Better training needed to ensure safety of soldiers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The issue: Soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Our position: Better training, other steps needed to prevent &8216;friendly fire.’

Losing someone in the military during war is devastating. Finding out later that poor training and planning were to blame for soldiers being killed by friendly fire is worse.

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Two soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by friendly fire, a military investigation has revealed. The two men weren’t from this area. One, Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Mont., and the other, Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Arz., were killed at an Army outpost in Ramadi, in western Iraq on Feb. 2. At first, the families were told the men were killed by enemy fire.

The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information request and the military released its investigation into the two deaths. The families of the two soldiers were told in March that their loved ones might have been killed by friendly fire.

Further, the investigators said the two men were killed by tank fire from a second U.S. Army outpost after insurgents attacked both from different positions. The tank gunner and commander of the second outpost thought the fire was coming from insurgents rather than the first outpost.

The investigators said the deaths were not the result of negligence but errors in judgment the military attributed to &8220;deficiencies in training, manning, mission preparation, target validation procedures and tactical level friendly force marking, that if addressed and corrected, can limit fratricide such as this in the future.&8221;

This investigation likely is very little solace this Christmas to the families of those soldiers. Indeed, tales such as these coming from the battlefields raise additional fears in the hears of everyone who has a loved one in Iraq or other hot spots in the world.

It isn’t the first time the military has come into question over training and then being reluctant to admit mistakes.

Remember Pat Tillman, former safety for the Arizona Cardinals, who was killed in April 2004 in Afghanistan. The initial report came out that Tillman had been killed by enemy gunfire, although many soldiers knew he had been killed by his fellow troops. Five weeks passed before his family was told the truth about Tillman’s death. The Army has said it was a procedural delay.

The military needs to step up. It already has shown good faith. As a result of the Tillman debacle, the Army changed its notification process and ordered unit commanders to investigate every hostile death, so families will know the truth about how their loved one died.

While these steps are worthy, the military needs to ensure that soldiers are well trained and they work effectively under stressful conditions to prevent senseless deaths due to &8220;friendly fire.&8221;