WaPo : Tillman Killed by 'Friendly Fire'

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Tillman Killed by 'Friendly Fire'

Probe Cites Error By Platoon Mates

By Josh White | Washington Post Staff Writer | May 30, 2004 | Page A01

Pat Tillman, the former pro football player, was killed by other American troops in a "friendly fire" episode in Afghanistan last month and not by enemy bullets, according to a U.S. investigation of the incident.

New details released yesterday about Tillman's death indicate that he was gunned down by members of his elite Army Ranger platoon who mistakenly shot in his direction when the unit was ambushed. According to a summary of the Army investigation, a Ranger squad leader mistook an allied Afghan Militia Force soldier standing near Tillman as the enemy, and he and other U.S. soldiers opened fire, killing both men.

That Tillman, 27, wasn't killed by enemy fire in a heroic rescue attempt was a major revelation by the U.S. military more than a month after the April 22 incident, which the Pentagon and members of Congress had hailed as an example of combat bravery. Tillman's sacrifice of millions of dollars when he left the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to become a soldier has been held up as a stark contrast to the prison scandal in Iraq.

Shortly after his death, Army officials awarded Tillman a Silver Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart. He also was promoted from specialist to corporal. They said Tillman was killed while charging at the enemy up a hill, allowing the rest of his platoon to escape alive.

Instead, it appears Tillman's bravery in battle led him to become a victim of a series of errors as he was trying to protect part of his stranded platoon, which Army officials say was attacked while hampered by a disabled vehicle it had in tow. The report said Tillman got out of his vehicle and shot at the enemy during a 20-minute firefight before he was killed when members of his unit opened fire after returning to the scene to help.

A woman who answered the door at the home of Tillman's parents in San Jose said the family did not have anything to say publicly.

News of Tillman's death by friendly fire was first reported yesterday in the Arizona Republic and the Argus of Fremont, Calif., and new details emerged yesterday.

Military officials could not explain the discrepancy between earlier reports and the releases yesterday, saying that a month-long investigation into the attack helped clarify the events. The investigation reports that Tillman was killed after he got out of his vehicle and fought about a dozen insurgents in restricted terrain and in poor light conditions.

"While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Corporal Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces," said Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., who is in charge of the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command, based in Fort Bragg, N.C. "The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Corporal Tillman. Corporal Tillman was shot and killed while responding to enemy fire without regard for his own safety."

The report summary, however, leaves no doubt that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, saying that the Afghan fighter was "misidentified" by a Ranger squad leader, who then attacked. The report said other soldiers, who generally look to squad leaders for guidance, followed suit.

"Other members of the platoon, observing the direction of fire by the squad leader, oriented their fire in the same direction," the summary says. "This fire fatally wounded one Ranger and the AMF soldier."

Two other U.S. soldiers were injured by friendly fire in the same melee, though Army officials said yesterday that they could not provide details. The full investigative report has yet to be released.

According to summary, the incident was the result of a series of problems and failures as the Ranger platoon moved from one assignment to another through the mountainous terrain along the Pakistan border, about 90 miles south of Kabul, near the village of Spera.

First, a vehicle with Tillman's unit broke down and the platoon mechanic could not fix it. Then, without air resources to lift the vehicle out of the area, the soldiers decided to tow the vehicle as they moved to their next assignment. On April 22, the soldiers split the platoon, sending a working vehicle ahead while Tillman's unit towed the disabled one, slowing it down, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Florida.

"Approximately 30 minutes after the platoon split off in their separate directions, the section with the non-mission capable vehicle was ambushed by anti-coalition forces," the summary said. "Hearing the engagement, the other section of the platoon maneuvered to the location of the ambush and engaged in the fight."

It was then that the Afghan soldier was mistaken for the enemy and was killed when the other half of the platoon returned. Tillman, who was by his side, also was shot, the report said.

Tillman and his fellow Rangers were attacked in a region where U.S. forces have been searching out Taliban and al Qaeda leaders who are believed to be hiding there. Operation Mountain Storm has been scouring the area for months -- looking for such leaders as Osama bin Laden -- and has frequently been involved in skirmishes.

Kensinger, in his statement yesterday morning at Fort Bragg, said Tillman's unit was ambushed with small-arms and mortar fire at about 7:30 p.m. local time in the vicinity of a military base in Khost, Afghanistan. He described the ensuing firefight as "intense" and involving about a dozen enemy fighters shooting from multiple locations.

