Fratricide at Umm Hajul: Gulf War Mistakes
by Bo H. Friesen
Fratricide at Umm Hajul
1730 hours, 26 February 1991
I stood on the back of my tank commander's seat and raised a pair
of dented, green binoculars to my eyes. Scanning the horizon, I saw
the same thing I had been looking at for the past five months --
endless desert. No trees, no bushes and, most important, no Iraqis. I
pushed forward the radio switch on the right side of my combat
vehicle crew helmet and talked to my second-in-command, located
in the radio track about 3 kilometers behind me. "Black Five this is
Black Six...tell our superiors that Area CLAW is free of enemy.
We're moving forward to secure it." "Roger, Six," came back the
voice of Lieutenant Aaron McClain, my executive officer. I had
complete confidence that he would get the message to all concerned
"Red and Blue," I called to my two scout platoon leaders, "standard
box assembly area, center of mass grid 070620." Both platoon
leaders acknowledged my transmission and launched their vehicles
forward to establish the northern perimeter for our squadron's
(parent unit) assembly area. My "White" and "Green" tank platoons
followed wordlessly behind them, they knew the drill by heart.
I hoisted myself up onto my commander's hatch and reflected on the
past few days. It was 5:30 p.m. on February 26, 1991. We had been
pushing north into Iraq for the past two days, leaving Saudi Arabia
and the Neutral Zone over 200 kilometers behind us. We had
bypassed Kuwait entirely and, to use the words of my operations
sergeant, "driven a very sharp stick right up Saddam Hussein's ass."
"We" were the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Bliss,
Texas. More specifically, the 3rd Squadron of that regiment.
Comprised of about 150 combat vehicles and over 1,000 men, it
was the most lethal armored force in existence.
I had the privilege of commanding I Troop within this squadron, or
the "Nighthawks" as we called ourselves. The Nighthawks
consisted of 155 soldiers, nine M1A1 Abrams tanks, twelve M3A2
Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, two self-propelled 4.2 inch
mortars and all the support vehicles needed to keep them going.
The Nighthawks had also led virtually every squadron operation
since we landed at the port of Dhahran in September 1990. I
pushed my goggles up onto my forehead and tried to wipe the grime
from my eyes, succeeding only in adding another layer.
"How much fuel we got left, Milk?" I asked my driver.
Specialist Gerald Laudermilk replied, "About a quarter tank. We
staying here tonight Paw?" Milk closely resembled Hoss from
Bonanza. When I mentioned this, he took to calling me Paw in
"Beats the hell out of me," I replied. "Don't count on it." "You've
got the tank Mike," I told my gunner and hoisted myself out of the
As I vaulted off the tank, my knee painfully reminded me that the
past eight years of doing that would surely make me a cripple. At
age twenty-nine, I was practically a grandfather in the realm of
An M106 mortar carrier skidded across the crusty brown sand in
front of me, kicking up a two-story cloud of dust. Dirty, leering
faces peered out of the top from behind their M16 rifles and tinted
goggles. The words "Tube Snake Boogie" and an obscene caricature
were emblazoned on the side of the track.
"What's for chow?" queried a gargantuan infantryman from the top
of the vehicle. Staff Sergeant John Kennedy commanded this
mortar squad, all 280 pounds of him.
"Is that all you ever think about?" I asked.
"Lucky for you that I do boss," came the reply, along with a tin of
T-Ration soyburgers sailing towards me.
"Much obliged Super K." I tossed the tin over to my tank crew,
knowing that I would probably never see it again.
Approaching the radio track, I was greeted by the sight of a slight
individual in a flak vest shouting "I don't give a shit if we're only
here for two minutes! Put up that damn antenna before I kick your
ass!" Sergeant Charles Eubank, the operations sergeant, always got
his point across in record time.
"What's the word Eubie?"
"Hey sir, what a cluster fuck coming up here, huh? Where were all
those Iraqi infantry brigades the staff weenies told us about? All I
saw was an old dog and a shot down fighter. There ain't been
anybody out here since the Babylonians."
"Their intelligence estimates were a bit off weren't they?"
"About as off as my sex life."
"Where's the XO?"
"He's raising hell with the platoons, making sure they refuel and
clean out their filters."
"Guidons, Guidons, this is Thunder X-Ray," squawked the radio.
"All commanders report to this location ASAP. Acknowledge."
"Nighthawk, roger," replied Eubie. Then to me, "have a pleasant
"Screw you, Eubie."
"Tembrock, get your ass over here and drive the CO to his
My driver, Private First Class James Tembrock, had saved my
sanity throughout this wonderful sojourn in the Middle East. This
twenty year old Californian had a sense of humor that would make
Darth Vader double over with laughter. Despite the danger, he had
insisted on remaining forward with his canvas covered Humvee
rather than joining the combat trains at the rear of the squadron. I
had picked Tembrock as my driver because he was quick on his feet
and an independent operator. After several months in the Arabian
desert, I found that I had gained a good friend as well.
A New Mission
1800 hours, 26 February 1991
The soldiers I saw on my way to the headquarters wore a
hodgepodge of uniforms. Some were desert camouflage, others
were night camouflage, here and there was a forest green
camouflage, and the ever present sprinkling of Nomex fire retardant
coveralls. Our wonderful laundry service had "lost" over half the
uniforms we sent out for cleaning. Some soldiers did not have even
one complete uniform remaining. To the great displeasure of the
colonels and generals, they wore mixtures of forest green and desert
colored uniforms. I myself wore half desert and half Nomex. It
amazed me that an Army backed by such industrial might had
trouble clothing its soldiers.
The squadron TOC (Tactical Operations Center) was a maelstrom
of activity. Half of the staff were erecting shelters, while the other
half were tearing down those already put up.
"I wonder what the Stick Man wants today," quipped Tembrock,
referring to our squadron commander's dynamic physique.
"You'd better not let him hear you say that, or it will be Private
"If I say it twice, will he bust me to civilian and send me home?"
"I'll be first in line if that's the case."
I entered the TOC's canvass extension, dodging the onslaught of
couriers and staff officers. Some of my fellow troop commanders
were already present.
"Hi Bo, glad you could make it." The squadron commander's
beanpole figure jutted out of the shadows. A smirk momentarily
flitted across my face as I remembered Tembrock's comment.
"Wouldn't have missed this for the world sir," I replied.
Lieutenant Colonel John H. Daly Jr. was the scion of a five
generation West Point aristocracy. His legacy ran from his father, a
general officer, to his great-great-grandfather, a Civil War major
general and Medal of Honor winner. As icing on the cake, he had
married the daughter of General Creighton Abrams, after whom the
Abrams tank had been named. Two of his brothers-in-law were
generals. The general consensus throughout the squadron was that
Daly held his position because of who he knew, not what he knew.
At Daly's side was Major William Martin, the squadron operations
officer and driving intellect behind the unit.
"Hey buddy," said a quiet voice and a hand clapped me on the
shoulder. Captain Rick Cortes, the K Troop commander, slid into
place next to me. Cortes was nothing short of a superb troop
commander. His unit was 100 percent reliable.
"How was the ride, Rico?"
"Pure bullshit," he chuckled.
"Yeah, about ten thousand square miles of sand. Looks like the
intelligence boys were completely off the mark again. I didn't see a
single one of those Russian anti-tank guns they were screaming
"Your attention please, gentlemen" said Major Martin as the last
troop commander entered the extension. "We are in receipt of
orders to assault an airfield located approximately 60 kilometers to
our east. This is a total change to our previous plan and we
unfortunately cannot issue you any graphic control measures due to
time constraints. We will give you a series of checkpoints instead.
In short, we will make a 90 degree turn to the east instead of
proceeding north to the Euphrates River." Martin's pointer flew
over the map board, punctuating each statement he made.
"Right Bill," interrupted Colonel Daly, inserting himself in front of
the map. Martin rolled his eyes skyward and surrendered the
pointer. "This is the real thing guys," continued Daly. "I have
reliable information that there is a battalion of Iraqi Republican
Guards at this airfield. They are dug in and protected by minefields,
so this won't be a cakewalk. Expect very stiff resistance. We will
use the diamond assault formation for our attack." An exasperated
groan escaped from the rear of the extension. Not the infamous
diamond again. Daly ignored it and went on. "Tank company will
take the point, K Troop on the left, I Troop on the right and L
Troop in the rear. Our attached artillery battalion will fire an 8
minute, 288 round prep on the objective. After we cross the 37
north-south grid line, we will be in enemy territory. Everything to
our front will be hostile from that point on. We will turn and hit the
airfield from the north seven kilometers later." Daly's pointer
slapped the map at an arbitrary spot. Martin quickly adjusted it to
the proper location. "Any questions?"
"Hooo-ah sir," shouted Captain Lee Offen, the L Troop
Commander, "we're finally going to kill something!"
"Hey Lee," countered Cortes, "if you're so ready to kill, why don't
you get your ass up front and I'll guard the rear for awhile."
Muffled guffaws erupted from within the extension and radio
tracks. Offen's face colored with embarrassment. His lips twitched,
but he refrained from entering a verbal battle that he had already
"If there are no more questions, we will begin moving at 2000
hours," concluded Martin.
I glanced at my watch. It was already 1915 hours and it would take
me another 15 minutes to get back to my troop. I stepped behind
the map board and climbed into the S-2 (Intelligence Section)
"Hi Paul, mind if I borrow your radio for a minute?"
Captain Paul Hovey was the squadron intelligence officer. An ex-
Marine and former tank commander himself, he knew the
importance of accurate information on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, he was alone in this regard and fought a never
ending battle with the regimental intelligence officers and their
"Help yourself Bo," he said, his bloodshot eyes peering over a mass
of charts and maps. "Want a soda?"
"Damn straight, thanks."
He tossed me a red, white and blue can that had an Arabic squiggle
where the word "Pepsi" should have been. I switched the radio to
my troop frequency and grabbed the microphone.
"Black Five, this is Black Six."
The radio beeped as we both turned on our speech scramblers.
"Five here," repeated McClain.
"Warning order. Mission: assault airfield vicinity grid PU447520.
Expect heavy resistance from enemy infantry battalion. Departure
time 2000 hours. Diamond formation, Nighthawks at 3 o'clock
position ..." I sped through the rest of the order. "How's the re-
"Three tanks to go."
"You take care of that Aaron, have Blue Leader form up the troop."
"Roger, I'll inform him."
"I monitored the transmission," interjected Blue Leader, Lieutenant
"Roger," I replied, "any questions?"
Both replied negative.
"I'll see you in half an hour then. Black Six out."
"Does Negin run the troop in your absence?" asked Hovey.
"Only the tactical part. Aaron has his hands full with the rest."
"Negin is a good kid. The best scout platoon leader we have in the
squadron. I wish I could send him ahead to reconnoiter the field."
"Didn't regiment tell you what's there?"
