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Wanat: The families respond (I)

Several relatives of soldiers killed at the battle of Wanat on July 13, 2008, have contacted me to express their unhappiness about the Army’s recent decision to rescind letters of reprimand to officer who oversaw that fight. Here is the first comment, from Carlene Cross, mother of Cpl. Jason Bolgar: On June 23, 2010, at ...

Courtesy of Carlene Cross
Courtesy of Carlene Cross

Several relatives of soldiers killed at the battle of Wanat on July 13, 2008, have contacted me to express their unhappiness about the Army’s recent decision to rescind letters of reprimand to officer who oversaw that fight. Here is the first comment, from Carlene Cross, mother of Cpl. Jason Bolgar:

On June 23, 2010, at Fort McPherson, Georgia, Marine Corps General Richard Natonski delivered to the families the extensively researched, detailed findings of his investigation into Wanat. Natonski and his large staff had spent months of painstaking work. They had left no stone unturned. His findings: dereliction of duty by the three Army officers under investigation.

I was proud of this country. Accountability for happened at Wanat was being presented before our eyes.  My desire that no brave soldier would ever be sent on another suicide mission, like my son died in, was becoming a reality.

Then, Army General Charles Campbell took the floor and informed us he was going to reverse the findings of Natonski’s Senate-mandated independent investigation. In the next two hours Campbell violated everything that the Army taught my son to stand for: honor, truthfulness, and bravery. With an anemic Power Point presentation, he listed the reasons he decided to overturn the findings. They consisted of insulting arguments like: The men really did have enough water.

Scores of men who were at Wanat have testified that they were down to one bottle of water. When they did get resupplied at the end, the water was so laced with iodine it was almost impossible to drink in the 100 degree weather. Yet because the commanders, trying to save their own skin, told Campbell that the troops had enough water, he took their word for it. In his sham investigation Campbell apparently interviewed only the three commanders being charged. That’s not an investigation, it’s a whitewash.

There was no evidence presented to the families that a true, unbiased Army investigation ever took place. To me, it stunk so strongly of a cover-up, you couldn’t sit there without getting nauseous. Even more tragic in my mind is the certainty that without accountability this will happen again.

I wish General Campbell had one ounce of the honor, truthfulness and bravery our sons exhibited during the battle at Wanat. Instead, I believe he chose to bury the Army’s dirty work as a parting gift to upper command before his retirement."  

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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