15 Movies & Documentaries That Expose the Broken Military Justice System

Soldier’s Girl (Showtime):

New Army recruit Barry Winchell is assigned to a base in Tennessee. One night out to a local bar hosting a drag show. Calpernia Addams an in-transition transsexual drag queen, fascinates Barry, and they strike up a relationship. -Soldier’s Girl, Showtime (January 20, 2003)

Showtime Entertainment Released ‘Soldier’s Girl’: Based on the True Story of the Murder of Fort Campbell Army Pfc. Barry Winchell

In the Valley of Elah (Warner Bros):

“In the Valley of Elah” tells the story of a war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones), his wife (Susan Sarandon) and the search for their son, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing, and the police detective (Charlize Theron) who helps in the investigation. -Warner Bros. (September 14, 2007)

Warner Bros. Premiered ‘In the Valley of Elah’: Based on the True Story of the Murder of Fort Benning Army Spc. Richard T. Davis

The Tillman Story (The Weinstein Company):

Pat Tillman never thought of himself as a hero. His choice to leave a multimillion-dollar football contract and join the military wasn’t done for any reason other than he felt it was the right thing to do. The fact that the military manipulated his tragic death in the line of duty into a propaganda tool is unfathomable and thoroughly explored in Amir Bar-Lev’s riveting and enraging documentary. -The Tillman Story (August 20, 2010)

The NFL, the MilItary, and the Hijacking of Pat Tillman’s Story

The Wounded Platoon (Frontline PBS):

The Wounded Platoon

Since the Iraq War began, soldier arrests in the city of Colorado Springs have tripled. FRONTLINE tells the dark tale of the men of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st battalion of the 506th infantry, and how the war followed them home. It is a story of heroism, grief, vicious combat, depression, drugs, alcohol and brutal murder; an investigation into the Army’s mental health services; and a powerful portrait of what multiple tours and post-traumatic stress are doing to a generation of young American soldiers. –The Wounded Platoon (May 18, 2010)

Frontline PBS: The Wounded Platoon Documentary [Full Episode]

On the Dark Side of Al Doura (Maverick Media):

U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow soldiers in Al Doura, Iraq. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which, in the public interest, are now released in this video. John paid a terrible price for his opposition to these acts. His story is tragic. –On the Dark Side in Al Doura (2011)

On the Dark Side in Al Doura (Iraq): Documentary Gives You an Inside Look at Toxic Leadership in the U.S. Army

The Invisible War (Cinedigm):

The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of our country’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within our US military. Today, a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire with the number of assaults in the last decade alone in the hundreds of thousands. -The Invisible War (June 22, 2012)

Military Rape Documentary Funded and Distributed by “Serial Predator” and Hollywood Movie Executive Harvey Weinstein

Women of War Documentary (Sundance Films):

Military Sexual Trauma or M.S.T. has been a fixture in the military for as long as human war has existed, and is still quite prevalent even in today’s modern military. This feature length documentary uncovers the origins and offers solutions to M.S.T. -Women of War Documentary (February 4, 2013)

Women of War Documentary, Phil Valentine [Full Episode]

The Frozen Ground (Grindstone):

“The Frozen Ground” is inspired by the incredible true story that follows Alaskan State Trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) as he sets out to end the murderous rampage of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a serial killer who has gone unnoticed for 13 years. As the bodies of street girls start to pile up in Anchorage, fear strikes a chord with the public. -The Frozen Ground (August 23, 2013)

Serial Killer & Army Reserve Veteran Robert C. Hansen Died of Natural Causes While Serving Out a Life Sentence in Alaska State Prison

The Silent Truth (Midtown Films):

Ninety-four US military women in the military have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). ‘The Silent Truth’ tells the story of one of these women, PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson, who was found dead on Balad Air Force Base in Iraq. The army claimed she shot herself with her own M16 rifle, but forensic evidence, obtained by the Johnson family through the Freedom of Information Act, brings the army’s findings into question. The Army refuses to re-open LaVena Johnson’s case, leaving the family in limbo. ‘The Silent Truth’ follows the Johnson’s pursuit of justice and truth for their daughter. -The Silent Truth Documentary (July 1, 2014)

‘The Silent Truth’ Documentary: The Rape, Murder & Military Cover-Up of Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq

The Kill Team (PBS Independent Lens):

The Kill Team looks at the devastating moral tensions that tear at soldiers’ psyches through the lens of one highly personal and emotional story. Private Adam Winfield was a 21-year-old soldier in Afghanistan when he attempted with the help of his father to alert the military to heinous war crimes his platoon was committing. But Winfield’s pleas went unheeded. Left on his own and with threats to his life, Private Winfield was himself drawn into the moral abyss, forced to make a split-second decision that would change his life forever. -The Kill Team, (July 25, 2014)

The PBS Documentary ‘The Kill Team’ Reveals How the Military Justice System Operates in Response to Media Scandals

