Monday, July 21, 2014

Death Anniversary

Daniel Ruf with his mother, Audrey

Daniel Ruf died at age 22 on July 21, 2009 in San Francisco’s Pacific Medical Center after working out with Marine Corps recruiters at In-Shape Gym on Tracy Boulevard to lose weight.
I was truly happy for the first time in my life at the age of 19, the day Danny was born. I raised Danny on my own. I guess in many ways we grew up together. We went through our share of life’s ups and downs but together we always could make it to the other end no matter what the struggle and we even managed to come out stronger and closer.

 The 22 years we had together were the best days of my life. He was so much fun. He grew up to be an amazing young man, a best friend to all who knew him and even those who did not… He truly cared about people and wanted to do what he could to help anyone who needed it. Danny was an amazing young man and the best kid a mom could wish for.

 Danny put himself through college by working 2 jobs; he even took the bus to college an hour away until we could get him a car. Danny never complained.  He made the most of every situation by enjoying the moment and time with friends. By the time Danny was 21 he was a GM Certified Mechanic and had his Associates Degree. This is quite an achievement for a boy raised by a single mom who can barely figure out where to put the oil. The economy caused the dealership to close down and Danny became unemployed for the first time, he was scared and not sure what to do. I pushed him to find work and I regret it with all my heart because he met a marine recruiter and was dead in 3 months at the age of 22.

 Danny signed up for the marines on May 1, 2009 with a boot camp date of July 13. Danny was a very muscular man weighing 215 pounds at 5ft9. The marines wanted him to weigh 190. They suggested water pills, laxatives, sauna suit in the sauna and while exercising under a sweat suit and a water only diet. He tried but 190 was an unachievable weight for Danny’s body type. If they had used the neck waist ratio to determine if he was over-weight Danny would not have been required to lose any weight. I found a receipt dated 3/7/09 filled out by the tailor at Jims Formal Wear’s for a tux showing Danny was 5 ft 9 with a weight of 220 over-arm of 57 inches, a waist of 36 inches and a 17 inch neck. This was at his heaviest weight…

 Danny became frustrated because he could not get his weight down even though he was dieting and working out and decided not to join the marines but did not want to let the recruiter down. Finally on July 6, 2009 Danny went in and told them he could not lose the weight and wanted to quit. They were angry and they told him that he had a tremendous opportunity to be “recon” which Danny loved …. and they gave him a new weight requirement of 199 and said they would check into an opening for July 27. So Danny said he would give it one more try.

 The next day they told Danny the 27th was full so he would need to be the 199lbs by July 20th (16lbs in 13 days). On July 14, Danny was 211lbs and the recruiter said that was not good enough and instructed Danny to report the next morning to the recruiter’s gym as his guest for one-on- one training and time in the sauna with the sauna suit under a sweat suit. The day before Danny and a friend had gone to buy movie tickets and the friend wanted to buy Danny a Subway sandwich. Danny did not want to eat but finally agreed and the recruiter actually came out of the recruiting office to the Subway and demanded to know what Danny was doing, reminding him he is on a no food water only diet until he makes weight.

 Danny came in my room on July 14 2009 and said, “Mom I don’t want to wear the sauna suit.”  I told him if the recruiter told him to do it he should listen because they know what will be best for him. I will never ever forget my words. I could have saved my son. He said, “Okay, mom,” and went to bed.

 The next morning we texted back and forth because he said he was not sure if the marines were right for him. He did not know if he could lose the weight and was worried about the 4 year commitment. He told me he was going to try his hardest and if he makes weight he will go and if not then we would just make a new plan, but he hates to fail. Danny said he was at 209lbs after breakfast that morning.
 I texted him, ”How was the sauna?” but never heard back.  The next call I received was from the local hospital telling me they found my number in his phone under “mom” and needed to know if I was Danny’s mom.  They said there was an accident and I needed to get there. I said I was coming from a city away. The lady said, “You need to leave right now.”  I knew then it was bad. I got to the hospital and they would not let me see Danny.  I had to go into a room and they explained that Danny was brain damaged but they did not know the extent because he was unconscious and on life support. I prayed, “Please God, I don’t care how brain damaged he is; please don’t take him from me. “  I know that was selfish but he was the best thing that ever happened to me and I could not imagine life without him.

 Danny had followed the recruiter’s instructions. They told Danny to go into the dry sauna then exercise. After about 40 minutes Danny told the recruiter he did not feel well and they told him to sit down and drink some water. Danny slipped into a coma and when the EMT’s arrived Danny’s temperature was 108 degrees.

 Danny had a heavy sweat suit complete with zip up hoody  jacket with the sauna suit underneath and the only thing the recruiters did was throw water on Danny… they did not remove or unzip any of Danny’s clothes. The recruiter later admitted he had no medical training yet he instructed my son to follow these radical weight loss methods. They should have told my son the loss was impossible and instead of pushing,  ultimately killing my son to make their numbers. The recruiter knew he was wrong, he disposed of the sauna suit and Danny’s pants rather than returning them with Danny’s other things. The other missing item was the guest day pass from the gym. The EMT report did state that they removed a non breathable sauna suit.

