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A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command
By Lynn Vincent
By Roger Hill
Read by Christopher Ryan Grant
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What you hold in your hands is a book the government does not want you to read.
We know this because the Department of Defense spent a year throwing spike strips in our path to publication.
The Pentagon does not want you to read about its catch-and-release detention system that allows the same enemy fighters to ambush, bomb, and shoot at America's sons and daughters over and over again.
The Pentagon does not want you to read about unworkable rules of engagement that tie our troops' hands behind their backs while sending them to fight against an enemy that has no such rules.
The Pentagon does not want you to read about a system in which young soldiers are court-martialed, kicked out of the service, or even imprisoned, while enemy spies who kill Americans are set free.
Dog Company tells the story of one Army unit's tragic experience with all those evils. But Dog Company, a unit of the famed 101st Airborne, is not alone. Her story is being replayed again and again in a lawyered-up war in which, the enemy leverages our rules of engagement by blending into the local population while our warriors, operating in a combat environment, are held not just to the laws of armed conflict but to unprecedented standards of criminal law. Senior civilian and uniformed leaders allow our soldiers and Marines to be tried and convicted for war crimes when, in bygone eras, their actions, motivated by the desire to protect their mates, would have been viewed as collateral damage in the fog of war.
The military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is the next assignment for these young Americans, whose battlefield judgment is second-guessed by lawyers who have never been under fire, and a military-diplomatic mindset that elevates enemy lives over American lives.
As you read this, one young officer is serving a nineteen-year sentence at Leavenworth. His crime? He ordered his soldiers to fire on three riders who were speeding toward his platoon on a single motorcycle. The officer was convicted of murder and attempted murder, though it later came to light that the assailants were registered in U.S. databases as known enemy fighters—a fact the prosecution failed to disclose. The case is now on appeal.
Dog Company exposes such systematic persecution of America's soldiers and Marines, nearly powerless against a system bent on labeling them for the rest of their lives, all in the name of placating enemy actors who have sworn to eradicate the United States in the name of tribe and jihad.
That's the story the military doesn't want you to read.
We, the authors, used to work for the Department of Defense (DoD). Roger Hill served more than ten years in the Army. Lynn Vincent served eight years in the Navy. Lynn held a Secret security clearance while on active duty; Roger held a Top Secret clearance.
Today, we are veterans and patriots. That is why, throughout the writing of this book, we were careful to omit or "write around" any material that might be considered classified or a threat to national security.
But that was not enough for the Pentagon.
In March 2015, we submitted the manuscript to the DoD's Office of Security Review (OSR)—a condition of the nondisclosure agreement Roger signed in connection with receiving his Top Secret clearance. The OSR website says that a security review—that is, screening a manuscript for material that is classified or represents a threat to national security or troops in-theater—takes about thirty days. Our book was a bit long, OSR said, so we could expect to receive it back in two months.
Four months later, the manuscript you now hold came zinging back via email—riddled with censored material, under the dark black bars known as "redactions."
Two things surprised us. First, the sheer number of times the Army had blacked out information. There were scores of redactions, and if you count items redacted multiple times, hundreds.
Second, we were surprised at the type of information the Army censored from public view.
While we could concede that a handful of items that we had not considered problematic could be construed as sensitive, we believed—and could prove—that more than 90 percent of what the Army redacted was not only already public information, but information already made public by the government itself.
Okay, we thought. This is all probably just a mistake—bureaucratic bungling, or maybe an overzealous second lieutenant armed with a Sharpie.
We decided to remove without question those sensitive items the Army identified. For redactions that were already public information, we prepared a detailed appeal, itemizing the sources of our data.
To evaluate our conclusions, we retained attorneys specializing in military intelligence and information security, as well as a former Army intelligence officer who now works in the private sector as a military security expert.
In September 2015, we sent our appeal—with confidence. Surely when Pentagon reviewers saw that the information they redacted was already available on multiple federal websites and in print publications, they'd agree to reverse those redactions.
This time, we waited five months.
On January 19, 2016, we received our answer from Michael Rhodes, director of the Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer at the Pentagon:
"The DoD conducted a thorough review of the authors' supporting documentation and proposed rewrite of the pages identified in the appeal letter. The amendments identified during the initial review of the manuscript are affirmed in their entirety. The DoD does not approve the rewrite or any of the submitted alternative language in the appeal submission."
Translation: "We reject your appeal. All of it."