"They just said a battalion of Iraqis, but they can't even tell me
where their positions are or what they're equipped with."
"That's funny, we have total air superiority and an entire squadron
of helicopters. What are they waiting for?"
Hovey shrugged his shoulders.
"Who ordered the attack?" I asked. "We're making a 90 degree turn
from our original direction."
"Colonel Starr did."
"Thanks for the radio Paul, I'd better get going."
"Good luck Bo, keep your head down."
1700 hours, 22 January 1991
Colonel Douglas H. Starr was the commander of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment. A West Point graduate and highly decorated
Vietnam veteran, he was very charismatic and just as impetuous.
The soldiers joked that his short stature had given him a "Napoleon
complex" and it was universally known that he loved fast cars and
fast women. Over a month earlier, on January 22, Starr had
commandeered Negin's platoon as it patrolled several miles from
the Iraqi border. He ordered them across the border to attack an
Iraqi infantry position. Negin's Bradleys decimated the thirty Iraqis
and their bunker complex. Negin's platoon suffered only minor
casualties, despite the heavy action. Staff Sergeant Steve Ruch's
Bradley had sustained twelve hits from heavy caliber machine guns
and light anti-tank weapons. The two scouts in the back of the
vehicle were wounded by fragments of penetrating projectiles.
Private First Class Kelly O'Con expertly drove the smoking track to
safety, dodging hostile fire and saving the crew.
Ruch's wingman, Staff Sergeant Peter Baez became thoroughly
enraged at the treatment of his partner. Jumping out of his vehicle
with an M16, he charged the responsible enemy machine gun nest.
His two scouts quickly joined him. Guns blazing, they terrified the
Iraqi soldiers, who quickly threw down their weapons and raised
their arms. Sergeant Bryan Hunt, the gunner on Baez's vehicle,
sprayed a continuous stream of 25mm high explosive shells over
Baez's head and into the remaining enemy positions. Hunt vividly
recounted the spray of blood and flying limbs to me over a few
beers a half year later.
Negin and his victorious scout platoon were instant heroes. They
had fought the regiment's first battle since World War Two. The
publicity shy lieutenant did not relish the attention and remained
silent about the entire affair. A helicopter immediately snatched
Colonel Starr from the scene and flew him to the corps
headquarters, where it was rumored that General Schwartzkopf
himself chewed him out for over an hour for blowing the entire
Desert Storm operation. The appearance of six high-tech Bradleys
three hundred miles west of where they should be had certainly
tipped off Hussein that the main attack would bypass Kuwait
entirely. Fortunately for Starr and the coalition, the Iraqis never
made the connection. During the euphoria following the attack, one
of the sergeants muttered "Stupid idiot almost got us all killed."
"Who's that?" I asked.
"Starr!" came the snarled, succinct reply.
1930 hours, 26 February 1991
I exited the TOC and ran into Cortes heading for his Humvee.
"How about that diamond formation?" he said with a poker face,
but with amusement twinkling in his eyes. "I wish we could send a
few scout platoons ahead to confirm what's at that airfield."
"You're reading my mind Rick. With all our heavy firepower up
front, we'd better hit the enemy dead on."
"The diamond is Daly's baby. He's been dying to go down in the
history books as the inventor of a new tactical maneuver."
"Remember, Martin invented the diamond."
"But you know who will take the credit if it works."
"Of course. Good luck out there Rick."
"You too buddy."
He climbed into his Humvee and sped off. I jumped into mine and
saw Tembrock poring over a Playboy magazine with huge, gaping
"Sir, check out this gorgeous picture. Miss January is coming down
and this is going up in her place."
I looked over his shoulder and saw a beer advertisement, complete
with a plate of juicy steak. "I'd take that over Miss Jan right now
too," I mused, spurred on by my rumbling stomach.
I hadn't eaten in 24 hours and I wondered when I would have a
chance to do so. The static hiss of the radio announced that the
Nighthawks were already on the move. My watch proclaimed that it
was 1945 hours. Damn! There was never enough time.
"Hurry up and get us back to the troop Jim. Departure time is in 15
The torrential downpour started at 2200 hours. Standing halfway
out of my hatch, I was soaked to the bone within minutes, despite
my wet weather gear. The high velocity winds forced water into
every crevice of my clothing. Visions of the geographical briefing
we had received at Fort Bliss floated wetly before me. I could have
cheerfully choked the pencil-necked geek who righteously
proclaimed that "it only rains about an inch every two years in the
region you're going to." That chairborne idiot must have had a
defective ruler. It had rained almost continuously for the past three
days. Sometimes several inches of water covered the impenetrable
desert floor. The moisture added a new dimension to the stench that
already pervaded our bodies. The last showers had been weeks ago.
Only heaven knew what manner of vermin infested our bodies now.
The tank lurched to a stop and my ribs slammed into the rim of the
hatch yet another time.
"Shit!" I groaned.
"Sorry 'bout that Paw," came Milk's voice over the intercom.
Tanks could stop on a dime. Human bodies were not as fortunate.
The two hour move to the new front line was through tortuous
terrain. I continuously prayed that we would not roll any vehicles. I
had prayed a lot over the past few days, for a variety of reasons. I
checked the coordinates on my GPS (Global Positioning System).
This small box picked up satellite transmissions and displayed your
location to the nearest three feet on its tiny LCD screen. It could
also tell you how fast you were going, what direction you were
heading and how far it was to the next checkpoint. The GPS was a
life saver, since we had very few maps and the flat terrain made it
impossible to navigate by sight. A compass was totally useless on a
tank. The armor plating made the needle spin in a circle. Our
infantry generals had never quite grasped this dilemma and
constantly berated us for not using them. My loader, Specialist
Chris Hardman, tapped me on the shoulder. "Black Sabbath or the
Scorpions," he proclaimed, holding a cassette in each black-gloved
hand. I indicated the Scorpions and he placed it in the walkman.
Music flowed out of our helmet headphones. Hardman had rigged
the system so that any radio or intercom transmission would
automatically cut off the music. Good old American ingenuity.
I motioned Hardman towards me and went over the checkpoints
with him. Chris looked, talked and acted like Bart Simpson, so
that's what we called him. His "rad" California attitude belied a
razor sharp intelligence and swift comprehension rate. Bart was
responsible for navigating the tank when I became embroiled in
tactical operations. He was thoroughly familiar with the GPS and
armored tactical principles. In a pinch, he could even relay my
commands to the troop for a few minutes while I was otherwise
occupied. Bart nodded his head at each checkpoint and then
slipped the night vision goggles over his face.
"How far can you see Bart?"
"Barely fifty meters. Too many clouds."
The weather briefing had indicated 96 percent illumination from
the moon tonight. Too bad the meteorologist didn't take mother
nature's clouds into account.
"Just keep us from running into another tank or a ravine," I urged
"For sure, sir."
"How are the thermals?" I asked my gunner, Sergeant Mike
Harrison. Harrison gazed up at me from the bowels of the steel
behemoth and raised up a thumb. Pictures of Miss February,
Christy Thom, glowed softly in the green light around his station.
She had become the tank's mascot over the past few weeks.
Harrison was the antithesis to Milk and Bart. We all joked that he
wouldn't crack a smile even if he was getting laid. He was also the
best damn gunner in the troop. He could cut a broom stick in half at
1000 meters with the 120mm cannon. His stoic manner kept the
effusive loader and driver in check, ensuring that the vehicle was
always combat ready. This was Harrison's tank. I just rode on it.
I dropped down into the tank and squinted into the sight extension.
Varying shades of green thermal images swam into sharp focus
before me. The thermal sight constructed a picture based on the
different temperatures of objects. It needed no light whatsoever to
function. The only problem was that it possessed almost no depth
perception or color differentiation. People and vehicles glowed
bright green and were highly visible from several miles away. I
could see the tank company about 2,000 meters to my left front, its
vehicles shooting rooster tails of heated mud fifteen feet into the
air. I briefly scanned the control panel to make sure the gun safety
was on. It was a needless measure. Harrison took care of it
The tank halted suddenly, punishing my forehead this time. I rose
out of the hatch as an inferno unleashed around me. A 155mm self-
propelled artillery piece to our left belched fire into the pitch black
eastern heavens. Others in the distance began shooting also. A
quick glance at the GPS told me we were 2 kilometers from the
front line. The tank company must be right on it. The howitzers
continued to send death eastward for the next eight minutes.
Almost three hundred 155mm high explosive shells hurtled towards
the airfield. That was enough fire power to destroy an entire city
block. I hoped it would take care of most of the Iraqi battalion. The
silence that followed was deafening. The diamond began moving
Passage of Lines
2300 hours, 26 February 1991
The grim faces of the cavalrymen on the front line surfaced
momentarily from the gloom as we slid past them into enemy
territory. I reported crossing the line to my executive officer and he
relayed the report to the squadron. I cursed the mental midget who
had designed command tanks with only one transmitter. You could
hear both the squadron and troop frequencies, but only talk on one
of them. Army doctrine required that I remain on the troop
frequency and control my unit, while the radio track communicated
with the squadron. McClain and Eubank were very well trained in
this mission and handled it perfectly. Daly had even told the entire
squadron that I Troop had achieved the communications standard
the other units should strive to meet. Still, I was uncomfortable
being able to transmit on only one frequency. "Keep your weapons
on safe and your eyes wide open," I transmitted to my troop. "Good
The tank company was drifting north. Daly and Martin exhorted
them to get back on track, but they inexplicably continued to drift.
The rest of the squadron was tied in to them so we also drifted. As
we neared the airfield, my troop was about even with where the
center of the squadron should have been. I strained my eyes, but
saw only murky darkness. Bart and Harrison could do no better
with their goggles and thermals. "I've got a tower and fence to my
right!" hissed the radio. Lieutenant Mel Wilson, my "Red" Scout
Platoon Leader, had spotted the airfield! I closed my hatch over me
and directed Bart to do the same. Peering out of the "protected
open" slit that remained, I took the Beretta out of my shoulder
holster, pulled back the charging handle and slid the gun back into
place. It was 0100 hours.
Assault on Umm Hajul
0100 hours, 27 February 1991
I had McClain request permission from Daly to enter the field.
Granted! I directed Lieutenant John Drake to take his "White" Tank
Platoon in. Sparks flew as Drake's tanks smashed through the
perimeter fence, entering the airfield from the north. Still no sign of
enemy movement. They must be in fox holes. The Republican
Guards were not amateurs. They were surely aware of how to hide
from our thermals. Wilson's platoon followed "White" through the
gaping holes in the fence. "Red and White, secure the tower and
hangars," I ordered as I entered the field myself. The two platoons
swung west and surrounded the buildings. The scouts began
methodically clearing them.
"Milk, face the tank east so we can cover the exposed flank until
the other two platoons get here."
The tank pivoted left ninety degrees.
"I see dismounts ... 1,200 meters," said Harrison over the intercom.