Gangs in the U.S. Army (A&E Television):

Sworn to protect us from every enemy, foreign and domestic, and every day the majority of soldiers do just that ! yet some units are being compromised and turn into street gangs. An FBI report recently showed an increased gang activity within US soldiers. -Gangs in the U.S. Army Documentary (2017)

Gangs in the Military: Armed and Dangerous Forces

Final Vision (Investigation Discovery):

The ID Original Movie, FINAL VISION tells the true story of Jeffrey MacDonald, a handsome, Ivy League-educated U.S. Army Green Beret doctor, who was convicted of brutally murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters in the middle of the night. -Final Vision, Investigation Discovery (December 10, 2017)

Investigation Discovery Premiered ‘Final Vision’: The True Crime Story of Former Army Captain Jeffrey MacDonald

The Kill Team (A24):

When a young US soldier in Afghanistan witnesses other recruits killing civilians under the direction of a sadistic sergeant, he begins to fear that the men he’s serving with might be the ones to kill him. -The Kill Team (October 25, 2019)

‘The Kill Team’ Movie Released: Based on the True Story of Army Whistleblower Adam Winfield

Leavenworth (STARZ):

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and executive producers Paul Pawlowski and David Check tell the story of First Lieutenant Clint Lorance. Watch the Official Trailer for the upcoming STARZ Original Docuseries, Leavenworth, premiering October 20 on the STARZ App. (August 28, 2019)

STARZ Premiered ‘Leavenworth’: Docu-Series Examines Army 1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance Afghanistan ‘War Crimes’ Case

Ready for War (Showtime):

Andrew Renzi sheds light on the lives of three of the estimated thousands of immigrants who volunteer for service in the American military, yet find themselves deported from the US once their tours of duty are over. -Ready for War, Showtime (November 22, 2019)

The ultimate threat for deported U.S. veterans? Drug cartels, new documentary says

ProPublica: ‘Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed by Its Own Navy’ (February 6, 2019)

This is footage from the deck of the USS Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy destroyer, of the moments immediately after it was struck by cargo ship MV ACX Crystal, in the South China Sea around 1:30 a.m. on June 17, 2017. The picture goes dark for a second as the Crystal hits, then the Fitz is knocked into a 360-degree rotation. 7 sailors died. Our investigation found that the collision was preventable. Read the investigation here -ProPublica

ProPublica:
Part I: Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed by its Own Navy
Part II: Years of Warnings, Then Death & Disaster: How the Navy Failed Its Sailors
In Navy Disasters, Neglect, Mistakes, and 17 Lost Sailors (Snapshot of Sailors)
How We Investigated the Navy’s Twin Disasters in the Pacific
Senate Committee Grills Navy Official Over 2017 Collisions, Seeking Data to Prove Conditions Have Changed
Exclusive: Footage of USS Fitzgerald After Collision w/ ACX Crystal (YouTube)

USS Fitzgerald Casualties (June 17, 2017):
Shingo Douglass, 25
Noe Hernandez, 26
Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25
Xavier Martin, 24
Gary Rehm Jr., 37
Dakota Rigsby, 19
Carlos Victor Sibayan, 23

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USS John McCain Casualties (August 21, 2017):
Kevin Bushell, 26
Dustin Doyon, 26
Jacob Drake, 21
Timothy Eckels, 23
Charles Findley, 31
John Hoagland, 20
Corey Ingram, 28
Abraham Lopez, 39
Logan Palmer, 23
Kenneth Smith, 22

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In the News:

An investigation with our reporting partners at ProPublica into the 2017 collisions of U.S.S. Fitzgerald and U.S.S. McCain suggest that the Navy had ignored warnings, and postponed critical training and repairs before those deadly accidents. -NBC News

A ProPublica investigation revealed new details into two separate collisions of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald and John S. McCain that led to the deaths of 17 sailors. Robert Faturechi was one of the authors of the investigation, and joined CBSN to discuss their findings. -CBS News

Related Links:
Investigation Into Fatal Navy Collisions Reveals Failures In Repairs And Training
Investigation reveals new details about two 2017 naval ship crashes
The seven sailors who died in USS Fitzgerald collision
10 Who Served at Sea: The Sailors Who Went Missing in the Navy Collision
USS Fitzgerald Victims: Photos to Remember the Sailors’ Lives
ACX Crystal: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Bryce Benson: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
USS Fitzgerald officer pleads guilty to role in deadly collision
Former USS John S. McCain commander pleads guilty in plea deal, will retire
Defense team: Navy brass made it impossible for former Fitzgerald skipper to get fair trial
No dismissal in court-martial of USS Fitzgerald commander
Fitzgerald, McCain collisions: Are the right people being held to account?
On This Day: Seven Sailors Died After the U.S. Navy Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Collided with the Container Ship ACX Crystal Off the Coast of Japan (June 17, 2017)

Navy Sailor Brandon Caserta Died by Suicide at Naval Station Norfolk; Family Pushing for Suicide Prevention Legislation ‘The Brandon Act’ Focusing on Hazing & Bullying (June 25, 2018)

Brandon Caserta

AEAN Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy (photo courtesy of the Caserta family)

The Brandon Act:

I can honestly say no one is looking in this because at this point, no one cares. I just looked at the suicide rate right now in the Navy and it is now reported 43 for the year so far. I looked at it on Wednesday of last week and it was at 37. What the heck is going on and when will someone anyone going to start caring about the men and women in our Armed Forces? We need to respect the flag AND the men and women who defend it and save their lives like they do us. We all need to write to our senators and congressional staff. We need The Brandon Act passed and quickly.