Why on earth would the Pentagon forbid us from publishing material that it had already made public? Why would the government not concede even a single redaction, such as those blacking out common military weapons and operations, or terms used in the news media every day?
In retrospect, perhaps we should not have been surprised. In December 2008, officers of the 101st Airborne tried to shield the case at the center of this book from FOIA—the Freedom of Information Act. They didn't want anyone to learn about this story at all, and they tried to prevent the American public from its rightful access to documents at the heart of the case.
Fast-forward seven years: The FOIA dodge didn't work, so the Army tried to gut the book. In case that sounds like hyperbole, consider this: In two of three cases, the government censored events in the manuscript that expose the catch-and-release, revolving-door system of prisoner detention that puts American soldiers and Marines at constant, unnecessary risk of injury and death.
While the Pentagon's spike-strip review process delayed this book by two years—and nearly derailed it altogether—here it is, Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command.
To get the book to press, we left the redactions in. We trust that you, the American reader who cares about our men and women in arms, will be able to fill in the data the government hoped would remain shrouded in black.
Because many of the men in this story are now out of the Army, they are able to speak freely. But other soldiers and Marines face similar persecution, often under gag orders from their higher commands, as they fight a military justice system in which the deck is stacked against defendants.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. We hope that Dog Company sheds light on an unintended consequence of the Terror War: the sacrifice of the American soldier on the altars of careerism and enemy appeasement.
Lynn Vincent and Roger Hill
San Diego, California, and Atlanta, Georgia
Boy, the enemy is inside your wire.
U.S. Army Colonel Dave Brostrom, speaking to his son, Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom, May 2008
14 August 2008
Forward Operating Base (FOB) Airborne
Wardak Province, Afghanistan
THE PHONE CALL was one Lieutenant Larry Kay would always remember, not for its content but for its consequence. Sergeant Raul Lopez, the platoon sergeant at Sayed Abad Base, coming through his cell: "The CLP didn't bring any food and water with them this time, sir."
The CLP—Combat Logistics Patrol.
Lopez paused for emphasis, then said: "Sir, I am black on food and water."
An epithet shot through Kay's mind. Black on food and water? How could soldiers in the most powerful fighting force ever to march on the face of the earth not have food and water?
But Kay kept these thoughts to himself. Most of the time, being Delta Company's executive officer (XO) was great; other times, being an enlisted Marine had been better. At least then, he could vent aloud about this kind of insanity. Something along the lines of Those CLP guys are a waste of the entire macroevolutionary process. That would have been perfect.
Instead, he said to Lopez, "Okay, I'll get some supplies down to you ASAP. Is there anything in particular you want?"
"Yeah. Hot dogs and some of those blueberry sausage-stick things we eat for breakfast."
"Not a problem. I'll try and be down there tomorrow."
"Okay, sir. Thanks a lot."
Kay didn't hang up the phone but thumbed the Talk button, waited for a fresh dial tone, and punched in the number for Forward Support Company at 1st Battalion headquarters in Ghazni Province, about three hours south. As the ringtone whined in his ear, the red heat of righteous anger crept up his neck.
Stocky and barrel-chested with huge arms, Kay, twenty-three, fit the dumb-jock mold from a distance. But as soon as he opened his mouth, you found out a couple of things right away: One, he had a razor-sharp intellect and an astonishing knowledge of politics, religion, and culture. And two, he was utterly incapable of bullshit. If Kay perceived dead weight in his own ranks, he would unapologetically say so. The way he saw it, his men would literally die if they didn't get proper logistics support, and he had zero tolerance for sectors of the Army that weren't working twenty-hour days to support the tip of the spear.
Finally, a voice came through the telephone line. "Forward Support Company, Lieutenant Taylor."
Kay unloaded. "What the hell is going on over there, Josh? My guys at Sayed Abad are black on food and water! How can the CLP forget to bring food and water?"
But Taylor knew nothing. It wasn't his fault, but it still pissed Kay off. It wasn't the first or even the dozenth time Delta Company—call sign "Dog Company"—had been shorted on supplies. But this screwup wasn't over sleeping cots or spare vehicle parts. It was over basic essentials for staying alive.