"Two...no, three. Moving away from us."
I dropped down to my sight extension and saw three tiny green
figures glowing brightly. The laser range finder flashed from 1220
to 1230. They were indeed moving away from us.
"Black Five, this is Black Six. Spotted three dismounts moving
southeast at grid 445505. Maintaining contact. Relay that higher
and request guidance."
"Roger six," said Eubie's voice answering for McClain, "don't even
think about going after them until you get some backup."
"Roger. Blue, get a section up here ASAP."
"Bravo Section is on the way," replied Negin.
Ruch and Baez were enroute to join me.
"Black Six, this is Red One," said Wilson several minutes later.
"No sign of enemy in the hangars or tower."
"Roger. Assume defensive positions and secure all the buildings.
White, back him up."
Both platoon leaders confirmed my orders.
"Nighthawk Six, this is Thunder Six," squawked Daly's voice,
"switch to my frequency immediately."
"Black Five, kindly inform Thunder Six that if I drop off my troop
frequency, I will lose control of my unit. Please remind him that
this would not be a smart move right now."
Daly's calls became more insistent.
"Bart, switch to squadron freq."
The tank and Bravo Section continued to lumber forward.
"Thunder Six, this is Nighthawk Six."
"What's going on there?" said Daly.
I repeated what McClain had told him one minute earlier.
"OK, stay on my frequency."
"That's impossible. As you know, these vehicles have only one
transmitter. I have a unit that I need to control."
"Well, think of something. Thunder Six out."
"Bart, switch back to troop freq... and start eating some transistors
so we can shit another radio for the squadron commander."
"They've stopped," said Harrison.
Ruch confirmed this over the radio. "Looks like they're entering a
"Roger," I replied, "close to 200 meters and hold. Blue, status
"About 1,000 meters behind you," said Negin, "ETA 5 minutes."
The rest of "Blue" platoon would be here soon. That made me feel
somewhat better. Bravo section halted and intently scanned their
surroundings. Thank God for Ruch and Baez. At least there were
two proven combat vets up front. They would not lose their heads. I
cracked open the hatch and placed the GPS on top of the tank. Its
built in antenna could not receive satellite transmissions through
the tank's armor. There were external antennas in the regiment, but
the staff officers in the rear had grabbed them all as symbols of
prestige. The combat troops, who really needed them, had to fend
for themselves. I looked into the thermals again and saw figures
entering and exiting a square dwelling. They were so large at 10
power that they almost filled the sight. They were helmetless and
did not appear to carry any weapons.
"Black Five, this is Black Six. Ask Thunder Six for permission to
fire warning shots. I'd like to see if we can get these guys to
Daly replied to McClain's query. "This is Thunder Six...wait one."
.... pause .... "This is Thunder Six, permission granted."
"OK Mike, point the coax 45 degrees left and fire into the air," I
said, checking that direction to confirm there was nothing there.
"On the way," said Harrison.
The staccato of the coaxial machine gun ripped into the night,
sending a glowing line of tracers through the sky. The enemy
dropped to the ground and crawled to protected positions. Not a
single one made any sign of wanting to surrender. Probably too
scared at first. I'd give them another few minutes.
"They're shooting at us," stated a calm voice over the radio, in
contrast to the tense situation.
"I see tracers over the Brads," confirmed Milk.
Harrison switched the sight to 3 power and I could see green dots
arcing over Bravo Section.
"Bravo, this is Black Six. Return fire, suppression only. Black
Five, report our situation to higher."
Twenty-five millimeter high explosive rounds began exploding
against the side building. McClain's voice began to relay what had
transpired over the squadron net. Daly immediately broke in and
directed me to switch to the squadron frequency.
"Black five, please explain to Thunder Six why that is impossible.
Tell him I can hear every word he is saying."
To Harrison, "Squeeze off twenty coax rounds Mike, don't kill
anybody, just scare them."
To Bravo Section, "Cease fire Bravo, these guys aren't going
Daly's powerful transmitter drowned out the rest of the
transmissions as he continued calling for me to switch to his
"Bart, turn off the squadron net."
"With pleasure, sir."
"Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire," I called out over the troop
frequency. "All elements acknowledge. Anybody take any hits?"
The platoons checked in one by one, acknowledging the cease fire.
Thankfully, nobody had been hit.
"Put all your weapons back on safe. These guys are probably scared
to death. I want to give them a chance to surrender. Don't shoot
unless they start using anti-tank weapons."
I faced Bart, "Turn on the squadron net again."
I prepared for another verbal joust with Colonel Daly.
0110 hours, 27 February 1991
Sergeant First Class Bobby Martin perched on his seat under his
"protected open" tank hatch. He was the platoon sergeant for the
"Green" tank platoon. An avid biker with "Zig Zag Man" tattooed
across his chest, Bobby was a hard core veteran of sixteen years on
tanks. What few people knew, is that he had also been one of my
tank commanders when I was a brand new lieutenant eight years
earlier. The man was a bottomless pit of knowledge and experience.
A loud crash rocked his tank, tossing him down into the gunner's
position and tilting the vehicle at an awkward angle.
Temporarily dazed, Bobby focused his eyes and found himself
looking up at his seat. His gunner squirmed helplessly below him.
"What the fuck was that?!?"
No answer. He realized that his helmet had become disconnected. A
piercing pain shot through his left knee as he pulled himself up
again. He touched it and felt the warm, sticky ooze of blood. One
of the pins from his numerous motorcycle accidents had become
dislodged. He plugged in his helmet again.
"We get hit sarge?" asked his loader.
"I don't think so, nothing's burning and they'd have finished us off
"I think we hit a mine or a ditch," said the driver.
"Put it in gear and see if you can get us out of here."
The tracks groaned horribly and the entire hull began to shudder.
"No way sarge," said the driver. "I think both the idler arms are
"Green Three, this is Green Four," called Martin to his wingman,
Sergeant Rafael Fernandez. "Hold up. I've got to jump to your
"Roger, we're holding," replied Fernandez.
Martin unholstered his Beretta and hauled himself out of his tank,
struggling to keep from sliding down the canted armor and into the
ditch. Greatly favoring his good leg, he limped towards Green
Three. Fernandez reached down and helped pull Martin aboard.
"What happened to your leg?" he asked. "You want me to call a
"No. Damn pin from my bike accident came loose. I'll be OK.
Which one of you is getting off?"
Fernandez indicated his gunner, Corporal Dan Sabia.
"This is bullshit!" countered Sabia. "You guys break it and I get to
"Take good care of my tank Danny," said Martin. "Don't take too
much of my stuff."
Martin was universally known for his well stocked provisions. His
platoon never went hungry.
"You bet," smiled Sabia and disappeared into the gloom, tanker's
bag over his shoulder and pistol in his hand.
Green Three sped forward, trying to catch up to its platoon, which
was behind "Blue" Platoon. In the thermal sight, Martin saw a
picture that chilled his blood. An Iraqi BTR60 infantry carrier was
moving towards the troop from the east. Shadowy figures of other
vehicles moved behind it. A counterattack!
"Laze to that BTR and arm the gun," he told his gunner. He then
called his platoon leader, Lieutenant Bill Martinez. "Green One,
this is Green Four."
"Go ahead Four."
"We've got a possible enemy counterattack on our left flank.
Suggest you orient your elements that way."
"Roger, don't shoot unless you have a positive ID."
"Don't worry, we won't."
Before Martinez could call me, he and Sergeant Martin had
determined that this was not an enemy attack, but Colonel Daly
with his command group. Part of his group was a German-built
reconnaissance vehicle that looked almost exactly like a BTR60.
"Black Six, Green One."
"Go ahead Green."
"We've got six friendly vehicles approaching from the east. I say
again, six friendlies from the east at a high rate of speed. Do not
fire them up. Appears to be the command group."
"Roger Green One. All elements acknowledge Green's transmission.
Black Five, see if you can find out what the hell is going on."
"Its Thunder Six," confirmed McClain.
The squadron commander and his entourage had almost become
worm bait. They had disregarded the critical rule of informing a
combat unit of their intentions before approaching it. They now
moved in positions between "Blue" Platoon's vehicles, making it
impossible to determine who was where anymore. The veins in my
temple throbbed. I might expect a brand new lieutenant to rush up
onto the flank of a unit in contact, but a lieutenant colonel should
have known better.
A Second Close Call
0115 hours, 27 February 1991
The enemy structure burned brightly, having been set ablaze by
Bravo's high explosive rounds. Something inside the building
exploded at irregular intervals. The enemy was crawling away from
the blaze, but still gave no indication that they were going to
"Nighthawk Six, this is Thunder Six."
"This is Nighthawk Five," answered McClain.
"Have your commander dismount his scouts and sweep the
"Roger, I'll tell him."
"I heard him Black Five," I replied. "Relay to him that I strongly
recommend against it. I can get only ten guys on the ground. That's
not good enough against six confirmed, dug in enemy and several
hundred more possibly around here in foxholes. That's what I'd be
waiting for us to do if I were the enemy commander. Our guys will
be dead before they get ten feet from the tracks."
Daly kept insisting that our scouts leave their vehicles. Before I
could answer again, Harrison slapped my leg, indicating that I
should look through the sight. I saw two figures approaching Bravo
Section from the east. It looked like they had worked their way
towards us from the blazing building. One of them carried a satchel
of some sort.
"Coax, Mike! Laze, but don't shoot yet." "Blue Five, this is Black
Six. You've got possible enemy dismounts approaching you from
your left. Be alert."
"Roger," replied Staff Sergeant Ruch.
I watched Harrison track the two figures with the coaxial machine
gun. One of them turned to look at us and ... the hair on the back of
my neck stood on end! He was wearing an American Kevlar helmet!
I reached over Harrison's shoulder and flipped the safety switch on.
"Hold fire, hold fire," I shouted over the radio. "Blue Five, those are
friendly dismounts. Find out who the hell they are. All Nighthawk
elements, I want to know who dismounted people from his vehicle."
Each platoon reported back negative.
Ruch came back on the air and said, "Its an infantry captain. He's
from Thunder Six's track and he's ordering us to dismount."
"Countermand that order until we know what's going on, and
remind that grunt captain that I'm the one in command of this unit,
"Black Five, kindly inform Thunder Six that we almost blew away
his emissaries and ask him to notify us next time he puts people on
the ground in the middle of a fire fight."
"Roger," replied McClain.
A loud Arabic voice startled me. A Humvee from psychological
operations unit pulled into our position. Its loudspeaker broadcast
surrender ultimatums in Arabic towards the enemy.
"It's too late," radioed Ruch, "we've already got guys on the
Dammit! "Get out there Steve, and keep them away from that
0120 hours, 27 February 1991
Harrison slapped my leg again and I looked into the sight. One of
the enemy figures was moving forward! He rushed over to one of
his comrades, hoisted him to his feet and began carrying him to
safety. Daly's voice erupted over the squadron frequency.
