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Word Missing from Gen. McChrystal’s Return to Obama Admin: Tillman

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on April 11, 2011

It’s been almost 10 months since Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal led the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan to step down from his post. Inside of a year, The Runaway General has already been re-commissioned for public service.

Gen. McChrystal, according to White House officials, will help oversee a high-profile initiative in support of military families. The former commander will “lead the three-member advisory board for the initiative, called Joining Forces, whose aim is to encourage companies, schools, philanthropic and religious groups and local communities to recognize the unusual stress that is endured by families of active-duty personnel, reservists and veterans, and to strive to meet their needs,” the New York Times reports.

This new program is necessary and important. Back in January, when General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, announced that suicides in the Army National Guard more than doubled, he made some simple recommendations. Among those points, he suggested we should be mitigating soldiers’ economic stress, and he also encouraged community organizations to get involved. And that’s partially what this new initiative is designed to do — get businesses and community and charitable organizations “to connect with military families as an act of public service, without being prompted to do so by federal money or tax incentives.”

But missing from the coverage of McChrystal’s return is the tragic irony that he’ll be working to alleviate the stress of military families. After all, though it wasn’t front-page news then, McChrystal had a major role in the cover-up of the untimely death of Army Ranger and former football star Pat Tillman.

At the time, McChrystal was the head of Special Operations command in Afghanistan. It was McChrystal who approved the paperwork that wrongfully awarded Tillman a Silver Star, despite the knowledge that he died in a friendly fire incident, not as had been reported, by enemy fire.

And when McChrystal rose to the top spot in the Afghanistan chain of command, his rubber stamp that hurt the Tillman family so was barely even mentioned by the mainstream media. While the Tillmans continued to griever, continued their quest to find out what really happened to their heroic son, McChrystal moved up the military ladder. The cover-up wasn’t his idea, but he certainly played a serious role in adding to the stress and pain of at least one military family.

Author and journalist Jon Krakauer’s book Where Men Win Glory provides keen insight into the Tillman affair, and when Krakauer joined David Gregory on Meet the Press on November 1, 2009, he offered a particularly harsh assessment of McChrystal’s conduct. Krakauer states unequivocally that McChrystal’s explanations upon reflection were “preposterous” and “not believable.”

KRAKAUER: After Tillman died, the most important thing to know is that within–instantly, within 24 hours certainly, everybody on the ground, everyone intimately involved knew it was friendly fire. There’s never any doubt it was friendly fire. McChrystal was told within 24 hours it was friendly fire. Also, immediately they started this paperwork to give Tillman a Silver Star. And the Silver Star ended up being at the center of the cover-up. So McChrystal–Tillman faced this devastating fire from his own guys, and he tried to protect a young private by exposing himself to this, this fire. That’s why he was killed and the private wasn’t. Without friendly fire there’s no valor, there’s no Silver Star. There was no enemy fire, yet McChrystal authored, he closely supervised over a number of days this fraudulent medal recommendation that talked about devastating enemy fire.

GREGORY: And that’s the important piece of it. And, and he actually testified earlier this year before the Senate, and this is what he said about it.

(Videotape, June 2, 2009)

LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Now, what happens, in retrospect, is–and I would do this differently if I had the chance again–in retrospect they look contradictory, because we sent a Silver Star that was not well-written. And although I went through the process, I will tell you now I didn’t review the citation well enough to capture–or I didn’t catch that if you read it you could imply that it was not friendly fire.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Even those who were critical of him and the Army say they don’t think he willfully deceived anyone.

MR. KRAKAUER: That’s correct. He, he just said now he didn’t read this hugely important document about the most famous soldier in the military. He didn’t read it carefully enough to notice that it talked about enemy fire instead of friendly fire? That’s preposterous. That, that’s not believable.

Watch Krakauer’s MTP appearance here:

Perhaps this is penance. Perhaps McChrystal learned valuable lessons from the Tillman affair. Perhaps more than anyone now he is uniquely suited to help military families better. Perhaps this is the second chance we all deserve, the chance to right certain wrongs. But for McChrystal to return to public service to lead a program for military families and for the mainstream media not to mention his role in the cover-up of the death of one of the most famous soldiers of the past few decades is simply astonishing.

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