At the daily synchronization meeting that evening, Dog Company commanding officer Captain (CPT) Roger Hill folded his six-foot-three frame into a plastic chair at the end of a conference table, picked up a pen, and set his ears on listen. There was a lot to discuss. Since Dog Company took over Forward Operating Base (FOB, pronounced "fob") Airborne in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, Taliban aggression had heated from a simmer to a rolling boil. That had been six months ago, in March 2008. Since then, fully one-third of Hill's men had been wounded in action. Suicide bombers had hit a 4th Platoon gun truck just a few days before. Mercifully, the bomb failed to detonate on impact.
Dog Company had suffered no fatalities yet. But Hill's vehicles were in shambles, repair parts, ammo, and batteries were in short supply, and the number of replacement soldiers he'd received from Battalion was exactly zero. Hill's heavy weapons platoons—1st through 4th, just over sixty men—were now spread across four static outposts. His platoon sergeants, veterans with multiple combat tours and more than fifteen years' service each, said they had never seen a company stretched so thin.
Now in the synch meeting, Kay, the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants weighed in on a series of briefing items: Intel updates, upcoming missions, personnel status, base security, and progress in developing the provincial government. Logistical issues such as vehicle readiness, weapons, fuel, ammo, food, and water were also covered.
Hill, thirty, a West Point grad with a degree in environmental engineering, was an organized man. At the beginning of the Wardak deployment, he'd run each of these daily meetings personally, using a printed, bullet-point agenda. But as his men learned what was expected, Hill had let Kay take over as master of ceremonies while he listened and jotted notes.
Near the end of the meeting, Kay brought up the Sayed Abad supply snafu, winding up with, "Lopez and his guys are black on food and water."
"Battalion didn't bring food and water? What the hell?" said Lieutenant (LT) Donnie Carwile, 3rd's platoon leader. Formerly enlisted, Carwile, twenty-nine, had put himself through college while working as a policeman in Oxford, Mississippi, then returned to the Army as an officer.
Similar incredulous curses sizzled around the conference table like sparks on a fuse. Hill glanced up at his mission board. He tried to keep it meticulously current, but with the spiraling operational tempo, it stayed stubbornly out of date. He was glad it was dry-erase.
"We're about two weeks past due for some vehicle and equipment checks at Sayed Abad," Hill said. "If we have to go down there with food and water, we may as well knock those out, too."
He tapped 3rd Platoon for the job.
15 August 2008, 0600 Hours
The next morning dawned a scorcher, and Sergeant First Class (SFC) Shon Haskins cursed the heat. It would be 110 degrees in full kit by lunch. Haskins, thirty-six, a wily 260-pound bruiser out of Mattawa, Washington, was platoon sergeant for Dog Company's 3rd Platoon. He marshaled his men and checked his Humvees. Haskins would ride in the lead truck, call sign 3-1, with Specialist (SPC) Joel Ochoa in the gun turret. (The call signs for Humvees in a heavy weapons platoon begin with the platoon number; the second number varies according to mission and personnel.) Also in 3-1: Khan, a young Afghan interpreter who reminded Haskins of a college kid from the '80s, all polo shirts and skinny jeans. Once, when he was a boy, the Taliban caught Khan listening to "infidel" tunes and sentenced him to walk his village wearing a sign around his neck that proclaimed his shame.
Haskins's best friend and platoon leader, LT Donnie Carwile, would ride in 3-2, second in the order of movement, with SPC Paul Conlon as gunner and SPC Joseph Coe driving. Back in June, Conlon, twenty-one, of Mashpee, Massachusetts, had taken heavy shrapnel wounds during a vicious firefight. This trip to Sayed Abad was his first chance to get back into the field with his platoon brothers, and he was pumped.
Coe, twenty-four, and Sergeant Todd Parsons, a forward observer, were sitting in 3-2, engine running, when an officer they'd never met approached. "Hey, I'm Captain LeMaire, Alpha Company. I'm going to be riding with you guys."
"Okay, sir," Coe said. "Hop in."
At noon, the patrol rolled out. Four Humvees rumbled through the FOB gate, the lead truck towing a trailer stacked with cartons of food and bottled water for the guys at Sayed Abad.
In 3-2, Carwile rode TC, or truck commander, sitting in the front passenger seat with an ever-present wad of dip in his lip. "Hey, anybody got a spit bottle?"
"Hold on a second," Coe said. Driving with his left hand, he whirled the cap off a bottle of Cool Blue Gatorade with his right, downed the whole thing, and handed the bottle to Carwile. "There you go, sir."