"He's getting away! He's getting away!"
A split second later, a machine gun chattered and the figure
staggered. My stomach knotted painfully as I saw the burning,
green slugs rip through his glowing body. Bright green blood and
pieces of hot green flesh sprayed out behind him as he sank to his
knees. A second burst finished the job. Who the hell had violated
my cease fire orders!
"Cease fire! Cease fire! Cease fire dammit!" I yelled into my helmet
microphone. "I want to know who the hell shot that
guy...immediately. All elements acknowledge."
Negative reports flowed in.
"I saw who did it," blurted a nameless voice over the troop
frequency. "It came from Thunder Six's track."
"Son-of-a-bitch shot the poor guy in cold blood!" cried another
voice through the static.
"Keep that bastard away from us before I kill him myself!"
exclaimed a third.
I could hear the roar of my heart pounding in my head. "Clear the
net!" I ordered. "Everybody shut up unless you have a valid report!"
"I've got one," reported Baez. "We've got a couple of American
soldiers on the ground here from 1st Armored Division."
"Clarify that," I replied. "Did we liberate prisoners?"
"Negative," said Baez.
"What the hell do you mean negative?"
"I mean that there are no Iraqis here! We've been attacking our own
people! They occupied this field over twelve hours ago!"
I felt a giant, phantom fist smash into my forehead. My universe
shattered into a million fragments. Its bad enough to be forced to
kill people, but to attack your own countrymen!?! Those bastards!
How dare they set us against our brothers! An overwhelming rage
swept over me and I fought to control it. "What are the casualties,
Pete," I called to Baez.
"One dead, one wounded."
"How badly wounded?"
"Leg wound. It hurts but he'll be OK."
"Black Five, Black Six. Call for a dust off chopper. Pete, get
everybody back from that building."
An instant later, an enormous orange fireball lit up the sky. The
building seemed to lift off the ground and spew forth hellish,
yellow flames. I could see bodies flying through the air as though
they were in an episode of MacGyver. Six of my scouts were on the
ground there! The concussion rocked my tank a few seconds later
and smoking debris rained down upon us. A wave of hot air rushed
into the tank through the slit in my hatch.
"Holy shit!" exclaimed Bart. "That must have been a big one. We're
over 100 meters away."
"They're all down!" cried Harrison. "They're all fucking dead!"
I was too stunned to comment. I just looked into the sight at the
flaming wreckage. One of the figures stirred! Then another! More
of them began to rise and gingerly examine themselves.
"Medic track is on the way," said McClain over the troop net.
Thank you God for my efficient XO!
"This is Blue Six," came Baez's voice. "No casualties! I say again,
no casualties! How's that for luck?"
"Its the first good luck we've had all night," I replied.
The Morning After
0600 hours, 27 February 1991
A miserable, smoky gray dawn broke over the desolate airfield. The
burning Rumaila oil fields to the south were wreaking havoc with
the atmosphere. A Blackhawk helicopter evacuated the body of
Corporal Douglas "Lance" Fielder to the regimental aid station. The
pilot had first refused to evacuate the wounded Sergeant Napier,
until McClain had changed his mind by placing his hand on the
butt of his pistol. Steve Ruch sat alongside my vehicle for over an
hour, his face buried in his hands, muttering "those bastards" over
and over again.
Our "enemy" had been a squad of combat engineers from the 1st
Armored Division. The "building" had been their broken down
ammunition carrier, filled with demolition charges. They had been
waiting for someone from their unit to recover it. The 1st Armored
Division had passed through the airfield on the previous day. How
could such a colossal screw up have occurred? We asked the
engineers why they didn't leave when the artillery hit the field.
Their lieutenant stated that they had neither seen nor heard any
artillery. Where had the artillery shells landed? The explosions
would have been audible for at least ten miles, so the shells had
landed in a totally different area. What was going on here? I looked
around and saw no sign that there had ever been any Iraqis at the
field, much less a battalion. Every pane of glass in the tower was
still intact. If Iraqis had been here, the six weeks of U.S. air strikes
would surely have broken a few of those. I felt thoroughly betrayed.
Had our superiors lied to us or misled us? Why?
Lieutenant Colonel John H. Daly Jr. walked up to my tank. "I need
to talk to you Bo," he said. I jumped down from the turret, my knee
almost collapsing again. Daly took me aside and said in a low
voice, "We have to keep this under our hats. Do you understand
Bo?" I nodded my affirmation, wondering what the hell he was
talking about. Another Blackhawk touched down not far from us.
Two figures in Kevlar helmets and load harnesses jumped out.
Incongruously, one of them carried a briefcase. He walked towards
us and said, "Good morning gentlemen. I'm Captain Jaquot from the
Judge Advocate General's Office. Colonel Starr sent me to conduct
an investigation on the fratricide committed here last night."
Three Weeks Later
0900 hours, 18 March 1991
I sat on the curb of a parking lot next to Rick Cortes in Jubail,
Saudi Arabia. We had exchanged our helmets for floppy hats,
washed our vehicles and loaded them aboard the transport ships.
On the return trip from Iraq, I had witnessed soldiers in a supply
depot burning thousands of brand new desert uniforms. Anger
welled up inside me as I thought about how many of us had gone
without proper uniforms for months. It was all irrelevant now. We
were waiting for the buses to take our two troops to the Dhahran
airport. We would be one of the first units going home. My elation
was dampened by the sight of Lance Fielder's dead body still fresh
in my mind. I knew that I would carry it with me for many years to
"Tell me something Rick."
"You got it."
"That night we hit the Umm Hajul airfield...what were you guys
doing while we were shooting at each other?"
"Not a damn thing."
"You mean Daly just had you halt in place?"
"Not even that. He just forgot about us for three or four hours."
I was incredulous. I could not believe Daly had neglected three
quarters of his squadron in the middle of a combat zone. "He just
blew you off and left you there? What would have happened if
there really had been an Iraqi counterattack?"
"Who knows" said Cortes, nonplused, "we had no clue what was
"One more thing Rick. When did you find out that we killed one of
our own there?"
"About a week after it happened."
"Did Daly tell you?"
"No, I heard it through the grapevine."
7:30 a.m., April 5, 1991
"Bye honey, I'm leaving for work," called my wife from downstairs.
"Do you want to meet for lunch somewhere?"
"Sure, how about Adolph's?"
"OK, see you there at twelve thirty."
The door slammed shut, leaving me alone in my El Paso, Texas
apartment. I glimpsed out the window and saw Virginia's car drive
off. Time to get to work.
The day I had arrived home from the gulf, the wives of three
different friends told me all about Virginia's escapades while I had
been gone. Refusing to believe them, I did some detective work on
my own. I quickly discovered that my entire life savings I had
brought into the marriage was gone. There was a $10,000 debt in its
place. Every paycheck I'd earned in blood in the gulf had been
spent in its entirety. I soon uncovered trips to Acapulco, Mazatlan,
Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. There were forged credit cards and
signature loans in my name. She'd had at least four different
The final straw was when Eubie's wife presented me with some
telephone recordings. "I knew Virginia would deny everything, so I
made these," she said.
Virginia's voice issued forth from the tiny recorder.
"Yeah, I took out over a million dollars of life insurance on him. I
can't wait for him to get blown away. Then me and Edmundo can
get a beach house in Cancun."
"Who's Edmundo," came the voice of Mrs. Eubank. "I thought you
were seeing Carlos."
"Carlos was last week. Edmundo makes a lot more money."
About fifty percent of the married soldiers in the squadron shared
my fate. There was no middle ground. Half the wives had been
absolute saints. The other half had been absolute sluts, and the
queen slut amongst them had been my Virginia. I walked out the
back door and waved to two men sitting in a U-Haul truck.
"She's gone," I told them. I held up a hundred dollar bill. "This is
yours if you clear the place out by eleven."
"No problem se¤or," said the larger of the two."
The place was empty by ten thirty, except for what Virginia had
owned before we met, a set of cheap, velvet pictures.
"Here's an extra twenty for your effort," I told the workers. "You
know where to drop it off."
"Right my man, the self-storage place."
I tossed the divorce summons on the carpet in front of the door on
my way out. "Hasta la vista, bitch."
The Cover-Up Begins
Noon, June 12, 1991
Rick Cortes and I stood in the reviewing stand on the Fort Bliss
parade field. Both of us had just relinquished our troops to eager
young staff captains, who would now improve upon our deeds. We
watched our former units march by under the direction of their new
commanders, a bittersweet experience. My world was slowly
coalescing from the ugly mess it had become over the past year. My
fluency in German and Dutch had won me an appointment as a
Foreign Area Officer. No more tanks and endless field exercises in
environmental extremes. It would be embassy duty from now on. As
an additional boon, the Army was paying for me to get a master's
degree and then sending me to learn French at the Defense
Language Institute. I was looking forward to eighteen months of
college life with captain's pay. The culmination of all this training
would be a two year tour of duty in Brussels, Belgium. I had
worked very hard for this assignment since my graduation from
West Point. The next four years were going to be much better than
the previous eight.
I drove back to my house to start my one month vacation. A stack of
mail greeted me as I opened the door. The "Department of the
Army" return address on one of the letters caught my eye. My new
orders! I hastily ripped open the envelope. Yes, it was from the
foreign area office! I rapidly scanned the contents.
"We regret to inform you that your previous selection
as a foreign area officer has been canceled. You are cur-
rently a promotion risk and, as such, not eligible for the
program. You will be returned to your basic branch for
This was impossible! Promotion risk? Bullshit! I'd had excellent
evaluations throughout my career and was one of the few combat
veterans in my year group. I'd even won the Bronze Star in the gulf.
Didn't that count for anything? There must be some mistake. I
dialed Lieutenant Colonel Daly's telephone number. Maybe he
could pull in some of his high powered clout to find out what was
"Hello sir, Captain Friesen here. I just received a letter from DA
canceling my FAO appointment. It stated that I have become a
promotion risk. Do you know anything about this, sir?"
"I uh ... well, no Bo. This is a surprise to me."
"Is there anything you can do to help me out with this, sir?
"Let me make some inquiries. Stop by my office tomorrow morning
and we'll see what we can do."
"Thank you sir, I appreciate this."
I sat in Daly's office at 9 a.m. the next morning. Beads of sweat
glistened from the pores in his forehead as he pushed his glasses
back onto the bridge of his nose.
"Well Bo, it seems that Colonel Starr gave you a below average
"When was this, sir?"
"Quite recently, I believe. Just before he departed last month, when
Colonel Ivany took over the regiment."
"Do you know for what reason?"
"Uh...no, probably just a personality conflict."
"Personality conflict?! Could you talk to him about it, sir?"
"I don't know....probably wouldn't do much good. Have you
considered civilian employment?"
"What do you mean, sir? Its not that bad is it?"
