharrett’s case, and his office has worked with the Army on the family’s behalf. With Odierno and McHugh across from him, Webb asked the general about three incidents in which soldiers’ families thought they had been misled by the Army.

“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. . . . 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.

Tom Jackman