The Army Failed Tillman And Family

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 04, 2007
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Mary Tillman is angry. For more than three years she’s been asking what happened to her son Pat, the former NFL star who joined the Army Rangers and died in Afghanistan. Since April 22, 2004, she has yet to get a satisfying answer. Now after a fourth official investigation, which she believes still leaves things unanswered, she is asking for a Senate hearing to finally get to the bottom of the very ugly incident.

She’ll most likely get it. Following the release of the Inspector General’s report, acting Army Secretary Peter Geren said, “We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can. Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family. For that, on behalf of the Army, I apologize to the Tillman family.”


A bit too little and way too late. For while the Army has admitted its mistake, it must now offer a complete explanation as to why the facts were covered up and a bogus award was pushed through in an obvious PR move that harkens back to Jessica Lynch.

The Inspector General’s report is a scathing indictment on the previous investigations in which material evidence was mishandled, lost or destroyed, shoddy investigative practices were used and vital information withheld from military investigators.

“Established Army policy requires notification of death by friendly fire, which was suspected the day following the incident, up through the chain of command as well as to the Army Safety Center,” reads the report.

“None of CPL Tillman’s superiors complied with these requirements. Instead, after clear evidence of fratricide emerged the day following the incident, CPL Tillman’s battalion commander, with the concurrence of the regimental commander, appointed a subordinate Army captain to investigate. (Army Regulation 15-6 requires an investigating officer to be of a higher rank than those he is interviewing.) That investigation, completed in about 2 weeks, determined CPL Tillman’s death was fratricide and caused by leadership failures and tactical errors.”

Though it seems to have been common knowledge that Tillman had been killed by a member or members of his own unit within days of the event, the family had not been told the truth until five weeks later. This even after Lt.

Gen. Philip Kensinger - who was in charge of Army special operations - appeared at Tillman’s nationally televised funeral on May 3 with complete knowledge of the facts.

“We found compelling evidence that [Lt. Gen.] Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony,” said the IG’s report. Failing to inform the family or military investigators could be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.


The IG’s report recounting “leadership failures and tactical errors” - which has yet to be acknowledged by Army leaders - is part of what the Tillman family believes to have been a complete breakdown of established rules of engagement. In an interview with Dan Patrick and Keith Oberman on ESPN radio, Mary Tillman discussed what she believes to be proof of such mistakes.

“They fired at soldiers who were not firing at them, they fired in an area where they saw hands waving and they fired at a building. All of those things are breaking rules of engagement,” she said. “The soldier who actually shot Pat three times in the head was asked by General Jones (Brig. Gen. Gary Jones), the third investigator, did you positively identify your target, this soldier said ‘No, I wanted to be in a fire fight’ and that is a definite breaking of that rule.”

The Army has not identified any individual soldier who may have been responsible for the actual kill shots. Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy, said to ESPN.com that finding the shooter is something well within the Army’s ability.

“They should be able to figure out where the bullets came from, from the trajectory analysis, and whose weapon they came from, from microscopic ballistic comparison,” said Baden. “The person who fired probably knows who he is. I think the supervisors know who the shooter or shooters were, but they’re not releasing it.”

This idea seems to be confirmed by Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted an earlier investigation, telling ESPN.com “I think, yeah, they did. And I think they know (who fired). But I never found out.”

One of the most contentious issues for Mary Tillman revolves around the investigation done by Capt. Richard Scott that found evidence of homicidal negligence and criminal intent. Scott’s investigation has yet to be released, but the IG’s report devalued the findings, saying Scott made numerous investigative errors including not visiting the scene, re-enacting the incident, obtaining accurate measures and withholding information from medical examiners.

Combining such conflicting reports like this to the destruction of Tillman’s bloody uniform - which was burned a few days after his death on the orders that keeping them constituted a bio-hazard and would be bad for morale (a possible violation of Army Field Manual 27-1) - and the loss of evidence such as shell casings found at the sight and a missing journal, raise the suspicion of the Tillman family and their supporters.

It’s hard to imagine that Tillman’s death was the result purposeful malice. Tillman was popular with those he served with because the famed athlete never put himself above fellow soldiers.

While elected officials from both sides of the aisle argue about who can extract more politically from the war, what cannot be lost is the facts: that a calculated plan was implemented to cast the nation’s most famous soldier into the embodiment of American idealism. Perhaps a good idea if it were true.


Pat Tillman didn’t want to be a recruiting poster, he wanted to be a soldier and to follow the creed that calls on him to: “Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One-hundred-percent and then some.” But there were those that wouldn’t allow that to happen. And because of that, a family has been made to suffer.

The constant glare of the media and political support flamed by a mother’s anguish is sure to push the issue onto the floor of the U.S. Senate. That’s only right. We as a nation and the Tillmans as a family need to know what happened and why. If punishments are appropriate, they should be meted out quickly. And so long as the shots that killed Tillman are not deemed criminal, the person who pulled the trigger should remain anonymous and allowed to heal. One cannot imagine the burden on the individual knowing they had, even by accident, caused the death of not just a fellow Ranger, but a friend.

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