"Listen to me Bo. Things don't always go as we want them to. My
father, for instance, only made it to brigadier general. Sometimes
you have to do what's best for the Army and not just what's best for
"I don't believe I'm hearing this, sir. Are you saying I should just
roll over and let Colonel Starr do this to me? How could that
possibly be best for the Army? I'll go to Congress first. I'm
definitely appealing his evaluation."
"Now...now...now don't be rash Bo," said Daly, droplets appearing
on his forehead again. "Its best if you just let sleeping dogs lie.
You're a very bright person. I'm sure you could find a very
rewarding career in the civilian sector."
"The Army is my career, sir. I've put twelve years into it and I don't
intend to lose it over an evaluation from one person who has seen
me in action for a total of ten minutes. Colonel Starr was totally
unaware of what went on in the units. He virtually never visited
"Bo, I'll tell you one last time. Don't make an issue of this. It
wouldn't be smart."
"Thanks for all your help sir," I spat back as I exited Daly's office.
The Plot Thickens
11:15 a.m., June 20, 1991
I was on the Umm Hajul airfield again, but something was out of
place. The sky wasn't dark, it was blood red, and I lay on the sandy
ground instead of being in my tank. Suddenly powerful hands
grabbed me from behind and lifted me to my feet. I struggled, but
the unknown person held me firmly in his grip. A sound like
ripping paper rent the air and I felt myself sailing back to the
ground. I landed heavily on my stomach and rolled over...just in
time to see Lance Fielder on his knees next to me. His eyes were
wide open and his lips framed the words "Oh my God."
The ripping sound repeated and Lance's chest erupted with several
small holes. He clutched ineffectually at his flak jacket and fell
forward. A pool of blood began oozing towards me in the sand.
Hearing a roaring noise, I looked up and saw a Bradley racing
towards me. Smoke belched from its exhaust fan and red fingers of
death licked out at me from its coaxial machine gun. It was almost
on top of me. I could just make out its tactical designation ...
THUNDER SIX! Nooooooooo! A loud ringing assailed my ears....
....the telephone on my night stand virtually exploded with noise. I
groped for the receiver, knocking over a half empty glass of Jim
Beam. My head throbbed painfully and the room was still a bit out
of focus. Where the hell was I? What time was it? I managed to get
the receiver to my ear.
"Is this Captain Friesen?"
"What do you want?"
"I have some information I think you'll find very interesting."
"Who the hell is this?"
"I can't tell you that, but I work at the regimental headquarters. A
lot of people are really pissed off about what happened to you. We
think you got a raw deal."
"Yeah, so do I, but there's not much I can do about it. How do you
know about what happened to me?" My brain screamed in protest.
"I heard Colonel Starr and Lieutenant Colonel Daly talking last
month, just before Starr left for the Pentagon."
I was instantly awake. "I'm listening."
"Starr was telling Daly that they had to find a fall guy for the Umm
Hajul airfield incident, or they would both be through. Daly seemed
"What else did they say?"
"Starr told Daly that you would be the perfect guy to take the rap,
since it was your troop on the airfield. Daly agreed with him and
Starr said he would take care of it."
"Take care of it ... how?"
"Starr said something about an evaluation that would satisfy some
general that your career was over."
"Son of a bitch! You're serious, aren't you?"
"Absolutely. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you more. Look sir, I hope that
things work out for you."
"Thanks. Look, let me buy you a beer or something. I promise that I
won't tell anybody who you are."
"Thanks for the offer, but I've got a family and I'm only a few years
away from retirement. I don't need any problems. Good luck ...."
My temporarily relieved headache returned with a vengeance. So,
Starr and Daly in a conspiracy. Fall guy. Both of them were fellow
West Pointers. It was a bitter pill to swallow and I didn't have a
shred of proof against them. I needed time to figure something out.
Most of all, I needed a powerful ally somewhere.
An Unexpected Ally
7:00 p.m., October 18, 1991
I sat in the living room sharing a German Weizenbier with my
father, who had recently returned from an extended vacation in
Europe. I was no longer a member of the 3rd Armored Cavalry
Regiment. My branch had told me they didn't care where I went, so
I found a nondescript office job at the Fort Bliss headquarters. My
position title was "reassignable overstrength." It was the perfect
epitaph to my murdered career. I intended to resign from the Army
as soon as all of the debts my ex-wife had incurred were paid off.
The people I worked for were a decent lot. They were mostly air
defense artillery officers who neither knew nor cared about my
predicament. That suited me just fine.
"You know," drawled my father in his thick Rhineland accent, "the
pieces are all falling into place."
"What they did to you reminds me exactly of what the Nazis would
have done to cover their tracks. Except instead of killing you, they
only killed your career."
"They certainly did that. I've got to take some kind of action."
"Do you have enough evidence yet?"
"Quite a bit more than I started out with, but almost everyone is too
scared to open their mouth."
"Of course they are. They all saw what happened to you."
The telephone interrupted our discourse.
"Is this Captain Bo Friesen's residence?"
"That depends. Who are you?"
"My name is Bart Gellman. I'm a staff writer for the Washington
Post." I motioned for my father to get on the other telephone.
"How can you prove that?"
"I don't know," he chuckled, "what do you suggest."
My mind raced. "There was a Post photographer with the 3rd
Armored Cavalry during Desert Storm. What was his name?"
"That would be Lucian Perkins." Bingo!
"This is Bo Friesen Mr. Gellman, how can I help you?"
"Would you be willing to talk about the Umm Hajul airfield
"Possibly, but I don't want to be the butt of some press slander
"That's not at all what I had in mind. Were you aware that the Army
lied to Lance Fielder's family about the circumstances of his
"No, I haven't heard anything about the incident since an army
lawyer concluded the investigation."
"Well, the Army told the Fielders that Lance had been killed by
Iraqis. They didn't find out the truth until some months later, when
a soldier from Lance's unit called them. Do you have access to the
findings of the investigation?"
"No. They promised me that I would get a copy, but I never did."
"I have one here in front of me." My interest perked up
considerably. "I obtained it through the Freedom of Information
Act. Let me read some of it to you."
I glanced at my father as Bart read from the report. He winked and
nodded at me. We had found the ally we were looking for.
"What would you like to know Bart?" I said when he finished. "I'll
help you any way I can."
I walked into my office an hour late on the following Monday
morning, confident that nobody would notice. There were some
advantages to being "reassignable overstrength." "Where the hell
have you been Captain? exclaimed my boss. "We've been looking
for you everywhere!"
They obviously had not tried my house, I mused to myself.
"The General wants to see you! Get up to the Chief of Staff's office
"Right away, sir."
I headed for the elevator. The Deputy Chief of Staff stopped me as I
exited the elevator on the top floor. I was now on sacred ground.
"Get into my office, Captain!"
I must be in deep shit. They were all addressing me by my rank. At
least I was being seen by one of the cardinals instead of the pope
"Sit down. What do you know about this?" said the Deputy, tossing
a newspaper at me.
I glanced down and saw my picture on the front page of the
Washington Post's Sunday edition. The headline read "Friendly
Fire: Captain Friesen, the leader of the armored formation called a
cease-fire on the troop radio net from his tank before Fielder was
"Not much sir. I spoke with Mr. Gellman briefly on Friday
"You did what!?! Why didn't you clear that through the Public
"I was speaking as a private citizen sir. None of the material I
revealed was confidential."
"What you did was irresponsible and casts an unfavorable light on
the Army, not to mention this headquarters!"
"Sir, I have no ax to grind with the Army or this headquarters. I was
treated unjustly by my previous unit however, and I feel I have the
right to speak out about that."
The Deputy's eyes gleamed with fire, but he relaxed and leaned
back in his chair. "Friendly fire occurs in every war." I noticed he
didn't have a combat patch on his right shoulder. How would he
know? "What happened wasn't your fault, Bo." He used my first
name, a new tactic. What was he going after? "Rehashing this won't
bring that kid back to life. Sometimes its better to let sleeping dogs
Who was this guy? Daly's brother? I nodded obediently to him for
the next ten minutes and then left his office, wondering if I'd
placated the high command. The mood in my office was quiet when
I returned. The useless mound of paperwork on my desk beckoned
to me. I sat down and dived in with mock enthusiasm. "Hey sir,"
whispered the Master Sergeant at the desk next to mine. "Way to
go!" He winked and held up a facsimile of the Washington Post
article. "I'm glad that somebody around here has some balls."
Bart Gellman called several days later and told me that Lance
Fielder's mother, Debbie Shelton, had wanted to get in touch with
me. I felt uneasy, but gave him permission to release my telephone
number to her. I sat nervously at home until the phone rang.
"Hello, Captain Friesen? This is Debbie Shelton."
"Please call me Bo, Mrs. Shelton," I stammered.
"Then please call me Debbie."
"I don't quite know what to say."
"Neither do I Mrs...uh...Debbie. I just want to tell you how sorry I
am that I couldn't prevent Lance's death."
"I don't blame you for that Bo," Debbie sobbed. "You did
everything you could."
"I wish I could have done more. If there is anything at all I can do to
help you, please don't hesitate to let me know."
"Thank you. You've done quite a bit already by coming forward. It
was a very brave thing to do, sacrificing your career like that. The
Army has been forced to re-open the investigation because of
Gellman's article. Several senators and congressmen have taken an
interest in the incident."
"My career was over anyway Debbie. Even so, it was nothing
compared to the sacrifice Lance made."
"Can you tell me how he died? I've read all the reports, but I'd like
to hear it from someone who was there. Did you see it happen."
"Yes, I did," I choked back the tears. "It was very fast. I don't think
he suffered. He was helping another soldier to safety when a
machine gun burst hit him."
"Was he shooting at you?"
"No, he didn't even have a weapon in his hand."
"Was it Lieutenant Colonel Daly's vehicle that killed him?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Then it was in cold blood, even if they had been Iraqis?"
I could think of no kind way to phrase it. "Yes, it was."
"Oh my God."
"I know this is of small comfort Debbie, but Lance was the bravest
person out there on that airfield."
"What do you mean."
"Well...we were all sitting in our tanks, behind four feet of steel.
Lance's fellow engineers were all dug in. Lance was the only one
with enough courage to expose himself. He did it to try to save one
of his comrades. Considering the large force of tanks they were
facing, Lance acted with great valor."
"That is of very great comfort. Thank you, Bo."
I could not frame a reply.
"Would you mind if I called again some time?" asked Mrs. Shelton.
"Please feel free any time. If there is anything at all I can do to help,
please let me know. I mean that."
"Thank you, good bye."
I replaced the receiver and took a beer out of the refrigerator. I felt
as though a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No,
I was not responsible for Lance Fielder's death. Daly and Starr
were. I did however, feel a strong obligation to his family. I silently
vowed to help them in any way I could.
1:45 p.m., November 4, 1991
"Telephone, Captain F," called out the secretary.
"Thanks Lisa. Captain Friesen here."
