- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Air Force yesterday ended plans to court-martial Maj. Harry Schmidt, who mistakenly bombed an allied training range in Afghanistan, killing four Canadian soldiers.

Instead, Maj. Schmidt, an Illinois Air National Guard F-16 pilot, requested an administrative hearing Thursday, when he will face far less severe maximum punishment if he is convicted.

The Air Force originally had offered Maj. Schmidt nonjudicial punishment, but he requested a trial.

Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt’s civilian attorney, said his client changed his mind after Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, who will preside at the Article 15 hearing, agreed to recommend to the Air Force that the case be closed afterward.

This means, Mr. Gittins said, that Maj. Schmidt will not be discharged immediately, but instead will be allowed to serve three more years to gain the full retirement benefits of a 20-year veteran.

The agreement also calls for Maj. Schmidt to serve in desk jobs normally performed by pilots. He will not be allowed to resume flying fighter aircraft.

Mr. Gittins said Maj. Schmidt will contest charges of wrongdoing at the hearing.

“Harry gets the opportunity to make his case to General Carlson and he intends to do so,” Mr. Gittins said.

If found guilty by Gen. Carlson, Maj. Schmidt faces a maximum penalty of a losing one month’s pay, about $5,600, and being placed under arrest for 30 days in quarters or under 60 days of restriction.

At a court-martial, he faced four charges of dereliction of duty that could have brought a maximum prison sentence of 64 years.

Once the hearing is completed, the Air Force will drop criminal charges.

Maj. Schmidt was on patrol over Afghanistan in April 2002 when he saw flashes of gunfire below. Thinking it was anti-aircraft fire, he dropped a 500-pound bomb on the source. The target turned out to be Canadian soldiers conducting a live-fire exercise near Kandahar.

An Air Force statement yesterday announcing the deal said the administrative proceedings are “intended to examine allegations that Maj. Schmidt failed to ensure that the target he attacked was not friendly, failed to acknowledge and follow the direction of his flight leader to make sure that the target was not friendly, and failed to stand by as directed by the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.”

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