"There is an inherent degree of confusion in any firefight, particularly when a unit is ambushed, and especially under difficult light and terrain conditions which produce an environment that increases the likelihood of fratricide," Kensinger said.

Marine Capt. Bruce Frame, a Central Command spokesman, said there has been one other friendly-fire investigation during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, arising from a combat death in March 2002. According to the Defense Department, 51 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in and around Afghanistan, and 122 U.S. soldiers have died in the operation.

The friendly-fire incident appears to be a classic example of what can happen in a chaotic combat situation, with soldiers getting out of vehicles in bad light while trying to engage an unknown enemy on unfamiliar terrain. It also highlights the potential for problems that can come with assembling multinational forces -- in this case, an Afghan coalition fighter mistaken as the enemy touched off the volley of friendly fire.

"Blue on blue" fire has become less of a problem for U.S. forces in the modern era, as they increasingly rely on better technology for airstrikes and have fewer soldiers out in the field doing operational missions. Still, such attacks occur, especially at night.

"It can be very confusing, particularly in an environment like that," said Allan R. Millett, a professor of military history at Ohio State University and a retired colonel with the Marine Corps Reserve.

"Everybody is piling out of vehicles, and they pile out shooting. That's always a dangerous situation. Doctrine is to put out a lot of fire and keep moving. If people respond properly, there are a hell of a lot of bullets flying around. It sounds like Tillman was just unlucky."

Millett said modern-day friendly-fire incidents are statistically low, especially compared with previous wars. U.S. forces in World War II had about 40,000 friendly-fire deaths, or about 10 percent of total losses.

A member of Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Tillman was one of an elite force of Army light-infantry soldiers often used for difficult assault missions around the globe. He and brother Kevin joined the Army in 2002 after he expressed deep patriotism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Kevin Tillman also was an Army Ranger and was part of the same battalion.

Pat Tillman, a safety with the Cardinals, walked away from a $3.6 million contract and made less than $20,000 in the Army. He shunned media attention, telling his family and the military he wanted to be treated like other soldiers.

More than 600 NFL players served in the military during World War II and 19 were killed. One U.S. pro athlete -- James Robert Kalsu, an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills -- was killed in combat in Vietnam.

About 3,000 people, including politicians, soldiers, professional athletes and relatives, honored Tillman at a 2 1/2-hour memorial service in San Jose on May 2. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke that day of Tillman's resolve.

"Pat's best service to us all was to remind us what courage really looks like," McCain said.

Last week, the owners of the 32 NFL teams began discussing how the league would pay tribute to Tillman. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue mentioned the possibility of a decal being placed on each player's helmet, but said no decisions had been made.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a midweek meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters that Tagliabue would honor the family's wishes.

"I know how Tagliabue feels about this," Upshaw said. "He wants to make sure that it's done with the best interests of the family and what the family wants."

Staff writers Thomas E. Ricks, Mark Maske and Steve Fainaru contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

NYT : Service for Ex-N.F.L. Player Killed in Combat

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Service for Ex-N.F.L. Player Killed in Combat

By NICK MADIGAN | May 4, 2004

SAN JOSE, Calif., May 3 — Led by the wails of bagpipes, hundreds of friends, relatives and admirers of Pat Tillman, the football player turned war hero, gathered on Monday in a sun-drenched park in his hometown to hail his life and mourn his death last month in a firefight in Afghanistan.

In a long afternoon of remembrances, there seemed barely enough time to say it all.

As they streamed into the San Jose Municipal Garden, the mourners signed messages of condolence on long white sheets of paper: "God bless a true American." "My fellow soldier, you have joined the ranks of history." "You make all athletes remember that there is more to life than just sports."

Corporal Tillman, who died on April 22 while serving in the Army Rangers, had startled some of his friends here by giving up a lucrative career with the Arizona Cardinals in 2002 and signing up for military service. His first tour of duty overseas took him to Iraq, the second to Afghanistan.

"He had everything going for him," said Charles Ward, a former Marine sergeant who served two tours in Vietnam and came by to pay his respects. "That's what a lot of people strive for, the big bucks, but he said: `I don't need it. I'm going to do what I need to do.' It takes a certain kind of person to just drop everything like that."

