By: Joe Strupp
USA Today revealed this morning findings of an Army report showing that families of at least seven soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan were given incorrect information about their deaths. In five of the cases, including that of former NFL player Pat Tillman, the true cause of death was “friendly fire.”
“A review of battlefield deaths that included the case of former pro football player Pat Tillman has concluded that the Army gave wrong or misleading information to the families of seven dead soldiers, according to the Army’s casualty notification office,” the paper reported today. “Army Secretary Francis Harvey ordered the review after the media cited mistakes in several war deaths. Tillman, once a safety for the Arizona Cardinals, was an Army Ranger when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. His family was told he died from enemy fire, when actually fellow Rangers shot him by accident.”
The paper went on to report that Col. Patrick Gawkins, head of the Army’s notification office, “provided findings of the review” to USA Today, but did not state specifically how the findings were passed on or if the paper received them exclusively.
Greg Zoroya, who wrote the story, said Associated Press had broken news a month or so ago that the review was being conducted, but USA Today was able to obtain the final report first. “I just kept bugging them,” he told E&P. “They gave me the numbers.”
Zoroya wrote that the review included some 810 deaths of military personnel, amounting to about 40% of the 2,200 Army soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paper stated that the findings “mark the first time that the Army has released a total number of cases where next of kin were given incorrect information on causes of death.”
Commenting to the paper, Gawkins blamed the “fog of war” or possibly efforts by individuals “to protect families from negative information” for the mistakes. The story added that, to avoid future mistakes, the Army was “investigating every war death and alerting families if there may be ‘suspicious’ circumstances.”