"Sir, this is Lieutenant Morris. I'm the aide-de-camp to Brigadier
General Halley, the 18th Airborne Corps Artillery Commander. The
General is conducting an investigation into the Umm Hajul airfield
fratricide. He requests your presence at the Chaparral House in Fort
Bliss at 0830 hours on 7 November. Will that be all right with you,
"Requests" my ass, it was a direct order. "Please inform the General
that I would be happy to meet him at that time, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir. Airborne!" The line went dead.
This piqued my curiosity. I immediately headed for the installation
protocol office. They would know about all generals entering or
leaving the area. I entered the office under the pretense of seeing if
some obscure ceremony we were planning would conflict with the
presence of general officers at Fort Bliss. The secretary motioned
me to the status board. I quickly found what I was looking for.
Brigadier General Fred N. Halley - Chaparral House - 7-21 Nov 91.
The investigator was staying for two, whole weeks. This would be
an in-depth affair.
I called one of my few remaining friends in the 3rd Cavalry when I
returned to my office. Virtually everybody else I knew had spurned
me like a leper after the Washington Post article became common
knowledge, at least all of those who were captain or above.
"Have any of you been alerted to meet with some general flying
down from Fort Bragg next Monday?" I asked.
"Damn near the entire unit. Daly is holding a massive amount of
meetings to 'clear the air' as he calls it."
"When did you find out about it?"
"A few days ago."
"That's odd, they didn't inform me until today."
"That's not all that's odd. Daly's brother-in-law, one of the infamous
Abrams generals, is flying into town on the 6th."
"He's not on the post protocol list."
"Of course not. This is all incognito. He's flying commercial.
Everything's very hush-hush. The staff duty officer overheard Daly
making the arrangements."
"That is a very interesting piece of information indeed. I'll stop by
the unit some time for a visit."
"Nothing personal Bo, but I don't think that would be a good idea."
"I understand. Talk to you later."
This was very strange, to say the least. General Abram's behind the
scenes visit just happened to coincide with the arrival of the
investigating officer, who also happened to be a general. I
wondered what else might be going on behind the scenes.
I walked across the street to the Chaparral House, a luxurious little
dwelling reserved for traveling VIPs. I glanced at my watch -- 8:25
a.m. Unfamiliar with the layout of the building, I twisted the door
knob and poked my right foot into the room. An outstretched arm
stopped me short. "Sorry Captain, we're still with the first witness.
You'll have to wait outside." Give me a break! It was freezing cold
out there. I selected one of the fragile looking Victorian chairs on
the patio and gingerly occupied it, fearing the wrath of the
aristocracy should it collapse. Thirty minutes later, Lieutenant
Colonel Daly's spare frame exited the door. "Yes sir, we'll have to
get together again some time," he called back into the house. He
turned around and seemed to have a small seizure when he saw me.
"Hi Bo," he squeaked and hastily descended the steps to the street. I
I entered the door and saw three individuals sitting at the far end of
a long table. At one corner was a captain, an army lawyer, and at
the other was a female staff sergeant, probably a para-legal. At the
head of the table sat Brigadier General Fred N. Halley, his uniform
bedecked with a sea of decorations. I noticed that he had several
Silver Stars for valor.
"Good morning, Captain," said the General. "Have a seat. Make
yourself comfortable. Would you like some coffee?"
"No thank you, sir."
"Well then, lets get down to business. As you know, I am
investigating the Umm Hajul fratricide. Captain Cook will read you
the privacy act and we can get started."
The lawyer droned out the speech I was thoroughly familiar with
and I gave my consent to answer any and all questions.
"Good," said Halley. "Is there anything you would like to say before
we begin, Captain?"
"Yes sir. I've prepared an information packet, outlining in detail
what transpired on the night of 26 February." I handed him a ten
page document I had prepared over the weekend.
The General began reading it, his eyes growing wider with every
second. He passed each page to the lawyer as he completed it.
"Excuse us for a moment," he said after he finished. He motioned
for his two assistants to follow him into the next room. I caught
snatches of conversation though the thin walls.
"Don't quite know how to proceed from here ... need more guidance
... your recommendations?"
They all returned after a few minutes.
"These are some serious allegations," stated General Halley.
Captain Cook looked a bit worried. The staff sergeant smiled,
apparently amused by her superiors' discomfort.
"Yes sir, they are, and I stand by them."
"So, you say Colonel Daly almost caused several more friendly
killings during the assault?"
"What leads you to believe that?"
"Sir, its all in my report."
"Isn't it possible that your unit was a little trigger happy?"
I saw red and fought to bring my emotions back under control.
"Absolutely not, sir." I retorted icily. "On the contrary, we
displayed remarkable restraint. Colonel Daly made many
potentially fatal errors during this operation. First, he attacked the
airfield without conducting any reconnaissance to find out what
was there. Second, he approached my unit without warning from an
exposed flank, seriously endangering the lives of the twenty
soldiers in his command group. Third, he dismounted soldiers in
my sector during a fire fight without informing my unit. These
soldiers could have been shot by any one of my vehicles. Fourth, he
countermanded my orders and needlessly sent my scouts into an
unsecured area in which a vehicle was exploding. It was sheer luck
that these scouts did not die during the final, massive explosion."
"All of Colonel Daly's actions were in direct violation of Army
doctrine and regulations. Furthermore, these actions were reckless,
irresponsible and unnecessary. Colonel Daly was extremely lucky
that we did not lose twenty or thirty more American soldiers
because of his actions. All of this occurred during an operation in
which we never even saw a single enemy soldier. It was only my
unit's restraint that prevented several additional tragedies. If these
would have occurred, I would have been made the scapegoat for
them as well."
"Calm down Captain," soothed General Halley. "Nobody's making
you the scapegoat for anything. I intend to get to the bottom of this
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, lets get on with the questions." He asked me a few more
generalities that I had covered in the report. I assured him that the
fatal burst had come from Daly's vehicle and that Fielder had been
unarmed at that time.
"Do you have any final statements, Captain Friesen?"
"Yes, sir. Two very important questions concerning this incident
have never been addressed. Number one: Where did the order to
attack the airfield originate? Number two: Where did the false
information about an Iraqi battalion occupying the airfield
originate? I believe the answers to both these questions will shed a
great deal of light upon what went wrong at Umm Hajul."
"Well, the airfield had been on the corps' target list, but those are
some valid questions Captain. You can be sure this investigation
will answer them." The General concluded the interrogation and
escorted me to the door. He stepped out onto the porch with me for
a brief moment.
"I just wanted to tell you Captain, that you did the right thing out
there on that airfield. I know you've been through a very difficult
time." I couldn't believe my ears. Somebody was actually taking my
side in this issue! "However, you are a victim of this just as much as
Lance Fielder -- a victim of bad luck." At that moment I realized he
was soft-soaping me. I knew I would get no help from his quarter.
"We should have this wrapped up within a month," he said. "I'll
make sure you get a copy of the final report." It seemed I'd heard
that promise before somewhere. "Please remain available at your
office for recall."
"Yes, sir." I saluted and made my way down the steps.
It was 6:00 p.m. and the desire to go home confronted me. I dialed
the number to the Chaparral House to inform them of my
whereabouts. The mess sergeant serving as the butler answered the
"No sir. The General and his party departed a few hours ago."
"When will they be back?"
"Sir, they departed for Fort Bragg."
"Thank you, sergeant."
I hung up and dialed the number to my friend in the 3rd Cavalry.
"Hi, this is Bo. How many of you guys were called in for
"Just Daly. Twice, once at 0730 and again at about 0930."
"You're sure nobody else got called in?"
"Positive. We were waiting until this afternoon, when a call came in
saying that the General had departed for Fort Bragg again. What a
waste of time!"
"It sure sounds like it. Thanks."
I replaced the receiver and rocked back in my chair. This entire
affair was taking on the manner of an Agatha Christie mystery.
Why would the General fly back on the same day he arrived,
especially after he had made reservations for two weeks? Then there
was the question of the dozens of witnesses who were never called
in. Daly however, had been called in again after I was questioned.
Did the General fly home to confer with his superiors about the
best course of action to take regarding my allegations? I was in no
position to find out. I had no choice but to wait for the final report.
Taking the Offensive
9:45 a.m., January 6, 1992
I moistened the seal on the last of eight packets and pressed it shut.
One month had come and gone without even a whisper about the
investigation. I gave the boys at Fort Bragg another month for good
measure and then took matters into my own hands.
I had prepared packets regarding the Umm Hajul incident and its
aftermath for seven prominent congressmen and senators. The
Secretary of the Army would receive a courtesy copy. Each packet
contained the same information I had given Brigadier General
Halley, along with several more sheets of pertinent facts. I implored
each official to personally look into this matter. The packets would
be in the mail today.
6:15 p.m., January 13, 1992
I pulled my car into the driveway of my parents' house after a long
drive back to El Paso from Ruidoso, New Mexico. I had taken four
days of vacation to relax in the Lincoln National Forest. I was
thoroughly exhausted from all my relaxation and looked forward to
a good night of sleep before facing my mundane job the next day.
"Well, well, well," chortled my father. "The most important man in
the U.S. Army has returned. Did the FBI drag you off the ski
I shot him a disdainful look. "Aren't we in a humorous mood
today," I replied.
"Its going to get quite a bit more humorous, son. The Army's been
looking for you since Saturday morning."
"What did you tell them?"
"That there are no telephones in the forest and they would,
therefore, have to wait until your return. It would seem the letters to
congress have them running scared."
An urgent knock on the door punctuated his statement. I tugged on
the knob and came face to face with my boss, who was in a heavily
"Captain Friesen, thank God I've found you," he blurted. "Where
have you been? We've been searching for days!"
"On vacation, remember ..."
"Never mind. Here are travel orders and a plane ticket to Fort
Bragg. Your flight leaves in three hours."
"Sir, I just got back into town and I have several urgent projects
needing my attention at the office."
"Don't worry about that. Just be on the flight. The orders came
directly from the 18th Airborne Corps Commander. They also state
you are to bring a copy of your congressional correspondence with
you. I have no idea what this is about, but Lieutenant Colonel Daly
has also been ordered to Fort Bragg. Have a nice flight." He turned
on his heel and was gone.
"Airline tickets hand-delivered to our residence personally by your
boss," said my father from the shadows. "You must be a special
"What do you think this is all about?"
"I think the boys in green are finally listening."
I sat in the room of my Fort Bragg transient officer quarters
munching on a cold pizza crust and watching MTV. This was my
third day in wonderful "Airborne Country." The incessant drone of
aircraft from Pope Air Force Base and austere surroundings made
me glad I was not an infantryman. Still, I had to respect these
soldiers who were always the first to be placed in harm's way. They
made our job as tankers much easier.
