Pfc. David Sharrett was killed on January 16, 2008, in Balad, Iraq. This is an unfortunate learning moment for everyone in the military. The full Washington Post article can be accessed here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/david-sharretts-family-still-wants-justice-for-friendly-fire-death-in-iraq/2012/02/22/gIQA097ScR_story.html
On the morning of January 16, 2008, a helicopter spotted six unarmed insurgents running into a brush. At 0515, the company’s executive officer, Lt. Hanson, led a team to capture the insurgents. Lt. Hanson failed to tell his men to activate their infrared sensors, which help air support and fellow soldiers identify friendlies. Meanwhile, the insurgents armed themselves from a hidden weapons cache in the brush. As the team approached the brush, the insurgents opened fire, killing Pfc. Danny Kimme and Cpl. John Sigsbee.
In the midst of shooting back at the insurgents, Lt. Hanson shot his own soldier, Pfc. Sharrett, at point blank range, severing his femoral artery. During the firefight, Lt. Hanson said to one of his men, “We’re getting shot at, and I don’t know where any of my guys are.” Then, Lt. Hanson left the scene on the first helicopter to land, leaving his men behind with no leader to get accountability. The unit did not realize Sharrett was missing until over an hour later. At 0635, the unit finally recovered Sharrett. He died soon after arriving at the combat hospital.
I understand that mistakes happen in combat, but Pfc. Sharrett would not have died had Lt. Hanson acted like an officer both before and after the actual combat. During the mandatory investigation of the incident, Lt. Hanson did not mention that he had fired his weapon. The Army initially told Sharrett’s family that Sharrett was not killed in a friendly fire incident. Lt. Hanson completed his tour with his unit, returned back to the U.S., and eventually made captain.
I’m amazed this story hasn’t garnered more media attention after the strikingly similar Pat Tillman incident. If everyone involved had been forthright from the beginning, this incident would not have landed on the front page of the Washington Post. I want to believe that the U.S. Military will learn from this mistake and remember the simple adage the upperclassmen taught us during Plebe Summer: honor above all else.