Coe steered the Humvee past the village of Maidan Shar, Wardak's provincial capital, which lay just outside FOB Airborne's gate. Then he bumped the truck from dirt to pavement and turned south on Highway 1. The road was a main transportation artery linking the city of Kandahar in the south with Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city, an hour north of FOB Airborne.
On Google Maps, this slice of east-central Afghanistan looked like a crumpled brown paper sack with handfuls of moss sprinkled on it for relief. Up close, it didn't look much different, at least along this stretch of Highway 1. Dusky green scrub dotted thirsty plains that marched away to mountains the color of dust.
Riding third in the order of movement in HQ-6 (Headquarters Six), LT Larry Kay could see August heat shimmering on the highway, arguably the infrastructural centerpiece of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency. The security of Highway 1 was Dog Company's primary mission. Were the road to fall to the Taliban, the loss would cripple the Afghan government, cutting off the supply of food, oil, and gas.
Two years earlier, in 2006, NATO had made history, assuming control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It was NATO's first-ever operational commitment outside Europe. That same year, ISAF took over command of international military forces from the Americans. At a NATO summit, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer set for Afghanistan a target date of 2008 for "a more stable political architecture… with a strong interface between NATO and the civilian agencies, and effective, trusted Afghan security forces gradually taking control."
Now it was late summer of 2008, President Hamid Karzai was in charge of the country, and Kay didn't think Scheffer was going to make his goal. What he had seen on the ground—corruption, infighting, and a general lack of will to win—did not match the shiny oratory emanating on the global stage.
The patrol moved into a long, flat-floored valley veined with wadis, natural tear ducts in the earth that channeled down rainwater from the mountains. Where the wadis intersected the highway, culverts burrowed underneath. Kay thought "highway" was a pretty glorious name for the piebald patchwork of third world wannabe asphalt cobbled together in haphazard shapes of black, brown, gray. The irony was that American taxpayers paid millions to have Afghan contractors pave the road, then paid millions more to have it repaired after Afghan fighters blew it up, killing U.S. soldiers with pressure-plate IEDs (improvised explosive devices.) Worse: U.S. soldiers had to provide security for the Afghan contractors to repair the road so that Afghan fighters could turn around and blow it up again.
Another insane calculus of the counterinsurgency, Kay thought, right up there with forgetting to bring his soldiers food and water. Kay kept an eye on his Blue Force Tracker, a GPS-enabled display that provides battlefield and personnel data. Friendly forces appear as blue icons, hostile forces as red.
When the patrol had moved about twelve kilometers south of Airborne, Kay's driver, Specialist Eric Westerhaus, guided HQ-6 toward a dust-swept Afghan National Police (ANP) station. When Kay noticed that there were no ANP guarding either the station's perimeter or their assigned stretch of the bomb-cratered road, he cursed. Not ten days earlier, he, CPT Hill, and their first sergeant, Tommy Scott, had driven down this same road and found the exact same lapse in security.
The ANP were supposed to guard this and other stretches of the highway to prevent Taliban ambushes and the emplacement of IEDs, the leading cause of death among Coalition troops. The ANP's absence had infuriated First Sergeant (1SG) Scott, who leapt from the Humvee, stormed into the station, and made his displeasure known as only a battle-crusted, ex–drill instructor can. Scott's ass chewings were so thorough that he didn't even need an interpreter.
Kay glanced down at the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and noticed that the Airborne Tactical Operations Center (TOC, pronounced "tock") had just issued a warning:
Be on the lookout for a small arms ambush in the vicinity of Haft Asiab Village.
The village was on the way to the convoy's destination, Sayed Abad. These little nuggets of intel usually trickled in from sources U.S. forces had established among the Afghan population. Since Dog Company landed in Afghanistan, a steady stream of rockets, IEDs, and full-blown firefights had established a kind of intel algorithm: eight out of ten times, the sources were right.
Kay keyed up the net and passed the data to his gunner, Sergeant (SGT) Andrew Doyle, and the rest of the crew, and knew that each of the other TCs was doing the same. The convoy's gunners were already locked on, but the update made them cradle their heavy weapons a little tighter.
The patrol rolled past the ANP shack, and Kay thought the Afghan police inside were lucky SOBs: If Tommy Scott had been in the truck, he would've demanded the convoy stop so he could get out and enlighten the guys inside with another vintage Army ass chewing on the topic of abandoning one's post. This pleasant image had just finished playing in Kay's head when, up ahead, the road underneath Carwile's Humvee erupted.