On my first day at Fort Bragg, I quickly realized that I was not here
to shed any light on the investigation. The brass had called me here
to keep me away from the press. General Halley rehashed the same
questions he had in Fort Bliss, with a few more thrown in about my
allegations that Starr and Daly had conspired to destroy my career.
It could all have been handled over the telephone instead of costing
the American taxpayers several thousand dollars.
"Remain available in your room in case we need to ask you some
more questions," Halley had said. I was called in two more times
for the same drill. I began wondering how long they would keep me
here when the phone rang, drowning out Tom Petty on the tube.
"Captain Friesen," I answered.
"Sir, this is Sergeant Perkins from 18th Airborne Corps
headquarters. You are no longer needed for questioning and may
return to Fort Bliss at your earliest convenience."
"Thank you sergeant," I replied and hung up the telephone.
My earliest convenience would be as fast as I could get to the
Fayetteville airport. The press had apparently lost interest and I was
a free man once again.
The next four months passed in a frenzy of moves and counter-
moves. The chess game of the conspiracy progressed at an
alternatingly maddening, then stagnant, pace. I moved one set of
pieces, but I was always unsure as to whom my actual opponent
was. Starr? Daly? The entire army? A certain general somewhere?
The Abrams dynasty? I despaired of ever finding out or obtaining
justice for myself and the Fielders. I received veiled threats virtually
every week, stating that the "General didn't want to hear any more
about this issue." The General apparently was more interested in
good public relations than the truth. It seemed as though the web of
deceit grew thicker every day.
Colonel Douglas Starr had been forced to retire from the Army just
three weeks before he was due to be promoted to brigadier general.
This was not due to his involvement with the airfield incident, but
rather for his fondness of female enlisted soldiers. He had finally
been caught in carnal abandon with a shapely private first class.
The senate had pulled him from the promotion list and he'd
received his walking papers. It was even rumored that his wife had
divorced him. The entire matter, of course, remained confidential.
The official reason for Starr's retirement was that he could not
afford to send his children to college on a brigadier general's salary.
Ninety thousand dollars a year was simply not enough money. Starr
had dismissed a captain for allegations of adultery just before we
left for the Middle East. Apparently the colonel lived by a set of
moral standards different from those he expected of his men.
The Army had conducted two more investigations into Lance
Fielder's death, bringing the total to five. The Army Inspector
General's Office (IG) conducted an additional two investigations
into why Lance's family had been told that Iraqis had killed their
son. The first IG investigation determined that it was a
"miscommunication" caused by lack of documentation
accompanying the body back to the 3rd Cavalry's regimental aid
station. I talked to my former executive officer, Aaron McClain,
about this. Aaron had resigned from the Army and was now living
in Montana. He told me that he had attached a casualty report tag to
Fielder's uniform with a safety pin before zipping him into a body
bag. This tag contained information indicating Lance had been a
victim of friendly fire. He told Debbie Shelton the same thing
during a separate telephone conversation. Debbie and I made the IG
aware of these facts.
The second IG investigation returned the same finding as the first.
Incredulous, I called up McClain to see what he had told them. His
number had been disconnected and the operator was unable to help
me locate him. He had dropped out of sight shortly after being
questioned by the IG. During this time my old troop First Sergeant,
Kenneth Sayles, stepped forward to proclaim that the casualty tag
had been "blown away" by rotor wash from the evacuation
helicopter. I failed to see how that could have occurred when it was
pinned to Fielder's uniform and zipped into the body bag before the
helicopter arrived. Furthermore, several of my former soldiers told
me that the First Sergeant had not even been at the evacuation site.
He had departed after becoming violently ill when he saw Fielder's
body. The IG did not solicit comments from these soldiers. Sayles,
incidentally, was still working for Daly.
I talked with Debbie Shelton, who had been working closely with
MacArthur Foundation researcher Patricia Axelrod to examine the
IG findings. More disturbing inconsistencies surfaced. Thoroughly
sifting through hundreds of pages of testimonies, they discovered
that Lance's body had arrived at the regimental aid station wrapped
only in plastic. When the body left the airfield, it had been fully
clothed and wearing a flak jacket. The IG maintained that the
evacuation helicopter flew straight from the airfield to the aid
station, making it impossible for anyone to tamper with the body
before it arrived. Regimental radio logs however, stated that the
very same helicopter had landed at the regimental headquarters for
fifteen minutes prior to flying to the aid station. The IG
conveniently ignored all of these facts.
Debbie and Patricia firmly believed that the documentation had
been removed from Lance's body prior to its evacuation to the aid
station. I had to admit that this seemed very likely. Did Colonel
Starr or one of his subalterns remove this documentation during the
fifteen minutes the helicopter was at the regimental headquarters?
Were they trying to prevent a stain on the honor of the 3rd Cavalry?
It was doubtful these questions would ever be answered.
2:35 p.m., May 15, 1992
"Telephone for you, Captain Friesen."
I turned from my vital mission of planning a tree planting ceremony
and cradled the receiver in my hand.
"This is Major Smith from the Fort Bliss Staff Judge Advocate
The army lawyers. What did they want? "How can I help you, sir?"
"I'm calling to see if you mailed your correspondence to Fort
I was without a clue. "What correspondence, sir?"
"Your reply to General Burba." General Burba was the
Commanding General of Forces Command, all the Army combat
units located within the continental United States.
"You have me at a loss, sir. A reply to what?"
"You mean to tell me you have no idea what I'm talking about,
"None whatsoever. Please enlighten me." My patience grew thin.
What kind of game was this guy playing?
"General Burba issued you a formal letter of reprimand on 14 April.
You have missed the 30 day period to submit matters in your
"Is this in connection with the Umm Hajul airfield incident, major?"
"I believe so."
"Sir, I never received notification of this reprimand."
"That's impossible! A general officer was supposed to formally
serve you with it within days of it being signed. It will now
automatically go into your record because you did not rebut it."
"How many times do I have to say this,sir? I did not receive any
notification. Do you have any suggestions about what I can do?"
"Absolutely. We'll prepare an acknowledgment of receipt and send
it to Forces Command. If they don't accept it, you can take legal
action against them for depriving you of due process."
"One question, sir. Do you think this was deliberate?"
"I couldn't even hazard a guess about that, Captain. One thing I can
tell you however, this is the first time I've ever seen a letter from a
general not make it to the addressee."
I mailed the acknowledgment the next day and the rebuttal two
weeks later. I received no reply from General Burba for the next
two months, but I was able to get my hands on the investigation
that sparked the reprimand. It was over 1,000 pages in length, but
still did not answer the two crucial questions. Who had ordered the
attack and who had fabricated the information about an Iraqi
battalion on the airfield? It was a classic example of a huge amount
of eyewash to lend false credibility to the findings. Any document
supported by five pounds of testimonies must be valid, but nobody
would ever read the testimonies. Nobody, except me.
I spent weeks analyzing every single testimony. Once again, some
serious discrepancies were present. The boundary between the 18th
and 7th Corps had run exactly through the middle of the airfield.
This gross blunder was in direct contravention of the most basic
tactical principles the Army had. How could one 25,000-man corps
assault half the airfield while the other corps attacked the second
half? Even the newest private had more common sense than that.
The converging forces ran a tremendous risk of shooting at each
other and sustaining friendly casualties. If Thunder Squadron had
not encountered the engineers, it would have continued attacking
four miles into the neighboring corps' territory. Hundreds of
soldiers driving trucks in the supply columns there might have
suffered fiery deaths. Nevertheless, colonels on both corps staffs
had drawn this boundary directly through the Umm Hajul airfield
and generals had given it their blessings. The investigation's
findings glossed over this.
Daly's and Starr's testimonies were even more disturbing. Although
Starr stated that he had no knowledge of friendly units at the
airfield, six other officers testified that they had told him or the
regiment to stay away from Umm Hajul for that very reason. Starr
contradicted himself in another testimony when he stated that he
was sure Daly got the message of possible friendly troops in the
area. Daly denied that Starr told him anything.
In several testimonies, Daly stated that he had never heard me give
the cease fire order before he fired the fatal shots. In his final
testimony, he casually mentioned that he heard me give this
command over the radio. Daly also stated initially that he shot
Fielder because he looked as though he were fleeing. He later
reversed this and said he opened fire because Fielder was moving
forward to attack. One thing was crystal clear from the report. Daly
knew of the corps boundary running through the airfield and the
prohibition against firing across it. He did not share this
information with his subordinate commanders. Furthermore, he
himself fired across it to kill Lance Fielder. In a final attempt to
shirk responsibility, Daly testified that his gunner, a staff sergeant,
had asked for permission to pull the trigger and then shot Fielder.
Finally, the investigation never addressed where the 288 high
explosive artillery shells fired at the airfield actually landed. Were
the cannons over ten miles off their mark, or did $60,000 worth of
shells deliberately impact in the middle of the empty desert? Even
worse, was the artillery commander aware of friendly force
locations that officers at my level were not privy to? Despite these
and other inconsistencies, the sixth investigation found nothing
unusual about the incident and contributed the fratricide to the "fog
of war." I wondered if Lance had known about this fog before he
idealistically went to fight for his country.
The Army released information about my reprimand to the press
and they had a field day with it. It was then that I found out that
Daly and Starr had also received reprimands. I firmly believed that
Daly's clout would be able to remove his before it even entered his
official record. Starr probably couldn't care less, he was out of the
Good Morning, America
3:45 p.m., June 28, 1992
The telephone on my desk buzzed as I was putting the finishing
touches on my computer programming assignment. I would need a
new career when I left the military and I had chosen computer
science. I had submitted my resignation paperwork a month earlier.
I would resign from the Army in September. I saved my program
and picked up the phone.
"Hello, this is Richard Pollock calling for Captain Bo Friesen."
"This is him, but you can drop the captain. Just Bo will be fine."
"OK Bo. I'm the Washington D.C. producer for 'Good Morning
America.' We'd like you to appear on our show to give your version
of what happened at the Umm Hajul Airfield."
"I would like to do that very much Mr. Pollock, but I doubt that the
Army would allow it. Can you wait until this October?"
Possibly, but I can't guarantee it would still be an item of interest."
"Can I let you know in a few days?"
"Sure, let me give you my number."
The producer of CNBC's "Real Story" called several days later with
the same offer. Debbie Shelton would be on the program as well. In
the end, I decided to make an appearance on both shows. This
would probably be my best chance to get across my side of the
story. I set a date with both networks for July 27th. I would take
leave from the Army to fly to New York City for the live
appearances. I told my superiors nothing of my plans when I
submitted my leave request.
11:50 a.m., July 22, 1992
"Hello Bo, this is Richard Pollock," said the receiver into my ear.
"Hi Richard, is everything still a go for next Monday?"
"I hope so. Have you told anybody about your appearance?"
"Just my folks, why?"
"There have been several military types snooping around the New
York set, trying to pry information from the people there. They
seem desperate to know who will be appearing."
"Have your people told them anything?"
