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TELLING TRANSFORMATIVE TALES
The Strange Post-Ranger Saga of Pat Tillman
by Stan Goff
FTW Military Affairs Editor
© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact [email protected]. May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.
April 5, 2006 1400 PST (FTW) - Gary Jones was my battalion commander when I was at 3rd Special Forces in 1994. Prior to the invasion of Haiti in September that year, he liked me. His Bravo Company free-fall parachute team, Operational Detachment-Alpha 354, was suffering from a host of problems associated with a mentality that might be described as primadonna crossed with frat house. I was a newly minted Master Sergeant, with strong special ops credentials, and time spent as a platoon sergeant in a Ranger Battalion, which suggested I had an above-average grasp of both infantry doctrine and troop leading procedures. Jones appointed me the “Top” sergeant of this detachment with instructions to “straighten that shit out over there.”
Jones had a kind of heterodox country-boy personality. He once told me he thought game wardens were un-American. Of course, these officer personalities are as carefully constructed as a film character, and require whole subordinate chains of command to suspend disbelief…or to feign suspension of disbelief long enough to get a maxed Officer Evaluation Report. His character was designed to lower expectations enough to highlight his technical competence; and he liked to display a touch of buccaneer spirit—which is anything but non-conformist in Special Forces. It’s a character mask.
We have become a society of character masks. That’s why we no longer know who we actually are.
When Jones buckled under in Haiti on the first day to the intellectual pipsqueak placed in charge of the invasion, and pleaded with us not to get him into any trouble, I was personally hurt—having developed a kind of affection for him. I wrote extensively about this in Hideous Dream, my first book, and about the other battalion commander I was attached to for the bulk of the invasion, Lieutenant Colonel David Schroer.
Schroer and I were at odds throughout the whole operation over a host of issues, and we shared a mutual and deep distrust and dislike of each other.
Life is nothing if not ironic, and David Schroer eventually changed his name to Diane Schroer after he retired, and had sexual reassignment surgery. She is now suing the Library of Congress for rescinding a job offer once her transgender status was understood. The irony is that I would today aggressively defend Diane Schroer, and now more clearly understand and empathize with the former David Schroer. While I was on the rack over the question of the character of the invasion in which I was participating, Schroer was on another terrible psychological rack of his own.
Gary Jones, on the other hand, has parked his green beret after punching his various career tickets, and has become the Inspector General responsible for making it appear that the Army will properly investigate itself in the case of former-NFL player Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan last year. From an actor in the film, he has now become someone’s First Assistant Director.
Tillman became a Ranger.
Ranger. Ranger. Ranger. What do we see in our heads when we hear the word?
It means you serve in a Ranger unit—one thing—or that you simply completed Ranger school—another thing. But people don’t generally know that. Gary Jones went to Ranger School. So one can say, General Gary Jones is an Army Ranger. I was an Army Ranger. David—now Diane—Schroer was an Army Ranger. So here we are, linguistically and literarily together, four Rangers; and what are we to make of it. Jones is a General. Schroer is a woman. Goff is a leftist scribe. Tillman is dead.
More than dead, though, Tillman has drawn Jones into a vortex that’s also drawing me in, and I’m reaching back to consider Diane Schroer.
Now we together are going to explain something about why Patrick Tillman Sr., Pat Tillman’s father, and Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman’s mother, are hurling verbal hand grenades at the United States Department of Defense. When the real story of Tillman’s death bled through the costume sewn over it by Centcom’s Public Affairs liars, Patrick Tillman Sr., an attorney from San Jose, California, told interviewers:
“After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.”
The original story of Tillman’s death was more out of central casting than Central Command.
So many ghosts here for me. Tillman was in A Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion. I was in the same company in 1979-81.
Tillman’s brother, Kevin, was in the same platoon. If you’re down for taking vengeance as a nation, the Rangers are your game. That was the attitude after 9-11.
I don’t know if Patrick Tillman Sr. and Mary Tillman know it, but their son was not only killed by friendly fire, which I’ll describe momentarily, he was killed on a fake mission of fake vengeance by fake commanders. The whole thing was theater.
The Taliban government tried repeatedly to give Osama bin Laden to the Americans for a year before 9-11. They even put him under house arrest and delivered his grid coordinates in the hope that a Cruise missile might “rid them of this meddlesome priest.” The Bush administration needed bin Laden as a heavy to associate with the Taliban, because they planned well before 9-11 to invade Afghanistan in October 2001, about which they even warned the Pakistanis in July of the same year. What they wanted was what they also want in Iraq.
No one in this government is talking publicly about Diane Schroer though. Not when they’ve gone to such trouble to construct the Commander-in-Chief as the big-dicked, blood-and-soil, White Father-Protector of the nation who directs the manly forces of righteous revenge at the Dark Others of exotic Southwest Asia. It doesn’t matter that the cosmic cowboy of the Oval Office in fact has never done anything more adventurous than have unprotected sex with besotted strangers in the back of a Lincoln. It’s the script that matters.
Tillman’s father hit the nail dead-center when he said “scripted.” Life hasn’t imitated art with this administration. It has been interred in art, like a grave shoveled over a witness who is bound and not dead.