I’m going to explain what “The Brandon Act” is. It is designed to be a safe word that men and women in our Armed Forces can use if they are subjects of any kind of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional or mentally. Abuse comes in many, many forms to include bullying, hazing, threats, sexual, abusive leadership, and any kind of mental and emotional abuse. These are just a few abusive tactics that can be done to someone. “The Brandon Act” protects those who come forward asking for help. It is designed for these men and women to come forward and get the help they need and if the abuse merits it, the sailor or troop will have a right to ask to be reassigned to another command or unit without any retaliation whatsoever from anyone in their current command or their next assignment. Our hope is to bring suicides to an end and by using this “Act” will hopefully allow them the courage to get help when they need it and get them healed and back on the right path. This “Act” is in front of Congress right now and hopefully very soon, they will approve and pass it once it’s completely written. Thank you for reading. #thebrandonact

-Patrick and Teri Caserta (Brandon Caserta’s parents)

Sailor’s Death at Naval Station Norfolk Ruled Suicide:

Sailor’s death at Naval Station Norfolk ruled suicide. -WAVY TV 10 (June 26, 2018)

Peoria Family Hopes for Change in Military Culture After Son Takes His Own Life:

As Teri Caserta entered her son’s bedroom in their Peoria home, she broke down. It’s an emotion that Teri and her husband Patrick Caserta will always carry with them. Their son Brandon was in the United States Navy from 2015 to 2018. However, at just 21, Brandon would take his own life. -ABC 15 Arizona (June 14, 2019)

Parents of Norfolk-Based Sailor Who Committed Suicide Want Changes:

Brandon Caserta, 21, was a sailor. He died by suicide while stationed in Norfolk. His parents hope new legislation will protect future military men and women. -13 News Now (October 4, 2019)

Updates on The Brandon Act:
The Brandon Act | Facebook Public Page
‘Everybody’s overworked’ — string of Navy suicides raises concerns over sailor stress and toxic leadership
Following son’s death, Capital Region family raises flag on suicides in Navy
Family of Sailor who committed suicide at Naval Station Norfolk pushes for change
Parents hopeful sailor son’s suicide leads to legislation

Navy AEAN Brandon Caserta was stationed with the Helicopter Combat Sea Squadron 28 (HSC-28) at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia when he died by suicide on June 25, 2018. While Brandon’s parents were on the phone with Navy leadership at the Squadron, Brandon walked out on the flight line, apologized to the plane captain (who is in-charge of the flight line), and hurled himself into a helicopter rotor, dying instantly. AEAN Caserta had a brief career with the Navy and it didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. He had failed Special Warfare Training and was transferred into a new career field as a result. And then unexpectedly Brandon broke his collar-bone in a bicycle accident, which also negatively impacted his Navy career. At the moment Brandon Caserta made his final walk out to the flight line, his father Patrick Caserta was on the phone with the command expressing concern for his son’s welfare. Patrick was making plans to fly out to Naval Station Norfolk to explore his son’s legal options.

Desperate for answers, the Casertas reached out to Brandon’s chain of command and friends but eventually everyone stopped responding. The Casertas were told by many friends in Brandon’s command that leadership ordered a cessation of communications. Before the silence, Brandon’s friends shared that they thought he appeared to be suffering from depression, feelings of worthlessness, and anger, hence the reason he left a note asking the Navy be held accountable. As a result of the information gleaned from the note and those who knew Brandon, the HSC-28 conducted an investigation of itself; basically the fox guarding the henhouse. Although they knew months in advance of the problems, the report did note that Brandon’s supervisor had a history of berating and belittling those who worked for him. As a matter of fact, this supervisor could have been court-martialed under UCMJ Article 93, Cruelty and Maltreatment, but he wasn’t. Instead, Military.com reports he received no punishment and was transferred with a “declining evaluation” (and this was only after it was heard and reported that he made “derogatory and inflammatory comments concerning the deceased”).

