Army: 7 Families Misled On War Deaths

Specialist Pat Tillman marches as he performs the honor of being the guidon bearer during graduation ceremonies Friday morning, Oct. 25, 2002 on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, Ga. Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals star who walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to serve with the Army Rangers, was killed in Afghanistan U.S. officials said Friday, April 23, 2004 AP/Columbus Ledger Enquirer

The families of seven soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan were given incorrect or misleading information about the deaths, the Army has concluded after a review of war casualty reports.

The review, which began last summer, covered hundreds of casualty reports and marked the first step in a new process ordered by Army Secretary Francis Harvey to ensure that families receive accurate information.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, said Monday the review found seven cases in which families were given erroneous information. The best-known was Cpl. Patrick Tillman, the former star player in the National Football League whose family initially was told he had died a hero's death, killed by enemy forces in Afghanistan. After Tillman's memorial service the family was told the truth: He was killed unintentionally by gunfire from his fellow soldiers.

The Tillman case triggered a series of highly publicized Army investigations, which led to Harvey's decision last April to begin a unit-level investigation of every soldier's death, rather than only under certain circumstances.

The Army has not released final results from the Tillman and some other death investigations, but in general it has said misunderstandings and miscommunication, not criminal negligence, are to blame for incorrect casualty reporting.

More than 1,800 Army soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; about 240 have died in Afghanistan. Overall, more than 2,800 U.S. military members have died since the start of the Iraq war.

The issue of inaccurate casualty information resurfaced last summer when Army officials revealed that two California National Guardsmen, Lt. Andre Tyson and Spc. Patrick McCaffrey, were murdered in June 2004 by the Iraqi civil-defense soldiers they were training. The Army initially told the men's families they were killed in an enemy ambush.

It was two years before the guardsmen's families were told the truth.

In another case, in September 2005, the Army acknowledged publicly that it had known for more than a year after 1st Lt. Kenneth Ballard's death in Iraq in May 2004 that he was not killed in action, as it initially told his family. The family was not told the truth — that he died of wounds from the accidental discharge of a U.S. machine gun after a firefight in the city of Najaf — until that public acknowledgment.

The Army did not release the names of all seven soldiers whose cases were initially reported incorrectly.
  • Joel Roberts

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