Diane Schroer, who I admit I never got along with worth a damn in Haiti, is now my newest folk hero. While George W. was jerking-off for his frat initiation, and while Dick Cheney was falling asleep during the firearms and alcohol safety course, Diane Schroer was preparing to attend Ranger School. If that doesn’t disrupt the gendered war script of this fascist clique, I can’t imagine what might.
No, this president, who pranced across the Deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, dressed up in a fighter pilot costume, and who prances around Crawford in a cowboy costume, must be in command of real Alpha males, and Pat Tillman was right out of central casting when he was killed. A square-jawed football star who sacrificed millions of dollars to carry a rifle in an infantry platoon, and go after the dark menace—and lest anyone think I doubt it, don’t. Tillman was a believer. So was his brother.
So was, and is, much of America.
In the Script, there are masculine confrontations with the enemy, and Clancy-esque commanders. In reality, US occupation warfare is grotesquely one-sided. Once an “enemy” is spotted, the troops pull back and get on the radio with the fast movers and gunships, or direct the smart-munitions in with laser guidance systems. That’s why guerrillas employ car-bombs and IEDs. In the Script, the good guys can direct this lethal force with absolute precision, ensuring there is no “collateral damage.” In reality, there is terrible suffering inflicted on civilians, and people would be surprised at how often the “friendlies” are killed and wounded by “friendly fire.”
The Script required Tillman’s commanders to show progress with a list of objectives reached. So when one of his platoon’s vehicles went down, and his platoon leader requested assistance, a “higher” commander—whose name has been redacted in Jones’ investigation report—directed platoon leader Lieutenant David Uthlaut that 2nd Platoon (Tillman’s platoon) over Uthlaut’s objections to move half the element to the small town of Manah. The war in Iraq was going badly, and there was intense pressure to calculate as many “taken objectives” as possible in Afghanistan to repolish the military’s bloodied image.
It was nearing dusk, and the road they traveled was flanked by steep high ground, making the platoon ambush bait in any scenario. Uthlaut took one element forward to “secure” Manah for the public relations value, and the other element, which included Tillman’s brother, Kevin, stayed back on the road.
The stay-behind was ambushed with rocks, mortars, and small arms from bluffs above them, and they went into a firing frenzy in response. When Uthlaut’s element, which included Tillman and an allied Afghan militiaman, tried to return to assist, the stay-behind element—firing in a panic—killed both Pat Tillman and the Afghan guide, even as Tillman was shouting for a cease-fire and had popped a smoke grenade to identify his position.
The cover-up started immediately, because it would be weeks before Kevin Tillman was ever informed that his brother was killed by fratricide, and he was in the same platoon. Tillman’s gear was burned, a fake story was constructed, and apparently members of the platoon were silenced, or Kevin Tillman wouldn’t have had to wait five weeks to find out what had happened 100 meters from him.
Specialist Tillman was posthumously given a lateral promotion to Corporal, awarded a Silver Star and a mendacious official epitaph to support the award that had him charging up a hill at the enemy. He was given—ironically enough, given the unacknowledged gender content of all this—the Jessica Lynch treatment.
Jessica Lynch was reconstructed as a kind of film convention, too: the spunky white American woman, fighting off the Dark hordes until she succumbed, only to be rescued as the plucky damsel in distress by brave special operators. Not only was this lie fabricated like a TV drama, there was actually a film made for the media—which they obediently played—of the faked rescue operation. (The Iraqi hospital staff who had saved her life had attempted to return her days earlier to the Americans, but the Americans drove them back by firing at the transporting ambulance—a violation of the Geneva Conventions.)
Pat Tillman, who really did fit the profile of the All-American (subtext: white) boy, was ready-made. All that was required was to bury the reality of what happened to him. But these living realities have a way of clawing themselves back out of the ground. My friend, Lydia, remarks on “the thin veneer that football casts over American males' parasitic need to collectively construct and contain ideal masculinities.” Construct. Contain.
Families are groups who know each other at a bodily level. We occupy the same physical space. We change the child’s diaper. We feed the child and watch the child physically grow. Our skin remembers the touch of the child’s skin. We are real together in the real world, which is so much richer and more tragic and more loving and terrifying than any reductionist drama. That is why Mary and Patrick Tillman Sr. are raging.
They will not have their son constructed and contained as someone’s instrumental icon. He was flesh and blood to them, and he was taken away in the unspeakably absurd reality of war, not in some iconic masculine representation to make George Bush look like a generalissimo, and a war of plunder look like a morality play. Even the reality of how he was killed was reconstructed as a publicity stunt and a bureaucratic cover-up.
Diane Schroer has forgotten more than George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld will ever know about warfare. Pat Tillman was killed in fratricidal chaos brought on by an incompetent, ticket-punching off-site commander, by real, young Rangers who were frightened and confused. Gary Jones has been selected to write up the Army’s investigation of itself, with all the details of culpability and cynical ambition, and to say—burned evidence, changed testimony, falsified casualty reports, and redacted names—that there was no cover-up. The entire chain of command did not attempt to transform Pat Tillman’s life and death into another Bush administration hoax.
Me, I write and remember.