“I want to see as many people fired, kicked out or, at the very least, lose rank.” -Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy

According to Military.com, the Navy’s suicide rate in 2018 was the highest it’s ever been. And it was reported that a post-mortem analyses of suicides in the military usually showed the victim “faced major issues like financial problems, relationship problems, medical issues, and mental health conditions.” The military reporter reached out to Dave Matsuda, an anthropologist at California State University-East Bay, who researched and studied a suicide cluster among soldiers in Iraq in 2010. Matsuda’s research found some non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers in the chain of command made their subordinates’ lives a “living hell.” Matsuda also added that although the “bad leaders weren’t fully responsible for the suicides, they helped push the soldiers over the edge.” But in a system where the Navy is investigating the Navy, we have learned that the Chain of Command isn’t going to admit there is a problem. They have a history of blaming the victim and/or scapegoating an enlisted NCO or lower ranking military officer.

Brandon’s father, Patrick Caserta, a retired U.S. Navy sailor himself, asserts the Command was “so hostile, corruptive and unethical,” that they tormented Brandon and drove him past the brink of despair. Patrick and Teri Caserta wholeheartedly believe the command murdered their son. Patrick reminded us that the military talks about trauma, exposure to war, and mental health, but they don’t talk about harassment and bullying. He believes military leadership do not want to admit harassment, bullying, and retaliation happen or admit they are at fault. In the days and weeks that followed their son’s death, Patrick and Teri also learned from those who worked with Brandon that they were all dealing with a high operational tempo and manpower shortfalls. Brandon’s co-workers believed “personal issues were not a high priority and Brandon’s death could have been prevented.” And an anonymous message sent to the squadron commander on June 18, 2018 revealed the abuse was ongoing before Brandon died.

According to the message, Brandon’s supervisor called subordinates his “bitches,” referred to the chiefs as “douchebags” and “dumbasses” behind their backs, and “treated workers worse than garbage” and “like dogs.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

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Military.com reported that Brandon Caserta’s death was one of 68 Navy suicides in 2018. They also reported the rise in military suicides appears to mirror an increase in suicides among the general U.S. population. Suicide experts are struggling to understand why so many are dying by suicide. Some factors for suicide risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), include “spending time in prison or jail, having a mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem, experiencing family violence, a history of suicide, and having guns in the home.” Brandon’s family believes their son’s suicide was a direct result of toxic leadership, one superior who harassed and bullied Brandon, pushing him over the edge. According to Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, a toxic leader “operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest,” consistently using “dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves.” Although it appears there are multiple variables that impact when a service member chooses to die by suicide, the experts need to find out the why so we can save our service member’s lives. What is happening in their environment that makes them feel like suicide is the only way out?

The directive states, toxic leaders exhibit a combination of “self centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

Military.com reported that one of Brandon’s co-workers helped shed some insight into the toxic climate at the Navy’s HSC-28 squadron. He accused leadership of deploying personnel in retaliation for speaking up and not doing as they are told. This particular individual requested that he remain at the squadron when his wife got sick because he needed to support her and their two girls. But his leadership was going to deploy him with a detachment anyways. So he filed an Inspector General complaint and thankfully was transferred out of the squadron in a couple weeks. He believes Navy personnel have a “fear of retribution” because the command is resentful of the service members who can’t deploy. Brandon’s family experienced a form of retaliation as well. The unit held a memorial service for Brandon four days after he died but Patrick and Teri said they were not invited by anyone in the HSC-28 command. Patrick Caserta believes the family was excluded out of sheer pettiness; leadership wanted to continue to conceal and coverup what truly happened. Regardless of the reason, it was a violation of Navy policy.

“Navy policy states that the command should provide round-trip travel and allowances to family members to attend a command memorial service.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

On May 31, 2019, after the command learned that Military.com had made phone calls regarding the Casertas’ allegations, Navy personnel indicated there was a “culture of fear” at the squadron. The Casertas are so angry and distraught that communications have stopped that they offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who came forward with information that “lead to successful prosecution of individuals in their son’s chain of command.” They have also met with the congressional staff of at least a dozen senators and representatives, including Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to discuss “the treatment they and Brandon received, request an independent investigation, and promote efforts to prevent suicide linked to toxic leadership.” They also would like to see the Navy implement Brandon Caserta’s request in his suicide note regarding the re-rate process: “sailors who don’t complete the training for the rate they initially sought should be able to select any other training they qualify for with their Armed Services Vocational Battery (ASVAB) test results.”

Anthropologist Dave Matsuda told Military.com that to truly address the problem of suicide in the armed forces, “all the services need to consider ‘toxic leadership’ when analyzing the deaths of each individual.” If we understand the why, we can prevent suicide. Matsuda also believes operational leaders should not rely on “the boot camp strategy of breaking people down to build them back up.” Matsuda concluded with the assertion that indeed a toxic command climate can trigger suicidal behavior. One year later, Patrick and Teri Caserta are determined to get justice for their only son, because they believe this tragedy could’ve been prevented. The pair also report that Congress is drafting “The Brandon Act,” which is “federal legislation aimed at ending military suicides, holding commanders accountable, and halting the bullying and hazing that occurs within military ranks.” Please contact both the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) members and your Senators and Representative to ask that they too support our troops by supporting The Brandon Act. Our service members deserve a chance at a beautiful life post military.

