!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: David Uthlaut
David Uthlaut was a participant or observer in the following events:
Cover of Mary Tillman’s book, titled after reason given for order to split platoon. [Source: Rodalestore (.com)]En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004] Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” [ESPN, 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino, 2008] Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. [Tillman and Zacchino, 2008, pp. 51]
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal.
Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ] Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Half of Pat Tillman’s platoon, the Black Sheep, attempts to exit a narrow canyon-slot in southeastern Afghanistan where it has been ambushed (see 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). Coming out of the ambush, the part of the platoon known as Serial Two, in which Tillman’s brother Kevin rides, fires on Serial One, Pat Tillman’s convoy (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Serial Two out of Canyon, Keeps Firing - As the men in Serial Two race out of the canyon, firing at an enemy they believe surrounds them, they do not know where One is positioned. And they do not know that One is trying to provide them with cover. Testifying in the Army’s later criminal investigation, Pat Tillman’s squad leader, Sergeant Matthew Weeks, will state that he “heard over the radio” of Two’s change in route. But he does not recall being able to get through to Two to coordinate their positions. Yet, he will state that because Two had been briefed as to One’s route, according to “Ranger training,” its men should have been able to maintain “situational awareness.” He will add that he does not think, however, that they “had any idea how close we were.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Pat Tillman Leads Fire Team - Specialist Bryan O’Neal is nearest in proximity to Pat Tillman during the whole of the firefight. Initially, upon hearing an explosion, Lieutenant David Uthlaut orders the first convoy to dismount and “press the fight.” He assigns Tillman as one of the three fire team leaders. Tillman dismounts the second vehicle in the convoy and beckons for O’Neal, in the lead vehicle, to hurry up and follow him. One of the Allied Militia Forces (AMF) soldiers, an Afghani armed with an AK 47, has dismounted the vehicle he shares with four other AMFs and their interpreter, and he catches up with O’Neal and Tillman, the three of them then taking a position on a spur on the outskirts of a nearby village. Testifying in the third Army investigation which will, subsequent to this day’s events, be conducted by Brigadier General Gary Jones, O’Neal will state that he follows Tillman’s fire, opening up where he believes Tillman thinks the attackers are firing from. O’Neal can see muzzle flashes up on top of the ridge line. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Army, 7/19/2006 ; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Serial Two Draws Fire; AMF Soldier Fires AK-47 over Road - Weeks will report seeing muzzle flashes and silhouettes and that the first convoy “received fire from across the valley as well.” Tillman runs back to his squad’s leader to ask him if he can take off his body armor and also to let him know where he is positioned. According to Army regulations, Weeks cannot allow him to drop his body armor. O’Neal will tell Army criminal investigators that while Tillman seeks orders from Weeks, the AMF soldier is “firing in all directions… firing over the main road.” Coming back to position, Tillman tells the small firing team that it will be running up a hill.
Squad Leader Weeks Gives Cease-Fire Signal; Sets off Flare - At this time, Weeks gets a radio transmission with the information that “Serial Two [is] mounting up to get around the tow truck vehicle.” He will state: “I remember the lead vehicle starting to make its way out of the canyon, after I had to stand up and look over the spur. I told everybody on the fire teams that friendlies [were] coming out of the low ground, and the lead vehicle was coming out of the canyon, and they mimiced [sic] the call. When I saw the vehicle coming out I also saw [Tillman’s] position. I knew Serial Two did not know where we were.” He will further relate that he rolls on his back and prepares a pen flare gun, then sees a vehicle carrying Sergeant Greg Baker and others stop and “the M240B gunner in the back… fire a burst of fire towards me.” Weeks sets off the flare and gives the cease-fire signal; although some of the soldiers will state to criminal investigators that there is no such signal known, others confirm that the signal is made by waving a hand and arm over the front of the face, palm out. As Weeks does this, he hears another burst, and then people in Baker’s vehicle shouting “cease fire.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.