"Just that we will be having a segment about the incident. We had
to give them the chance to send a spokesman. They declined of
"So nobody mentioned my name then?"
"I'm the only person who knows its you, Bo. Charlie Gibson won't
even know until the day of the show."
"That's good, because my leave would be canceled very fast if they
knew I was appearing on the program."
"All right then, it seems that both our ends are covered. I'm looking
forward to meeting you this weekend. Have a good flight."
"Thanks Richard, see you on Saturday."
I spent the entire next day at the university checking into possible
courses of study. I stopped by my parent's house on the way home.
"They always seem to want you when you're not around," my father
greeted me. "The telephone started ringing at 8:00 a.m. already.
This is for you." He handed me a sealed envelope.
"General Burba's office has been calling every hour to explain how
sorry they are that it took so long to reply to your rebuttal. They
finally had a courier deliver this. He left about 30 minutes ago."
I tore open the envelope. The seven line letter was signed by
General Burba. It stated that he had withdrawn my reprimand based
upon the "very persuasive statement" I submitted. He concluded by
informing me that he "considered this matter closed." He may have
considered it closed, but I certainly did not.
"What do you make of all this Dad?"
"I hope you don't believe for one minute that it was withdrawn due
to your rebuttal. If that were the case, Burba would have done it
two months ago when he received it. I think they're running scared
because they suspect you're appearing on national television."
"I hope they don't cancel my leave."
"We'll find out in a day or so."
My father had hit the nail on the head. The reprimand had not been
justified to begin with, considering the information contained in
the body of the final investigation. General Burba's office had
stated that my rebuttal had brought up information he was unaware
of. Had it taken two months for him to evaluate this information in
his mind? It was too great a coincidence that he withdrew my
reprimand at the exact time I was appearing on "Good Morning
The General definitely had egg on his face. Everything contained in
my rebuttal was also in the body of the investigation. Either he had
not bothered to read the investigation before issuing the reprimand,
or he had done so in spite of overwhelming evidence in my favor.
Now that it was about to become public knowledge, he quickly
retracted it. The reprimand had been a charade. Its real purpose was
to punish me for speaking out.
The National Stage
6:55 p.m., July 26, 1992
I nervously adjusted my tie and cast a final glance at the mirror. I
closed the door of my Ritz-Carlton hotel room behind me and made
my way towards the elevator. "Good Morning America" had
provided excellent accommodations, right at Central Park. I felt
uncomfortable in a suit and knew that I probably looked somewhat
out of place. Army officers rarely carried themselves well in civilian
suits because they rarely ever wore them.
I entered the elevator and descended to the lobby. The doors
opened and I strode out, scanning the assemblage of people. My
heart pounded furiously as my eyes came to rest on Debbie Shelton
and Ron Fielder. I knew them only from newspaper and magazine
pictures, but I identified them immediately. Recognition flashed in
their eyes as well. I walked towards them, certain that my heart
would burst forth from my chest with the next step. I had talked to
them many times over the telephone, but this was our first face to
Debbie alleviated my fears with a quick hug and I shook hands with
Ron. We soon fell into a conversation about a variety of topics. It
seemed as though I had known them an eternity. These were good,
decent people. It greatly reinforced my feelings that I had done the
right thing by helping them crusade for justice. I only hoped justice
would be served.
Debbie and I entered the set of "Good Morning America" at 6:30
a.m. the next morning. I was a bit nervous, but my desire to tell the
nation about this sordid affair overrode all other emotions. I was
incredibly anxious to have my five minutes in the spotlight. Charlie
Gibson's voice broke my reverie.
"It is five minutes past the hour. Not all our Gulf War casualties
were caused by the enemy. Some American soldiers died at the
hands of their own countrymen. Sergeant Lance Fielder was one
such soldier. Occupying an airfield they had captured twelve hours
earlier, Lance's unit came under attack by the U.S. Third Armored
Cavalry Regiment. Rushing to the aid of a fellow soldier, Lance
was killed by friendly fire. In a moment, we will speak with Army
Captain Bo Friesen, the commander of the troop ordered to attack
"Two minutes!" shouted a man to the rear of the cameras. A woman
guided me to the stool opposite Charlie. I cringed as another
padded make-up onto my forehead.
"Ten seconds! And five, four, three...."
"Good morning. I'm Charlie Gibson and we're back with Army
Captain Bo Friesen, the commander of an armored cavalry unit
during the Gulf War who was tragically ordered to attack an airfield
already occupied by friendly forces. Sergeant Lance Fielder, an
American combat engineer was killed by friendly fire during the
ensuing battle. Good morning Captain Friesen."
"Good morning Charlie."
"Can you give us a brief description of the events leading up to the
assault on the Umm Hajul airfield?"
I sped through the events, desperately trying to compress several
hours of action into a few seconds. There is no way to do it, but I
did so anyway.
"Now, friendly fire incidents have occurred in every war,"
continued Charlie. "Is this one any different from the rest?"
"Definitely. This was not a "fog of war" incident. My superiors
withheld information about boundaries and friendly unit locations
from officers at my level. If they had shared this information with
us, Lance Fielder would still be alive today."
"When you say superiors, who do you mean?"
"My Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Daly, and my
Regimental Commander, Colonel Douglas Starr."
"Why would these officers withhold that type of information?"
"I believe they did so in an attempt to gain glory for themselves.
There was not a whole lot to fight for in Iraq. There were no cities
or bridges to capture and the enemy ran faster than we could
follow. Faced with the possibility of not being able to make a name
for themselves in combat, I believe that Starr and Daly created a
heroic attack against a non-existent enemy."
"And once on the airfield, who actually fired the fatal shots?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Daly's vehicle."
"Is it unusual for a squadron commander to be that far forward?"
"Yes it is, especially since he had over a hundred combat vehicles
at his disposal. He completely disregarded them and concerned
himself only with his own actions."
"Why do you think he did that?"
"The only way to get a medal for valor is to actually take part in the
fighting. Since there was very little fighting at hand, Daly could
only win a decoration by personally charging forward."
"And did he win a decoration?"
"Yes, a Bronze Star, but that was the standard award for all
captains and above after the war."
"Is it possible that the fatal shots were fired in the confusion that
surrounded the fighting at the airfield."
"No, the situation had already calmed down considerably before
Lieutenant Colonel Daly's arrival at the scene. Although we still
thought our opponents were Iraqis, they did not have any weapons
in their hands, nor were they making any threatening moves
towards us. Shooting them was completely unjustified, even if they
had been enemy soldiers."
"Then we are talking about possible criminal negligence here."
"Definitely negligence. Whether it is criminal is not for me to
"You contacted Lance Fielder's mother, Mrs. Debbie Shelton. What
made you decide to do this?"
"I have a son myself. If anything were to happen to him, I would
want to know everything I possibly could about it. I had a moral
obligation to Lance Fielder's family."
"The Army formally reprimanded you for this incident, did it not?"
"That is correct."
"And then withdrew that reprimand a few days ago."
"Why do you think they did that?"
"I can only guess that they heard I would be appearing on your
"Where do you think this investigation should go from here?"
"I think a disinterested civilian body should conduct an
investigation. The Army has investigated itself six times already in
this matter and we are still no closer to the truth."
"And what about Captain Bo Friesen? What happens to you now?"
"I've submitted my paperwork to resign from the Army."
"Because of this incident?"
"As a graduate of West Point, you must have had the potential for a
"I had intended to make the military a career, but it is no longer
"Thank you for taking the time to come and talk to us, Captain
Friesen. In a moment, we'll return with Mrs. Debbie Shelton, the
mother of Sergeant Lance Fielder."
I resigned my commission as an officer in the United States Army
on September 30, 1992. As of this writing, the U. S. General
Accounting Office is investigating the circumstances surrounding
the death of Sergeant Lance Fielder and the attack on the Umm
Hajul airfield. Lieutenant Colonel John Daly is still in the Army
and currently assigned to the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for
Operations in the Pentagon. I have no idea of the whereabouts of
retired Colonel Douglas Starr. While I hold no animosity towards
the Army, I do feel that this incident should be discussed openly to
prevent such tragedies in the future.
I recently attended a parade by the Third Armored Cavalry
Regiment. I stood in the background in my faded jeans, my
considerably longer hair blowing in the cold winter breeze. I
recognized very few of the camouflage figures and felt certain that
even fewer of them recognized me. Cymbals crashed and bass
drums boomed the cadence for over a thousand boot clad footsteps.
As the ranks of cavalry troopers marched past, the announcer
recited the hundred-year regimental history. His final paragraph
stated that, during the Gulf War, the regiment captured two Iraqi
airfields. What the audience did not know, was that American
soldiers had stubbornly defended one of those airfields. The
regimental history made no mention of Lance Fielder's sacrifice,
but I would carry his name in my heart forever. He was the real hero
of the Battle of Umm Hajul.
The General Accounting Office concluded its investigation into the
Umm Hajul incident in April 1995. The findings determined that
both Colonel Starr and Lieutenant Colonel Daly had been negligent
in their duties and failed to inform their subordinates of critical
information. It also brought to light that the several members of
Daly's vehicle crew, as well as the regimental surgeon, all received
Bronze Star Medals for valor. Citations and witness statements for
these awards and Daly's Bronze Star Medal all contained false
statements about what occurred that night at the Umm Hajul
airfield. All of them contained some reference to heroism in combat
against an enemy force. The regimental surgeon was the ranking
member on the helicopter flight where all the documentation on
Lance Fielder's body mysteriously disappeared. Daly's Officer
Evaluation Report, which directly affected his promotion, also
contained false statements about what had transpired during the
Colonel Starr is currently living in the Middle East as a consultant.
Lieutenant Colonel Daly's reprimand was never filed in his official
record. He was selected for promotion to full colonel, but the U.S.
Congress, at the urgings of Senator Fred Thompson, did not
approve this promotion. Daly appeared before the Senate Sub-
Committee on Investigations on June 29, 1995 to explain his
actions in Operation Desert Storm. The Assistant Secretary of the
Army and the Army Vice-Chief-of-Staff appeared with him.
Senator Thompson, the committee chairman, called for Daly's
immediate dismissal from the military. Mrs. Debbie Shelton
requested that the army revoke Lance Fielder's post-humous Bronze
Star Medal for valor, because he had not been in contact with
enemy forces at the time of his death.
Lieutenant Colonel John H. Daly Jr. is still on active duty and
working in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations
at the Pentagon. He received a second reprimand for misleading
statements resulting in the inappropriate awards for valor. Senator
Thompson believes that this action was insufficient and has
requested that the army re-examine what action it will take
regarding Daly. Lance Fielder's Bronze Star Medal for Valor was
rescinded and he received the Soldier's Medal in its place, a higher
and more fitting award.
Rest in Peace, Lance.
Copyright c 1996 by Bo H. Friesen
This text may be distributed freely as long as it is not altered in any way.