“The Brandon Act” is designed to be a safe word that men and women in our Armed Forces can use if they are subjects of any kind of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional or mentally. Abuse comes in many, many forms to include bullying, hazing, threats, sexual, abusive leadership, and any kind of mental and emotional abuse. These are just a few abusive tactics that can be done to someone. “The Brandon Act” protects those who come forward asking for help. It is designed for these men and women to come forward and get the help they need and if the abuse merits it, the sailor or troop will have a right to ask to be reassigned to another command or unit without any retaliation whatsoever from anyone in their current command or their next assignment. Our hope is to bring suicides to an end and by using this “Act” will hopefully allow them the courage to get help when they need it and get them healed and back on the right path. This “Act” is in front of Congress right now and hopefully very soon, they will approve and pass it once it’s completely written. Thank you for reading. –Justice for Brandon Caserta on Facebook (June 20, 2019) #TheBrandonAct

Sources: Patrick Caserta (Brandon’s father), Patricia Kime, Military.com, and related links

Related Links:
The Brandon Act | Facebook Public Page
Obituary: Brandon Patrick Caserta (June 25, 2018)
3rd Cowpens CO Fired Since 2010; CMC Relieved (2014)
Army Takes On Its Own Toxic Leaders (2014)
‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh (2017)
Navy: Failures of Leaders, Watchstanders Led to Deadly Ship Collisions (2017)
Former MCPON Bawled Out Staff, Made Sailors Fetch Coffee: Investigation
His Suicide Note Was a Message to the Navy. The Way He Died Was the Exclamation Point
When Driven to Suicide, at a Minimum it is Manslaughter! – The Navy’s Incessant Harassment of Brandon Caserta Ultimately Drove Him to Suicide – People Were Promoted, Instead of Held Accountable
Suicides Are Still On The Rise In The Military — Is That Really a Surprise? Spoiler: The Answer Is ‘No.’
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life (YouTube)
An Open Letter to Air Force Commanders about Suicide
‘Everybody’s overworked’ — string of Navy suicides raises concerns over sailor stress and toxic leadership
Following son’s death, Capital Region family raises flag on suicides in Navy
Family of Sailor who committed suicide at Naval Station Norfolk pushes for change
Parents hopeful sailor son’s suicide leads to legislation
Parents of Norfolk-based sailor who committed suicide want changes
Sailor’s death at Naval Station Norfolk ruled suicide
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Parents of Norfolk-based sailor who committed suicide want changes
Army Staff Sgt. Paul Norris Fatally Shot Army Spc. Kamisha Block in Iraq After She Ended a Forbidden Relationship, Then Ended His Own Life (August 16, 2007)
Camp Lejeune Marine Maria Lauterbach & Unborn Child Murdered, Remains Discovered in Fellow Marine’s Backyard; Cesar Laurean Sentenced to Life in Prison, No Parole (December 15, 2007)
Military Rape Survivor Army Sgt. Amanda Sheldon Died by Suicide After Suffering With Depression; Family Hopes Her Death May Spark Change (October 7, 2010)
Lauterbach Case Prompts Policy Reforms for Victims of Crime in the Military (December 25, 2011)
Army Directive 2011-19: Expedited Transfer or Reassignment Procedures for Victims of Sexual Assault (3 Oct 11)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members (2016)
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (2017)
Are More Male’s Victims of Violent Crime in the United States Than Females? (2017)
September: U.S. Department of Defense Casualties Report from September 11, 2001 to Present (2017)
Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces, Transfer Policies Panel (2017)
48 Hours NCIS Premiered ‘Trail of Fire’ on CBS: Holley Wimunc, Domestic Violence, and the Holley Lynn James Act (June 26, 2018)
ProPublica: ‘Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed by Its Own Navy’ (February 6, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
The Brandon Act | Justice for Brandon Caserta
Justice for Brandon Caserta | Facebook
Navy Failed Their Son | ABC 15 Arizona

Clear Pattern of the Army Tossing Soldiers Who Have PTSD

The Wounded Platoon

The Wounded Platoon (PBS)

Day after day I hear first hand accounts of not only the Army but all of the Armed Forces forcing troops out for PTSD or some trumped up misconduct charge. And what really gets my goat is that these are people who have been in the military for a long time, have deployed overseas, and now suffer from some kind of war injury. Is this the way that you envisioned the military would treat our troops after all that they have sacrificed.

I find it ironic that Officers who get caught with felony charges can quietly retire after the media blows it up to hold them accountable. Yet a soldier who has been in 19 years, did four rotations overseas, and snapped on the fourth rotation because you sent them there knowing they had PTSD, gets the bad conduct discharge. This is criminal. How dare you Army do this to someone with 19 years of dedicated service. What happened to the whole person concept? Why is it that a fight or flight response is now being used against a soldier when the symptoms include disassociation, irritability, distrust, fear, etc. Why is it that you act like people are faking when they just did four tours of duty.