Placed in a semicircle under a stand of towering redwoods, enlarged photographs showed moments of Corporal Tillman's life — as a red-shirted football player, in Army fatigues, on his wedding day — and he was smiling in every one. Speaker after speaker recalled his sense of humor, which sometimes involved donning pink slippers, a Christmas sweater and a kimono and acting as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

Corporal Tillman's parents, Pat Sr., as he is known, and Danni, his brothers, Kevin and Richard, and his widow, Marie, his high-school sweetheart, sat in the front row. Behind them, the crowd swelled to 2,000 or more.

Jim Rome, a syndicated radio host who had followed Corporal Tillman's career since the young man's early days as a player at Arizona State University, told the audience that he could not wait to sit down with his 3-year-old son, Jake, when he is older "and tell him about Pat."

"Pat is the man I want to be," Mr. Rome said. "Pat is the man we all want to be."

Maria Shriver, the wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, read a letter from the governor, who said he wished he could have attended the ceremony but was in Germany visiting an American military hospital.

"Pat was one of California's golden sons," Ms. Shriver read. "I've been told Pat admired me. Well, let me tell you, it's the other way around."

Ms. Shriver invoked her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and his inaugural speech 43 years ago, in which he advised Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." She said Corporal Tillman and his brother Kevin, who is also in the Rangers, "have lived those words."

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that he had not known Mr. Tillman and that he was "poorer for it."

"He loved his country and the values that make us exceptional, and good," said Mr. McCain, who served in Vietnam.

At Arizona State, where Mr. Tillman joined the football team in 1994, he was known as Braveheart, a 200-pound, 5-foot 11-inch linebacker who gained renown as a determined underdog. He received a degree in marketing, graduating summa cum laude in three and a half years.

In 1998, he joined the Cardinals. Approached by the St. Louis Rams in 2001 with a five-year, $9 million offer, Mr. Tillman turned it down, out of what by all accounts was a sense of loyalty to the Cardinals.

Nine months after the Sept. 11 attacks, however, Mr. Tillman walked into the office of his coach, Dave McGinnis, and told him he had decided to join his brother Kevin in the Army. A higher duty called, he told Mr. McGinnis, according to accounts published at the time. By donning a military uniform, Mr. Tillman walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals.

After Corporal Tillman's death, an Army spokesman announced that he would be given the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor.

The Army also released details of the firefight that took his life. The Army said that he and his platoon were not initially in danger, but that he had ordered his men out of their vehicles to confront small-arms and mortar fire that had pinned down the rear of their convoy.

Corporal Tillman, 27, led his team members up a hill and directed them into firing positions. "Tillman's voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy forces," the Army said.

Near the crest of the hill, he was shot while firing his automatic rifle. His actions, the Army statement said, helped the trapped soldiers emerge from their positions "without taking a single casualty." Mr. Tillman protected his team "without regard to his own safety," the Army said. Two American soldiers were wounded and an Afghan soldier was killed.

The firefight occurred near Sperah, a village 26 miles southwest of Khost, during a spring offensive intended to eliminate remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

MSNBC : Ex-NFL star Tillman makes ‘ultimate sacrifice’

Monday, April 26, 2004

Ex-NFL star Tillman makes ‘ultimate sacrifice’

Safety, who gave up big salary to join Army, killed in Afghanistan

NBC, msnbc.com and news services | April 26, 2004

WASHINGTON — Pat Tillman, who gave up the glamorous life of a professional football star to join the Army Rangers, was remembered as a role model of courage and patriotism Friday after military officials said he had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

“Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush,” Taylor Gross, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the author of a recent book about courage, said he was “heartbroken” and raised the prospect that “the tragic loss of this extraordinary young man” could be a “heavy blow to our nation’s morale, as it is surely a grievous injury to his loved ones.”

Tillman, 27, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The battalion was involved in Operation Mountain Storm in southeastern Afghanistan, part of the U.S. campaign against fighters of the al-Qaida terror network and the former Taliban government along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, military officials told NBC News.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers said Saturday that Tillman was killed Thursday night in a firefight at about 7 p.m. on a road near Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.

