Friendly fire:  Should U.S. Pilots be Prosecuted?

Devvy Kidd
October 8, 2002

That is the question.

People's lives are changed by war.

War is a terrible thing.

Soliders hate war because they know what it's all about.

Right now Mr. Bush is about to commit American troops once again, just like Mr. Clinton did in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and other places around the globe, where clearly there is no immediate threat to the United States. I've watched all the hearings and arguments in favor of cleaning out Saddam Hussein by the junior Bush since his father didn't finish the job. I don't buy any of it, but you can be the judge.

Mr. Bush has never been to war. As a matter of fact, he was AWOL during his stint in the national guard. Most conservative Republicans would rather not know any of this information and that's fine. But, the truth doesn't go away, it eventually wins out. The information on the web site below is well documented with source material that can be verified.

Putting Our Troops in Harm's Way Without Protection

Before you vote to jump onto the band wagon of sending our finest to Baghdad-By-Hell, read this piece today from Col. David Hackworth about troop readiness for this latest insanity. Our military is all volunteer. Please read this and think about supporting another unnecessary war. This is what our troops are going to face and it's pretty damn ugly:

I guarantee you: If this were Bill Clinton, the Republicans would be going mad over a 'wag the dog' scenario to cover up the domestic mess in this country. Oh, yeah. Also remember this: Some of these house members and counterfeit U.S. Senators, i.e. Fred Thompson, are retiring or have dropped out. They are going to vote to send our troops into harm's way and they won't even be returning to office. Nice and safe out there in the private sector while Americans will come home in body bags.
One thing I would like to remind people about: Our military are at the mercy of politicians. They go where they are told, when they are told, period. My husband spent 27 years in the Army; he's a retired Colonel. The Army owned him 24/7 for 27 years and he went to war [Viet Nam] when they ordered him to go and that was that. What if it were you facing what Colonel Hackworth has described and knowing you are only being sent to "war" for domestic damage control and the upcoming pretend election?

Accidents in War

There is still an open incident of a "war" related nature that I believe needs attention because people's lives hang in the balance. Below is from the media. Below that is from the pilot's defense fund which I am going to donate.

Friendly Fire: Should U.S. Pilots Be Prosecuted?

Stephanie Simon
Los Angeles Times
Oct 6, 2002

    "The two pilots were alone in the dark battling fatigue, battling fear, scouting an enemy that seemed to mass and melt away in the shadows of the hostile land beneath.

    "Wedged into the cockpits of their F-16s, they raced through a moonless midnight, an overnight patrol southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan. They swallowed "Go Pills," stimulants prescribed by the Air Force to keep them alert. On they flew, on and on, for hours, on and on, alone.

    "Then, from below: A flash.

    "The arc of tracer fire. Balls of flame that looked to be coming right at them.

    "Maj. Harry Schmidt called mission controllers cruising the region in a radar plane to report surface-to-air fire. He asked permission to strafe the ground with his cannon. "Stand by," the controller told him. "Hold fire."

    "Flash. Flash. Schmidt reduced speed and swept lower. He squinted through his night-vision goggles. "I've got some men on a road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us," he reported, according to transcripts released by an inquiry board. "I am rolling in, in self-defense."

    "He readied his 500-pound laser-guided bomb. "Bombs away," he announced, and dropped it, right on target. At that very moment, a ground commander radioed the radar plane: "Kandahar has friendlies . . . Get [the F-16s] out of there."

    "As he pulled up and soared away, Schmidt radioed the pilot in the other fighter jet: "I hope that was the right thing to do."

The first time

    "The bomb Schmidt dropped on April 18 killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight as they engaged in live-fire training on Afghanistan's Tarnak Farms range. A military inquiry has recommended charging Schmidt with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 64 years in prison.

    "The pilot in the companion F-16, Maj. William Umbach, has been accused of the same criminal offenses. Although he did not drop the bomb, Umbach was serving as flight commander, in charge of the mission. He, too, could face 64 years.

    "It is the first time the U.S. military has recommended criminal charges for wartime "friendly fire." In taking that unprecedented step, authorities said the pilots acted recklessly and violated rules governing use of force in Operation Enduring Freedom. Critics, however, have suggested the Air Force caved to political and diplomatic pressure from incensed Canadians.

    "They should leave those pilots alone," said Angela Marvel, 36, indignant as she shopped for children's clothes. "It was an accident. Accidents happen all the time."

