|From The Washington post WashingtonPost.com
The Truth About the Death of Lt. Nott
By Jefferson Morley
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page B01
On Aug. 1, 2003, the Pentagon announced that Army 1st Lt. Leif E. Nott had "died of wounds received from hostile fire." That, as it turned out, was not true. Nott had been accidentally shot and killed in the Iraqi city of Balad Ruz by fellow U.S. soldiers.
Fourteen months later, the erroneous press release has still not been corrected, an indication of a painful truth: In a difficult war, friendly fire deaths are the most difficult to accept. The U.S. military acknowledges 12 deaths by friendly fire in Iraq since March 2003, according to Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, a spokesman for Central Command. That's about 1 percent of the 1,000-plus U.S. deaths in Iraq.
But as the story of Leif Nott shows, the true frequency of friendly fire incidents is hard to pinpoint. Nott's death is still not counted among the 12, despite an official Army finding given to the family in May 2004, that he died at the hands of his own fellow soldiers.
Friendly fire deaths embody the difficulties the Army faces daily in the dangerously chaotic conditions of Iraq. Unlike soldiers who die defending Iraqi citizens or defusing bombs or fighting insurgents, the accidental victims of battlefield confusion are agonizing reminders of the realities of war. Soldiers -- and the societies for whom they fight -- prefer not to dwell on these deaths. For them and their commanders, the imperative is to move on; tomorrow holds the promise of new peril. But for a victim's friends and family, the impulse is to look back and to demand answers.
"The Army's handling of this was really terrible," says Nott's father, Les, a retired Army sergeant living in Cheyenne, Wyo. "It's a nightmare."
On the night of July 30, 2003, Lt. Leif Nott was ready for action. Balad Ruz, a city of more than 80,000 people 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, was not exactly a hotbed of Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation. But under Saddam Hussein, July 30 had been celebrated as a holiday, so all of Alpha Troop, 1-10 Cavalry in the 4th Infantry Division, was on alert.
At age 24, Nott stood out. A West Point graduate, he could converse in five languages. Capt. Wes Young, Nott's friend and commanding officer in Alpha Troop, relied on the personable Nott, his executive officer, to forge good relationships with the local population.
It was early in the occupation and the "mission accomplished" banner of May 2003 was just giving way to tense "stability" operations to quell a growing but faceless anti-American insurgency.
So when gunfire erupted around 9:30 that night from a residential neighborhood 200 meters west of the Alpha Troop command post, Young ordered Nott to escort Musa, the troop's Iraqi interpreter, down the street and drop him off with soldiers in a couple of Bradley armored vehicles patrolling the area.
Nott, however, took charge of the patrol at his own initiative to find the source of the gunfire, Young told me in a telephone interview. He said, "I didn't have a problem with him taking the initiative, but he didn't take a hand-held radio and tell me."
Soon, Nott and the patrol came upon a crowd gathered outside a house for a wedding party. Nott's easygoing but authoritative style calmed a potentially tense situation, according to Sgt. Mickey Anderson, who accompanied Nott that night. Nott questioned the bridegroom, his father and the best man, while other guests offered the U.S. soldiers food and drink.
Searching the house, Anderson said, he found a warm AK-47 behind a couch. Two other soldiers dispute that, saying Anderson had brought the AK-47 along when he left on patrol, a violation of troop rules. In any case, Nott told the three Iraqi men that he was going to detain them for questioning. Anderson and another soldier, Pfc. Ty Hensley, put plastic handcuffs on the men and prepared to load them into the waiting Bradley vehicles.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Alpha Troop soldiers were getting hit with the boldest attack against U.S. forces in the six weeks they had been there. Insurgents hiding in a palm grove ambushed a passing U.S. patrol with rocket-propelled grenades. Neither of the two Bradleys on the spot could return fire because of mechanical problems. They returned to the command post.
Young then ordered the two Bradleys that were accompanying Nott's patrol to go immediately to the scene of the ambush. They rumbled away without Nott or the prisoners. Young said he had no idea that Nott was about to load prisoners into those vehicles. Anderson says he had radioed the command post that Nott was leading the patrol in the search for the gunfire. Young says he received no such message.
The decision to re-deploy the Bradleys had fateful consequences. As Nott led his team and the prisoners back to the command post on foot, night had fallen. Nott was walking down the middle of Balad Ruz's main street with the Iraqi prisoners on his left. To his right was medic Emily Devers. Alongside her were Anderson, Hensley and the interpreter.
All at once, car headlights lit them up from behind. Nott fired a warning shot and directed the car to turn around. Another car approached. Anderson fired a second warning shot. He and Hensley dropped back to tell the driver to find another route. "Once the car was stopped and turning around we ran back to link up with the rest of our people and the detainees," Hensley recalled.
Back at the command post, Young says the mood was one of "stress and excitement." A group of soldiers heard small arms fire. Sgt. Brian Beem later recalled seeing silhouettes of at least six figures approaching from about 250 meters away. He thought they might be suicide bombers. Sgt. Michael Garvin, a scout, later said he saw the outline of three men in traditional Arab dress. Garvin thought they were hostile Iraqis. In fact, they were Nott's three handcuffed prisoners.
