- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Ashton of the Tacoma News Tribune has a good if dismaying piece on the Army platoon from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, that went rogue in Afghanistan. One of the most striking sentences: "Twitty found that the soldiers in that platoon came under fire five times in their year overseas. The Army now considers three of those engagements to be murders orchestrated by members of the platoon."
There’s so much more that it makes you wonder just where the hell the chain of command was:
*A private destroyed a housing unit on his base when he accidentally discharged a round from a grenade launcher. His squad leader had not done the correct checks to make sure all of the weapons were turned in. The private was Pfc. Andrew Holmes, one of the five "kill team" codefendants who recently pleaded guilty to killing a noncombatant.
*The entire platoon of nearly 30 soldiers fell asleep in Stryker vehicles outside of a base after a patrol without posting a night watch. A senior noncommissioned officer caught them when he watched them through an aerial drone.
*Leaders at multiple levels above 3rd Platoon failed to conduct routine urinalysis tests and other inspections that could have identified misconduct earlier.
*Soldiers wrote graffiti at least once, scrawling the word "crusader" on a road crossing.
*At least one soldier shot dogs and chickens during patrols.
*Another soldier kept fingers from corpses in his housing unit and had access to weapons he should have turned in to his leadership. He was alleged "kill team" ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
*Soldiers used their first names when they addressed their leaders and showed poor uniform care, even in the context of relaxed war-zone standards.
*At least 15 soldiers reported smoking hashish.
Tom again: Part of the answer is that the platoon’s 1st sergeant had TBI and back injuries and didn’t go outside the wire. The platoon leader was a pliable newbie. That still doesn’t answer why the troop and battalion commanders weren’t on top of this, perhaps breaking up the platoon. The brigade commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, has been cleared. But he was so at odds with his own chain of command that I have to wonder if he contributed to the atmosphere of indiscipline. I think an officer in that situation should be removed without detriment to his career. If General Odierno had done that with Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman back in 2003, Sassaman might well be a general today.