Continue reading

NBC Bay Area: California Guard Tries to Serve Firing Papers to Member After Suicide Attempt (June 25, 2013)

Air National Guard SealThe California National Guard tried to serve termination papers to one of its members in the hospital just hours after a suicide attempt last month, the Investigative Unit has learned.

Those close to Jessica Brown, a master sergeant with Moffett Field’s 129th Rescue Wing, say they believe the move is retaliation for exposing what has been described as a toxic culture inside the Guard. Last November in front of NBC Bay Area cameras, Brown criticized her leaders for failing to properly handle a sexual assault she says happened to her while on duty in Las Vegas.

“To me, it felt like it would be better if I was dead,” Brown said in the November interview. “I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t handle it anymore. I wasn’t sleeping again, and when I did sleep the nightmares were so bad.” -NBC Bay Area

See NBC Bay Area video here.

Related Links:
NBC Bay Area: California National Guard Culture Questioned (November 14, 2012)
NBC Bay Area | Military Women: We Got Fired for Being Raped (August 21, 2014)
NBC Bay Area: California National Guard Military Sexual Assault Bill Becomes Law (August 21, 2014)

On the Dark Side in Al Doura (Iraq): Documentary Gives You an Inside Look at Toxic Leadership in the U.S. Army (December 17, 2011)

U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow soldiers in Al Doura, Iraq. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which, in the public interest, are now released in this video. John paid a terrible price for his opposition to these acts. His story is tragic. –On the Dark Side in Al Doura (December 17, 2011)

After watching the 2011 documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ which profiles the case of Army Private John Needham, one can clearly observe the similarities to ‘The Kill Team’ PBS documentary released in 2014. On the Dark Side in Al Doura interviewed Michael Needham, the father of John Needham, who was an Army whistleblower from Fort Carson, Colorado and reported witnessing war crimes and atrocities in Iraq; The Kill Team profiled Adam Winfield, an Army whistleblower from Fort Lewis, Washington who witnessed and tried to report the same war crimes and atrocities in Afghanistan. For the sake of preservation, both John Needham and Adam Winfield admitted feeling pressured to conform or risk their own lives if they didn’t. They both felt like they were being set up to die or participate in the war crimes. Both soldiers at times felt like suicide was their only way out because there was no safe place for them to report overseas nor could they escape the situation. If they made it out of the war zone alive, the return home didn’t fair well for them. The PBS documentary  ‘The Wounded Platoon’ released in 2010 reveals the impacts the wars overseas had on Fort Carson soldiers. After watching these three documentaries, it’s clear why our soldier’s combat experiences traumatized and changed some of them. They not only had to fight a credible threat on the battlefields but some were betrayed by the very team they depended on for their lives.

Michael Needham takes us through the series of events that occurred in the course of John’s short Army career. He shared how John was the fifth generation in the family to fight in a war. John volunteered to join the Army in the spring of 2006, went to Fort Benning, Georgia for training, and then got stationed at Fort Carson. John was an Army Ranger assigned to the 212th, 2nd Combat Team, 12th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was part of the infamous team known as the ‘Lethal Warriors’ which now appears to be disbanded. Part of his initiation into his new band of brothers was fighting other soldiers to determine where one fell in the pecking order. John held his own in the fights and was respected for his wins. According to John, the soldiers that didn’t fair so well in the fights were ‘smoked’ by leadership and peers, which ultimately forced them to leave, quit, or commit suicide. In October of 2006 John was deployed with his Fort Carson team to Al Doura, Iraq. His team was assigned to the Quarter Cav which was known for having some of the deadliest fights in the Iraq war.

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Private John Needham, U.S. Army

John was a good soldier. He worked hard, saved lives in Iraq, and was awarded three medals for heroism and two Purple Hearts. John excelled as part of team, was brave, and his resilience was admirable. But during the course of John’s deployment, he witnessed war crimes and other atrocities committed by leadership and his fellow soldiers that affected his morale. John would also admit that initially he wasn’t quiet about it and when he did question superiors, he was told he didn’t have the right to question leadership. He didn’t dare report the war crimes via e-mail or telephone because he knew leadership could monitor everything. So for the sake of preservation and life’s sake, he did what he had to do to get by and stay alive. John would share that the Army was short of personnel so most of the soldiers got driven into the ground and deprived of sleep. After awhile John felt that he was forced into committing war atrocities that were illegal but feared if he didn’t do it, he would become a liability to the team and ultimately a casualty of his own people.