After coming under fire, Tillman’s patrol got out of their vehicles and gave chase, moving toward the spot of the ambush. Beevers said the fighting was “sustained” and lasted 15-20 minutes.

Beevers said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved in the assault, or whether he died instantly.

An Afghan militiaman fighting alongside Tillman also was killed, and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.

A local Afghan commander, Gen. Khial Bas, told The Associated Press that nine enemy fighters were killed in the confrontation.

Bas said six other enemy fighters were believed to have escaped. Beevers said he had no information about any enemy fighters killed.

Overall, 110 U.S. soldiers have died, 39 of them in combat, during Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Spokesmen at the Defense Department and the Army would not comment Friday, in keeping with a policy that no U.S. casualties of war be identified for at least 24 hours. But Tillman’s death was confirmed by the House Armed Services Committee, whose members were notified by the Defense Department, The Arizona Republic reported on its Web site.

‘Pat knew his purpose in life’

Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League to enlist in the Army in May 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

“My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has ... gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that,” Tillman told NBC News in an interview the day after the attacks.

Tillman had played four seasons with the Cardinals, winning league-wide respect as a smart and hard-hitting, if somewhat small and slow, defensive safety before he enlisted with his younger brother Kevin.

Pat and Kevin Tillman — who also is a highly regarded athlete, having once been a minor league baseball prospect in the Cleveland Indians’ organization — denied requests for media coverage of their basic training and ultimate deployments. Army officials said at the time that they wanted no special treatment or attention but wanted to be considered soldiers doing their duty.

The brothers both successfully completed training for the Rangers, the Army’s elite infantry regiment. Pat Tillman was first deployed to Iraq in March 2003; it was not immediately clear when he was sent to Afghanistan, where he served in the same unit with his brother.

“Pat knew his purpose in life,” said Dave McGinnis, Tillman’s former coach with the Cardinals. “He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling.”

McGinnis said he felt both overwhelming sorrow and tremendous pride in Tillman, who he said “represented all that was good in sports.”

Tillman’s agent, Frank Bauer, once called him a deep and clear thinker who never valued material things. In 2001, his client turned down a $9 million, five-year offer sheet from the Super Bowl champions, the St. Louis Rams, out of loyalty to the Cardinals, and by joining the Army, he passed on millions of dollars more from the team.

“He is a hero,” said Michael Bidwill, vice president of the Cardinals. “He was a brave man. There are very few people who have the courage to do what he did, the courage to walk away from a professional sports career and make the ultimate sacrifice.”

The Republic reported that prominent Arizonans were calling on the Cardinals to name the team’s new stadium, which is under construction in Glendale, near Phoenix, in Tillman’s honor.

Intelligence, toughness

Tillman, who at 5 feet 11 inches tall and 200 pounds was considered undersized for his position, nevertheless distinguished himself by his intelligence and appetite for rugged play.

As a linebacker at Arizona State University, he was the Pacific 10 Conference’s defensive player of the year in 1997. He graduated summa cum laude in 3½ academic years, earning a degree in marketing. Flags were being flown at half-staff at the college Friday.

Tillman set a Cardinals record with 224 tackles in 2000 and warmed up for last year’s training camp by competing in a 70.2-mile triathlon in June.

“You don’t find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him,” Phil Snow, who coached Tillman as Arizona State’s defensive coordinator, said in 2002. “This guy could go live in a foxhole for a year by himself with no food.”

The Tillman brothers last year shared the Arthur Ashe Courage award at the 11th annual ESPY Awards, a television program that aired on the ESPN cable sports network.

Denver quarterback Jake Plummer was a teammate of Tillman for seven years, three at Arizona State and four with the Cardinals.

“We lost a unique individual that touched the lives of many with his love for life, his toughness, his intellect,” Plummer said in a statement released by the Broncos. “Pat Tillman lived life to the fullest and will be remembered forever in my heart and mind.”

The Cardinals said they will retire Tillman’s No. 40 and name the plaza surrounding the new stadium under construction in suburban Glendale the “Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza.”

Arizona State will retire Tillman’s No. 42 jersey during a Nov. 13 game and place his name on the honor ring at Sun Devil Stadium. The university and the Cardinals also are collaborating on a scholarship fund in Tillman’s name.

NBC’s George Lewis in Phoenix and Jim Miklaszewski in Washington, MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.