KAY SAW THE blast before he heard it: The earth vomited up a massive volcano of dirt and asphalt, and all of the colors of the world disappeared in a veil of dust.
From the gun, Doyle screamed: "IED! IED!"
The explosion sucked the air from around the patrol then slammed it back down in a blast wave of sound that crashed in at the same instant Westerhaus slammed on the brakes. Kay watched in sick disbelief as Specialist Paul Conlon rocketed like a human missile from 3-2's turret, reached an apex three stories high, and plummeted back to the pavement.
Westerhaus skidded the Humvee to a halt a hundred meters from the edge of the blast crater. The smells of burning rubber and asphalt choked the air. A thousand thoughts ticker-taped through Kay's mind: Conlon is dead. What about Donnie and the others? How many? How many KIAs?1
Small arms fire peppered in from both sides of Highway 1. Doyle and SPC Joel Ochoa answered in a series of staccato bursts. Shon Haskins jumped from the lead truck and ran back toward 3-2. Weapon in hand, Kay started to join him, but the cord to his radio headset yanked him back, reminding him it was first his job to report the contact to higher.
Fingers flying, he dialed up Airborne on the TacSat, a satellite communications link.
"Wardak TOC, Dog 5! Wardak TOC, Dog 5!" As Kay yelled into his mic, he caught a glimpse of Haskins leaping into the blast crater. It was an image he would remember forever: Haskins's huge form midair, body armor flying up around his ears, exposing his belly as he jumped into the pit to aid his brothers.
The choir of American guns blasted away at ambushers on both sides of the road. Kay transmitted: "This is Dog 5! We hit an IED at Highway 1 and Durani Village! Request immediate air MedEvac, QRF,2 and air support!"
Kay yelled the message over and over, but he was broadcasting in the blind and couldn't tell if other equipment was jamming his transmissions. His heart tried to pull his feet toward the bomb crater, but he willed himself to stand fast as his mind clicked over options for calling in essential support. He had no way of knowing whether or not his satellite comms had been received, and the convoy was currently out of range for line-of-sight transmission—
Kay yanked his cell from his vest pocket. Just then, Wardak TOC came back over the net: "Dog 5, this is Dog 6. Dog 5, Dog 6, over."
In the Airborne TOC, CPT Roger Hill's heart dropped into his belly. He heard an urgency in Kay's voice that he hadn't heard since they landed in Afghanistan. He knew the worst had happened, just not who or how many.
Hill keyed his mic and kept his voice calm. "Dog 5, tell me what you got."
Kay's transmission scratched across the frequency in tight bursts: "Sir, we've got one KIA. We might have more. At least three to four wounded. Still working on that."
"Got it," Hill transmitted. "The TOC's going to work on getting the MedEvac, and I'm on my way with the QRF."
"Dog 6 out."
As if Kay's grim report were somehow telepathic, the TOC had already drawn a crowd. The artillery platoon commander and his men rushed to draw up target reference points for enemy exfiltration routes near the patrol's location. Already kitted up, Hill grabbed fresh batteries for his field radio. Kay's words squirmed in his mind like worms: At least one KIA…
He snapped his chinstrap and chambered a round in his M4. "Dog 6 is moving!" he yelled over his shoulder and headed toward the TOC door.
"Sir, you're still within 105 range down there," the artillery officer, Charlie Weaver, called to Hill. Weaver pronounced it "one-oh-five," as in "105 mm artillery." Hill acknowledged with a nod then turned to see his first sergeant, Tommy Scott, filling the TOC door with his defensive-back frame. The two men locked eyes.
Usually controlled, Scott could not hide his anguished rage. "Sir, I just need to grab a radio and I'll be ready to go with you."
Hill knew Scott wanted to go after the bastards that had blown up his boys, and it killed Hill to say what he had to say next. "Tommy, you've got to stay here." He emphasized his next words gently: "The most important thing now is the MedEvac. Right now, the MedEvac is more important than getting the guys who did this."
Scott was silent. His jaw muscles clenched. Then he nodded, a quick, shallow movement. Professional. By this point in the deployment, Scott had handled MedEvacs for more than forty wounded, but no KIAs. They both knew this one had to be right.
"Dog 6 out."
As Kay registered Hill's last transmission, a fresh storm of bullets kicked up dirt around his feet. He let go the radio mic and dialed Sergeant Lopez at Sayed Abad on his cell.
"I need you right now!" Kay yelled. "I got guys dead!"
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