    "They're over there flying for our country. They're fighting our war . . . And now, they're the fall guys," said John Russo, 71, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in nearby Springfield, Ill.

    "When you're traveling 6 miles per minute in a fighter and you look down and see firing, you don't have a lot of time to make the right decision," said Illinois state Rep. Raymond Poe, a Republican. "Everyone around here feels, if we were up there, we probably would have done the same thing."

    "Schmidt and Umbach serve with the Illinois Air National Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing, based in Springfield.

    "Schmidt, 37, a celebrated Top Gun pilot, was a full-time guardsman, the pride of his squadron. In fact, the Springfield fighter wing had courted him for months, eager to land a pilot described by both his peers and his superiors as "well above average." A former instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, he had more than 3,200 hours of military flying time -- and a reputation as an exceptional airman.

    "Umbach, 43, a commercial airline pilot, was a traditional part-time guardsman, training on weekends. Logging 3,000 hours of military flying time over two decades, he had earned a rating as one of the Air Force's most experienced pilots. Shaken by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he volunteered for deployment overseas and had been flying sorties nearly every other day for a month before the bombing.

    "Holding court over a 7-Up at the Springfield VFW, Army veteran Jerry Helfrich called the pilots' prosecution "a travesty." Through thick cigarette smoke, his buddies grunted assent. After all, they pointed out, friendly fire has torn up battlefields in every major conflict -- and has always been considered a tragedy, not a crime.

'War is ugly'

    "War is ugly. War is nasty. War is cruel. These things happen," said Russo, an Army veteran who was strafed accidentally by the U.S. Marines during the Korean War.

    "He has started a legal defense fund for the pilots. Illinois Gov. George Ryan, also a veteran, has urged folks to contribute.

    "If Major Schmidt felt he was in imminent danger, then that's what he thought," Russo said. "I'm not going to pass judgment on him. And no one else should either."

    "After exhaustive investigations, U.S. and Canadian panels determined that multiple errors contributed to the tragedy, from a breakdown in flight discipline to poor mission planning to "peer pressure" on Schmidt to "build credibility for [his] squadron" and prove his skill in combat after weeks of flying uneventful sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "The coalition Board of Inquiry, the joint U.S.-Canadian panel that backed criminal charges against the pilots, found that Schmidt "misperceived the caliber, trajectory and distance traveled of the munitions" -- which were not, in fact, aimed skyward at the F-16, but were rather fired along the ground in a drill that posed no threat to the planes.

    "Schmidt later told his superiors he felt an imminent threat; he believed the unidentified figures on the ground were targeting Umbach's plane. Yet the board found no evidence that he had alerted Umbach to the presumed danger. Umbach himself apparently did not think he was in peril. He took no evasive action and did not request permission to use his weapons.

    "In fact, Canadian transcripts show that minutes after the bomb drop, Umbach radioed controllers in the distant radar plane with a question they could not possibly answer: "Can you confirm that they were shooting at us?"

    "Two minutes later, Schmidt reassured him: "They were definitely shooting at you."

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Why is this the first time these kinds of charges have been brought in a friendly fire incident? Because it involves Candadians. It's all about politics. I am so very sorry that four Canadian men, very young men, died. However, this political scape goating cannot be allowed to succeed for very serious reasons.

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This web site has all the important information about the pilots, etc., plus:

The Issue

A tragedy occurred April 17th of 2002. Four Canadian soldiers training alongside their American brothers in Afghanistan were killed in a friendly-fire incident that took place under the cloud of war. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these brave soldiers and with those who were injured.

On September 11, a second tragedy began. Majors Bill Umbach and Harry Schmidt, the Coalition pilots in the friendly-fire incident, were notified that the USAF is bringing charges of assault, manslaughter and dereliction of duty against them.  These charges are the result of an investigation that sought from its inception to identify the pilots as the sole cause of the incident rather than serve as an impartial examination of what transpired last April.

Attempts to defend the actions of the pilots were met with swift retribution from the review board. Colonel Dave Nichols, the Air Expeditionary Group Commander at the time has become another victim of the investigation. For his honesty and defense of the aircrew, Dave was recommended for discipline up to and including non-judicial punishment. Dave s show of character and integrity, at great cost to his own career, is the antithesis of the investigative board, which sought to cover-up the ultimate failures of the Coalition Air Operations Center (and therefore the commander, General Moseley) and lay blame at the lowest expendable level the aircrew.