Garvin ordered Sgt. Chris Creech, commander of one of the Bradleys parked in front of the command post, to turn his vehicle 180 degrees. "Get those dismounts," Garvin said using the military term for combatants on foot. There was a burst of small arms fire somewhere. As the Bradley lurched forward, Creech fired his machine gun, spewing a fusillade of bullets toward his target.
Sgt. Tim Cramer, riding on the Bradley, saw "multiple dismounts moving east toward the [command post] at a fast pace in front of a civilian car with headlights shining." That was probably Anderson and Hensley running to catch up with Nott and the others. Cramer opened fire with his 9mm pistol. Sentries on the roof of the command post fired their M-16s. Inside the Bradley, Creech fired again.
Ty Hensley found himself in a hailstorm of bullets. "I dropped to the ground and rolled to my right into the ditch besides the translator," he later recounted. Anderson, with an AK-47 strapped around his body, thought a member of the wedding party was retaliating. He dove for cover, too.
In the middle of the street, medic Devers stood frozen. "I couldn't move," she recalled in an interview. "I could see it happening. I could hear people yelling 'stop, stop.' I saw a tracer come toward me. I watched it hit in front of me and a piece [of pavement] came up and hit me."
Over the rattle of gunfire, came shouts of "Cease fire! Cease fire!"
Anderson was moaning on the pavement, his left ankle shattered by a machine gun bullet. Musa the interpreter had a gunshot in his stomach and a hole in his hand. He told his American friends he was dying. (He would survive.) The three Iraqi prisoners lay scattered about, handcuffed and wounded. Emily Devers's left leg was gushing blood.
Nott lay dead, killed by massive chest wounds.
Who killed Leif Nott?
Not U.S. troops, said Defend America, the Pentagon's Web site for "news about the war on terrorism." On Aug. 3, 2003, the site reported that Nott had been killed by "hostile fire." It wasn't until Nott's funeral in Cheyenne a week later, that his family heard the true story from a friend of Leif's.
Not the Iraqi insurgents, said Maj. David Chase. He was assigned to investigate in early August. He concluded that the "friendly fire incident" was "primarily the result of inadequate situational awareness."
Not the soldiers who actually fired the fatal shots, say Les Nott and Mickey Anderson. They hold Capt. Young responsible because he did not notify the troops at the command post that a friendly patrol was returning. Young, now teaching at West Point, says he did not know Nott's whereabouts. He says he still grieves for his friend and wonders "what if."
"Where I failed -- where we failed -- was that I didn't check back that he [Nott] had made it back to the [command post]," he said in a telephone interview. Young faults the two soldiers on the Bradley for failing to identify the target before firing. "The gunner is supposed to identify the target and the commander is supposed to give the order," he says. "They didn't do that."
In their statements, Sgts. Cramer and Creech said that given all the shooting going on that night, they had to assume the shadowy figures were enemies.
Maj. Chase concluded that there was plenty of blame to go around that night. He faulted Alpha Troop for "excessive use of warning shots," which "led to the perception that the patrol [led by Nott] was enemy."
Another contributing factor, he said, was a shortage of body armor. Out of 134 soldiers in Alpha Troop, exactly nine had the Army's highest-quality armored vest. Army units throughout Iraq were short of body armor in the first year of the U.S. occupation. Expecting U.S. troops to be welcomed rather than attacked by insurgents, war planners had called for a lighter, swifter force that lacked heavy protective gear. In Balad Ruz, Chase noted, the armored vest shortage forced most soldiers to conduct patrols in lightly armored "chicken vests." That was what Leif Nott was wearing when he died.
The Army's inquiry concluded that Nott's death was a result of communication failures involving jumpy, ill-equipped soldiers. Chase recommended tightening up unit procedures, but no disciplinary action.
Les Nott called the report "a coverup."
"My God, seven people got shot up. Leif is gone. Mickey Anderson will never walk normally again," he said in an emotional phone interview. "And the Iraqis, they were handcuffed. You can't shoot a handcuffed prisoner just because you're in Iraq. It's an army, not a bunch of barbarians."
Les Nott says he has asked Wyoming's congressional delegation to look into his son's death. Anderson, who also told this story to documentary filmmaker Stuart Sugg, has asked the Inspector General of the 4th Infantry Division to reinvestigate.
The Army has not publicly identified Nott as a victim of friendly fire. A spokesman said the Army has a policy of not updating cause of death information in press releases. Central Command has posted on its Web site official reports into three well-publicized friendly fire incidents from the early weeks of the war. But Centcom, which oversees Iraq operations, has not issued a press release containing the words "friendly fire" since April 14, 2003.
Emily Devers, now at Fort Hood, Tex., calls Nott's death "a total accident." She says she understands why the Army has not been candid. Nott's story "will make people think less of what is going on" in Iraq, she said. But Devers, who supports the U.S. role, added, "Everybody needs to know this kind of thing does happen. And it happens more often than you think."
