- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

The Air Force has harshly reprimanded Air National Guard Maj. Harry Schmidt for a deadly mistaken bombing in Afghanistan in 2002, saying he “flagrantly disregarded” a direct order and “acted shamefully” in not waiting to positively identify the target.

The reprimand from Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson was unusual in its blunt criticism of the Illinois F-16 pilot.

Maj. Schmidt contended he acted in self-defense when he erred in bombing a training range, killing four Canadian soldiers.

Gen. Carlson’s punishment was less than the maximum. After finding Maj. Schmidt guilty of dereliction of duty, Gen. Carlson imposed the reprimand and fined the major $5,672, but did not place him under house arrest, as the law allowed.

“You flagrantly disregarded a direct order from the controlling agency, exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline over your aircraft, and blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement and special instructions,” Gen. Carlson said in his reprimand.

“Your willful misconduct directly caused the most egregious consequence imaginable, the deaths of four coalition soldiers and injury to eight others. The victims of your callous misbehavior were from one of our staunch allies in Operation Enduring Freedom and were your comrades in arms,” the general said.

Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt’s civilian attorney, reacted angrily to the reprimand, calling its language “over the top.”

Mr. Gittins had argued that the Air Force sought to punish the pilot solely to soothe a NATO ally. He contends that no pilot was treated so harshly in other “friendly fire” deaths in the war on terror.

“It is now clear they decided to placate an ally and it’s the Air Force that lacks integrity and is a morally bankrupt organization,” Mr. Gittins said yesterday.

“If what General Carlson said is true, it constitutes murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he said. “Using that language shows the lengths to which the organization is willing to go for political purposes to placate the Canadians.”

Mr. Gittins said he will appeal the reprimand up the chain of command, but “I don’t expect to get anywhere.”

Mr. Gittins had argued that Maj. Schmidt acted in self-defense after seeing flashes of gunfire in an area known to contain Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. He said the pilot was never told that there would be live-fire training that night near Kandahar.

He said the crew of an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane never issued what would constitute a direct order not to fire and, in fact, said he was cleared for self-defense after the bombing.

Three Air Force combat pilots who reviewed the case submitted statements saying Maj. Schmidt had acted reasonably.

“Because of a failure of aircraft command and control run by generals, Harry made an honest mistake,” Mr. Gittins said. “It was not criminal and should not be criminalized as such. The reprimand is an affront to everyone who flies military aircraft.”

Gen. Carlson took a decidedly different view.

“In your personal presentation before me on 1 July 2004, I was astounded that you portrayed yourself as a victim of the disciplinary process without expressing heartfelt remorse over the deaths and injuries you caused to members of the Canadian Forces,” the general wrote.

“By your gross poor judgment, you ignored your training and your duty to exercise flight discipline, and the result was tragic. I have no faith in your abilities to perform in a combat environment.”

The Air Force originally had offered Maj. Schmidt this type of nonjudicial punishment. He instead sought a court-martial. He changed his mind after the Air Force agreed to let him remain on active duty to reach the 20-year retirement mark, Mr. Gittins said.

An Air Force press release said, “Maj. Schmidt will no longer be permitted to fly Air Force aircraft, but will continue to serve in the Illinois Air National Guard.”

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