Both Bill and Harry need your support. They have been recalled to active duty to face the charges. In the near future (likely in the next two months) both will report to 8th AF at Barksdale AFB for an Article 32 hearing to determine if a trial is warranted. Following the Article 32 hearing, the 8th AF Commander will decide whether or not to proceed with a trial.

There are two battles to be fought. The obvious one is at the hearing. Bill and Harry have retained expert legal counsel in an attempt to preserve their freedom (their very freedom they were defending for us all while voluntarily serving in Afghanistan.)

We also need your political support. Our Senators and Representatives of Congress need to be made aware of the injustice perpetrated on our on soldiers. In an effort to placate public opinion, the investigative board included members outside of the chain of command who could not fully appreciate or evaluate the breakdowns in command procedure that led to this incident. By laying blame solely at the feet of these two pilots, the review board ignored the greater issue of a command structure that failed both Harry and Bill and the ground forces. In a misguided attempt to redress a wrong, the USAF is willing to sacrifice two loyal airmen while denying any command and control failures. Please take time to call or write your congressmen to explain your concerns and to ask for their support in the matter.

The goal of the 183rd Pilots Defense Fund is to address this injustice and to reflect the proud service that both the pilots of Central Illinois and the Canadian soldiers have provided to their countries. We believe (as many of you do) that ultimately Bill and Harry will be exonerated of these charges. We should thank Dave Nichols for taking the first stand, and we hope the rest of you will join with us in standing by these pilots, not because they are our neighbors and friends, but because these men were prepared to give their lives to preserve and safety and freedom. This effort is a protection not only for Bill and Harry, but also for the thousands of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands who every day place their lives on the line for us and are asked to make split-second decisions in the cloud of war. We want to avoid a legal precedent that could very well put their lives in increased danger. In short, we are prepared to fight as vigorously for our men and women in uniform in both the U.S. and Canada as they are for us.

Factual Bullet Points:

Combat is inherently dangerous, for both ground forces and aircrews.

Aircrews, particularly those in a combat environment, are called upon to make split second, life or death decisions. The Coalition Air Operations Center, under the command of General Moseley, was aware of the Canadian live-fire training exercise and neither pilot was briefed on the live-fire exercise prior to the mission.

Upon initially spotting the surface-to-air fire, the aircrew queried AWACS on whether or not there were friendlies in the area, but AWACS was unable to readily provide that information to the pilots. The failure to provide the aircrew with information concerning the friendly training exercise is a command and control failure, not a pilot failure or error.

Both Harry Schmidt and Bill Umbach honestly and reasonably believed that they were taking ground fire from an unknown source and that they were required to suppress that fire in self-defense.

The charges against Harry and Bill could result in their incarceration for more than 60 years, dismissal from the Air Force, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and termination of their retirement benefits after faithful and honorable service to their country, not to mention the impacts on two families, their spouses and children.

Points to Consider:

The failure of the CAOC and AWACS to pass the live-fire training information to the aircrew in a timely manner was not listed as a cause or even a contributing factor in the investigation.

The decision to pursue criminal charges against a combat aircrew making life or death decisions under the stress and uncertainty of combat conditions sets a dangerous precedent: In the future, combat aircrews may hesitate to exercise the right of self-defense, rightly believing that their decision will later be second-guessed by others who have the luxury of unlimited time, deliberation, and hindsight to question decisions required to be made on the spot under the stress of combat. This will likely cause unnecessary American casualties and have a deleterious effect on our military capabilities.

Would you want your son or daughter to join today s U.S. military knowing this can happen?

Their potential legal costs are staggering. A legal defense fund has been established and a benefit is scheduled for November 9, 2002 at the Levi, Ray and Shoup, Inc. airport hanger in Springfield, Illinois. Contributions can also be made to The 183rd Pilot Defense Fund c/o VFW Post 10302, 2349 Stockyard Rd., Springfield IL, 62702. For benefit information contact the VFW post directly at phone 217-789-4725 or make a donation from this website. We thank you for your interest and support.

We also want to acknowledge the regrettable loss to the Canadian families whose sons and fathers died or were injured in this lamentable event. Those killed were: Sgt. Marc Leger, 29, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 24, Pte. Richard Green, 21, and Pte. Nathan Smith 27. All were members of Alpha Company, the third battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Our hearts are with you.

183rd Pilots Defense Fund
c/o VFW Post 10302
2349 Stockyard Road
Springfield, IL 62702

Toll free 1-866-644-0183

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