However often it does happen, the official record should reflect how our soldiers died. The truth shouldn't be an internal Pentagon matter or confined to whispers among survivors. A friendly fire death isn't a meaningless death if the knowledge of what happened helps prevent other tragedies. Only then can a family's wounds, and a nation's, start to heal.
Author's e-mail: jeff.morley[at]wpni.com
|From Army MWR News armymwr.com
Allen earns Olympic berth at Pan American Games
Date Posted: 6/21/2004
By Tim Hipps
USACFSC Public Affairs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- First Lt. Anita Allen became the first member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program to earn a berth in the 2004 Summer Olympics by winning the women's modern pentathlon Aug. 11 in Pan American Games XIV.
Allen won the gold medal in the grueling, five-sport, day-long event with 5,268 points. Brazil's Samantha Harvey, one of Allen's neighbors in Colorado Springs, Colo., won the silver medal with 5,256 points, and Olympian Mary Beth Iagorashvili of Munkwanago, Wis., took the bronze with 5,220 points.
Allen, 25, a member of the medical service corps from Star City, Ind., dedicated her emotional victory to West Point classmate 1st Lt. Leif Nott, who was killed July 30 during an attack on U.S. forces in Iraq.
"The entire time I was thinking 'This is for Leif, this is for Leif. I'm gonna do it," said Allen, who finished second in shooting, 11th in fencing, sixth in swimming, second in equestrian riding and first in cross-country running during the grueling one-day event.
Nott never was far from Allen's mind Monday as she lowered her personal best in the swim by six seconds and delivered the equestrian ride of her life aboard Carmia, who minutes earlier refused three jumps, posted several knockdowns and threw Mexico's Karina Morales to the ground.
Allen finished runner-up to Canada's Monica Pinette in shooting and then struggled in fencing, starting 0-6 before regrouping for nine victories and 13 defeats in two matches against each competitor.
"At least I salvaged some momentum to take to the pool," she said.
Allen began swimming toward gold with a time of 2 minutes, 27.19 seconds in the 200-meter freestyle, good for 1,156 points.
"Everything felt so easy in the water. I PR'd by six seconds," she said of her personal best in the event.
Little did Allen know the best was yet to come.
In the equestrian event, she scored 1,172 points with a magnificent ride aboard Carmia, who knocked just one rail to the ground.
"Pushing horses forward and feeling horses that are going to refuse [jumps] doesn't always come naturally to me; I haven't spent enough time in the saddle," admitted Allen, who has been riding, fencing, swimming and shooting competitively for just 25 months. "I kept growling at him in between the jumps and yelling at him to keep going. I didn't feel comfortable taking my hand off the reins to give him a tap, so I just used voice aids to scare him into jumping. I held on with both hands the whole way, and I had a nice set of spurs that helped, too.
"That was my most memorable ride," she added.
Allen, who wore a black armband in Nott's honor much of the day, entered the final event 42 seconds behind leader Katia Rodriguez of Cuba for the staggered start of the 3,000-meter cross-country run, Allen's strongest event.
"I did still have my ace in the hole," said Allen, who was named MVP in cross country and captain of her track team at West Point. "I am a strong runner."
Rodriguez, silver medalist Samantha Harvey of Brazil, bronze medalist Mary Beth Iagorashvili of Team USA and Pinette all started the run in front of Allen, who closed the 200-meter gap on the final loop around the outside of the equestrian center.
Allen won the running event with a time of 10:44.45. Canada's Kara Grant, who finished fifth in the modern pentathlon, was second on the run in 11:11.40. Harvey, who started the run second, 27 seconds ahead of Allen, finished three seconds behind her.
"When I got to the starting line, all I could think was 'Leif, help me out here. I'm thinking a lot of you, and this is for you. If I can do it, we'll do it together,'" Allen recalled with tears welling in her eyes. "And I really, really think -- I'm one to believe that people watch over you -- that we were going to do it together, and sure enough, we did. And it was the greatest feeling.”
Allen got help from other quarters as well. U.S. teammate Iagorashvili kept Allen's spirit thriving when she was struggling in fencing, as did fencing coach Elaine Cheris. Dr. Gary Wood provided breathing exercises that helped Allen combat allergies in the pool.
Equestrian coach Shane Brasher eased her fears of the skittish horse. Army World Class Athlete Program teammate 1st Lt. Chad Senior, another modern pentathlete who stayed out of the heat most of the day because he was competing the next day, appeared out of nowhere to coax her around the cross-country course.
"Once I saw Samantha and the Cuban girl [on the run], I thought: 'I can do this,' " Allen said. "I was so lucky to have my teammate, Chad Senior, on the backside because he was telling me how many seconds I was gaining on the Cuban girl. He was really my savior on the run."
And Team USA modern pentathlon coach Janusz Peciak was in Allen's ear all day.
"I had a lot of angels helping me today," admitted Allen, who then praised the Army World Class Athlete Program.
"I can't think WCAP enough," she said. "They're the ones who found me and introduced me to the sport. I always wanted to go to the Olympics, but I knew that in track and field and cross country I just wasn't going to cut it. But I just happened to be at the right spot at the right time and got introduced to the right person, and they made my dreams come true. They really did. There's no way I could ever do this sport without them.”