One night John was sent out on a mission with a Lieutenant (who did not commit war crimes yet remained silent). John thought this was unusual because they didn’t usually get sent out in pairs. They were ambushed by three shooters in the middle of the night who were determined to see them dead. When the shooting began, John pushed the Lieutenant to safety and kept the shooters at bay. He shot every round he had and when he was almost out of ammunition, he called the 212th for back-up on the radio but nobody answered him. Luckily another team was nearby who did answer him and was able to extract the soldiers from the situation and save their lives. It would be this incident that would break John’s spirit. He immediately suspected that he and the other soldier were sent on this mission to be killed. When he got back to the base, he began yelling “Why did you set us up?” And “If you want to kill me, kill me to my face!” But nobody acknowledged him so he went back to his tent where he decided that he would commit suicide. John was exhausted, irate, and he saw no way out. He didn’t want to live anymore. He felt that committing suicide was his only way out. John put a handgun to his head but just as he got ready to pull the trigger, his roommate dove and pushed the gun away from his head. The gun discharged and put a hole in the wall. Soldiers immediately began ascending upon the area. According to John, once leadership learned what happened, they held him down and beat him then locked him in captivity in a small room. The Battalion Commander was the one who kept John captive yet he didn’t press any formal charges.

John’s father Michael learned through John’s friends in Afghanistan that John was being held captive by the Battalion Commander. They were concerned about him. John’s family was already concerned about John’s earlier e-mails and posts on MySpace because it sounded like he had given up, which was not like him. With this information Michael Needham contacted Army commands, Fort Carson, Congressional leaders and the Army Inspector General (IG). He reports that the only office that took him seriously at the time was the IG. Michael was trying to save his son’s life. He told the IG that he didn’t want him to die. The IG’s office shared a list of rights for both John and Michael. And it was at this time Michael learned that he had third party rights and could intervene and act on John’s behalf. Michael was finally able to get in touch with the Battalion Commander only to learn that John was being treated like a criminal. The Battalion Commander informed Michael that John committed crimes and was being sent to prison in Kuwait. But Michael was able to intervene and get the Command to send him to medical instead. Medical determined that John was severely injured both physically and mentally. He had significant back injuries from the multiple explosions and blasts, shrapnel in his body, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Army medical in Iraq referred John to medical in Germany and from there he would be sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the states. But not before the Battalion Commander would put up one more roadblock. Instead, Michael Needham won this battle and John was flown to Germany.

Eventually, John was sent to Ward 54 which is the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed. Michael shared that John appeared to like the psychiatric help he was getting. A month into John’s stay at Walter Reed, he was informed that the Iraq Battalion Commander contacted the 212th Command in Colorado and requested that John be sent back to Fort Carson where he was facing criminal charges including unlawful discharge of a weapon. They were making him go and sent armed guards to accompany him back to Fort Carson. Michael Needham tried to intervene with the 212th at Fort Carson but they said they couldn’t do anything because they had orders from the Battalion Commander. John was sent back to Fort Carson and the harassment he endured in Iraq continued with the 212th in Colorado. John shared that they mentally tortured him, banged on his barracks door, stole his things, and isolated him. It was at this time Michael elicited the help of a veteran advocate Andrew Pogany who went to the command in Colorado and held these people personally accountable. Andrew helps soldiers in John’s situation because he understands how important it is to intervene. John could not get the kind of help that he needed at Fort Carson. Michael shared that the soldiers could see a professional once a week if they were suicidal and once a month if they were not. John’s father wanted him transferred to a Naval Medical Center in San Diego for intensive treatment and so he could be closer to home. Andrew helped make that happen.

Michael began to understand the impacts the war had on his son after John got back to California. John couldn’t handle driving above 35 mph, was suspicious of trash on the side of the road, and was easily startled by loud noises. He could not function in public and suffered with what is known as flashbacks. The Naval Medical Center in San Diego recommended that John get surgery on his back right away. They warned him that he could become paralyzed if he didn’t get the surgery. In the meantime Johns father spoke candidly with one of the Navy doctors about the treatment John received both in Iraq and at Fort Carson. He reiterated that he was concerned about his well being and asked him to help him find a way to prevent John from being sent back to Fort Carson, Colorado. Michael Needham feared that if John got sent back to Fort Carson that he would not return. This doctor agreed to help John. And Andrew Pogany recommended that John report the war crimes to the Army in an effort to protect John from being complicit and implicated in the future. John reported to the Army that he witnessed both leadership and peers killing innocent Iraqi civilians during the October 2006 to October 2007 timeframe in and around Al Doura. It wasn’t long after John made the report that all the charges against him were dropped and Fort Carson gave the necessary approval to transfer him to Balboa Naval Command. John went in front of the medical board and was medically retired for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and back injuries. He was discharged honorably from the Army. The Army investigated John’s claims but concluded that no war crimes were committed.

Michael and John won a lot of battles with the US Army but soon they would lose the war. Just days after John was discharged from the Army, he would be accused of beating his new girlfriend to death with his bare hands. John Needham was charged with the murder of Jacqwelyn Villagomez and jailed for ten months until his family raised enough money to get him out on bail. John was not given treatment while jailed so the family was motivated to get him out so he could get the treatment he needed. John did in fact follow through with getting treatment and he learned a lot about himself in the process. He spent some time on camera talking about how the combat stress and the betrayal from his team impacted him. He talked about how he didn’t realize the significant impacts from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. John recognized how PTSD and TBI did in fact play a role in his fight or flight response mechanisms and that it may be because these conditions went untreated that he disocciated, snapped and beat his girlfriend to death. The two were in a heated argument after Jacqwelyn attacked one of John’s female friends. Both of them were volatile but unfortunately there were no witnesses to the event as John’s friend was outside the home calling the police to report Jacqwelyn. While John was awaiting trial, he went to Arizona to get another surgery and visit with his mom. On February 19, 2010 following treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs, John would be found dead in his room from an overdose on painkillers. The cause of death at autopsy was considered undetermined and it is unclear if John accidentally overdosed or committed suicide.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, M.D. (Ret.), a former top military psychiatrist who until recently was a consultant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us: “[TBI ]most sensitively affects executive functioning, that part of the brain that we use for judgment and we use for decision making … when we are in situations of intense emotion. So if a person is affected neurologically … they don’t have the controls that they had before. … They can’t think as clearly. …They are really vulnerable to just reacting, overreacting, particularly maybe doing something that they had done when they’d been in combat.” –The Wounded Platoon

As a parent, Michael Needham has questions for the Army. Why don’t they even recognize the problem? Why don’t they take care of the soldiers? And why did they leave his son John Needham behind? The documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ concludes with the reminder that since the Patriot Act was passed and Dick Cheney declared that we needed to go into the shadows, the definition of torture has been blurred. The Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse scandal erupted under the Bush administration in 2003 but no war crimes have been investigated under President Barack Obama’s administration. If the rule of law has been lost, what do we have? Our military personnel have a responsibility to abide by the rules established by the Geneva Conventions. John Needham and Adam Winfield both reported witnessing innocent civilians murdered by their fellow leadership and peers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They both also shared the impact the crimes had on their mental health and morale. They wished they could have reported the crimes to someone who would have listened and understood that their lives were in danger. We can learn a lot from John Needham and Adam Winfield; they have experienced what it’s like to be a whistleblower in the US Army. They have clearly illustrated what toxic leadership in the Army looks like and how whistleblowers in the US military have nowhere to turn.

Related Links:
Dateline NBC Mystery: Private Needhams War
PBS Documentary: The Wounded Platoon
On the Dark Side in Al Doura: A Soldier in the Shadows
PBS Documentary: The Kill Team
The PBS Documentary ‘The Kill Team’ Nominated for an Emmy
Retired Army Pvt John Needham Beat his Girlfriend Jacqwelyn Villagomez to Death, Then Died of an Overdose on Painkillers Awaiting Murder Trial (2008)
Honoring Jacqwelyn Villagomez who Died at the Hands of Retired Army Private John Needham (2008)

Pvt Danny Chen, US Army, Died of a Non Combat-Related Incident in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan (2011)

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Pvt Danny Chen, US Army

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, US Army, died of a non combat-related incident in Kandahar province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2011. Pvt Chen was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom on behalf of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Related Links:
DOD Identifies Army Casualty
Army Pvt. Danny Chen
Hazing and Harassment in the Military
Army charges 8 in Afghanistan in death of fellow U.S. soldier
8 soldiers charged in death of fellow serviceman
8 U.S. Army Soldiers Charged in Death of Fellow Serviceman in Afghanistan
Danny Chen’s family seeks justice in Army hazing death
Pvt. Danny Chen’s Family Speaks Out Against Military Hazing As Final Soldier Faces Punishment
Pvt. Danny Chen, 1992–2011
Why Black America Should Care About Private Danny Chen’s Suicide
Death of Private Danny Chen: Military Admits Chen was Target of Race-Based Hazing on Daily Basis
Charges referred in Pvt. Danny Chen case
Pvt. Danny Chen committed suicide a day before he was to be transferred, witness says
Army suicide testimony: Sergeant taunted Danny Chen with slurs
As Danny Chen Case Continues, Questions About Soldiers’ Punishments
A Young Private’s Suicide Reflects a Massive Failure of Leadership
Platoon Leader Dismissed from Army for Hazing Death of Pvt. Danny Chen
Military Court Convicts US Soldier in Hazing Trial
Soldier Convicted in Pvt. Danny Chen Suicide Case
Three Years Later, A Moment of Silence for Private Danny Chen
OCA remembers Private Danny Chen
Who Killed Private Danny Chen?
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Pvt. Danny Chen, and our highly conditional love of American soldiers
An Opera Remembers The Tragedy Of An Asian-American Soldier
Manhattan Street Renamed for Danny Chen, Soldier Bullied into Suicide in Afghanistan
Outrage over Army platoon’s ‘Racial Thursdays’ where soldiers would hurl slurs at fellow troops and private who committed suicide once served