 Each day Danny got more and more yellow and swollen. Danny was transported to another hospital in San Francisco where he was to have better care and we were hoping to get him a liver transplant. I have never known anyone who died so I had no idea that he was not going home with me. On the 6th day they came and told me that his organs are all shutting down and there is nothing further they could do. I called my parents and they told me “Well,  why would you care?  You were going to let him go to Afghanistan.”  He never regained consciousness.  I asked that he have pain medicine so he would not feel the life support stopping they said he did and we stopped the blood pressure first and he kept it beating and then after about 2 hours I said, “Okay, stop the breathing machine,” which was the only other life support and he continued for a total of 6 hours. He lived until I called my parents and put the phone to his ear and he heard them and then died seconds after the phone was hung up on July 21, 2009. The cause of death was multi-organ system failure, hyperthermia with dehydration, exercise with occlusive gear, mild cardiomegaly with myocycte hypertrophy.
 When I left the hospital it was all surreal. I still sometimes can’t believe this is my life now.  I wish I could be with him. I find it so hard to find reason to go on with my life. It is so empty. I know we will be together again one day so I try to focus on helping people and making sure to remind people to enjoy what they have because no one knows what the future holds.

 My son was not only strong physically but also had strength of mind. He had the determination, persistence and loyalty to his instructing recruiter to continue to working out as he was instructed by that recruiter (even after telling me the night before he was uncomfortable wearing the sauna suit the recruiter instructed him to wear) all the way to the point of collapse. Danny felt confident that the recruiter was committed to helping him succeed safely by passing on his knowledge and training one-on-one so in return Danny gave him every bit of strength he had.

 The reward for Danny’s devotion was a marine recruiter who came to the hospital to accuse Danny of taking drugs.  He wanted me to know that they may be called for court martial.  Meanwhile, I was at the hospital with my son on life support, who had not come out of a coma for days and had an unspecified amount of definite brain damage. The ultimate betrayal was when the recruiter denied everything under oath. What happened to the few, the proud, the marines?   I guess Danny was not a marine yet so they did not have to show him honor, truthfulness or respect. They did a toxicology test for 150 drugs using the blood from his first day in the hospital and there were no drugs or alcohol in his system other than what they EMT’s gave him. I knew he was not on any drugs. Danny hated drugs and did not want to be around anyone who did them.

 The other recruiter did return to the hospital ICU and told two of my friends that he was sorry for what happened to Danny and that he believed that the marines and Danny were both responsible for pushing too hard. He said Danny was a great kid and that he wanted to take them all out on his quad. I do respect that he had the integrity to come and own up to what happened.  Although later he could not recall making that statement.

 My life is forever changed. Now my days just change one to the next with no real anticipation or happiness. Danny meant everything, to me he was my reason to live. He was my whole world. He truly was my best friend and my family all rolled in one.

 Danny was not the kid who decided to use unsafe methods to quickly lose weight and join the marines like they would like people to believe.  Danny is another recruit killed by military negligence.  I want to make sure that no other mother ever has to go through what I have been through.  I want everyone to know that the recruiters are not all honest and they are not all trained to give the advice they give and you can die from extreme dieting, sauna suits, saunas and exercise.

Audrey Ruf

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Death Anniversary


Richard Thomas Davis

“He was murdered on July 15 2003 upon return from Iraq.  He had witnessed His Battalion Commander murder two Iraq prisoners that he was watching. They had my son murdered to keep him quiet.  After all they didn’t want Bush, Chaney and Rumsfield to get embarrassed about a war crime.”

 Lanny Davis, father 

Death Anniversary


PFC Jason Pirro

PFC Jason Pirro Our son, PFC Jason Pirro, wanted to provide a better life for his wife and daughter. He wanted to honor his Country. He wanted to be a Marine. Jason joined the Marines in November of 2003 and left for boot camp at Parris Island, SC in January of 2004. Shortly thereafter, he found out that his wife was pregnant with their second child. Our son finished basic training and completed his Crucibles with a broken foot.

In May 2004, Jason went to Camp Geiger’s School of Infantry in North Carolina. On July 9, 2004, Jason called home to ask about an old car we had and said that even if he had to work two jobs, he couldn’t wait to get out of “this hell hole.” On the 14th of July at approximately 10 p.m., Jason talked to his wife, Christina. He told her that he loved her and would call in a couple of days to let her know what was going on. Jason had also talked to a couple of his friends and had several jobs waiting for him when he got home.

On July 15, 2004, three Marines came to our door. They told us that Jason was found hanging in the barracks. They would not answer any of our questions. They told us that there would be an investigation into his death. We were told that upon the completion of the investigation, someone from the Military would sit down with us and go over the findings of the investigation. That never happened.

On July 18, 2004, the Marines had a memorial service for Jason at Camp Geiger. During the service, the clergy stated that PFC Jason Pirro committed suicide. Our family was not notified of any press release, nor were we notified when the investigation was completed. We have not seen any member of the Marines or other Military personnel since the initial interview with NCIS in October 2004. We have never been officially notified that the investigation into my son’s death was closed. As of this date, we have not received his “dog tags.”

Over the last two and a half years, I have not had much cooperation from the Military. We have tracked down several Marines who knew Jason and agree that he did not commit suicide. A couple of Jason’s fellow Marines believe, as we do, that he was murdered. We have been requesting as much information as we can from the Military under the Freedom of Information Act.

 Although we did receive some information, there are a lot of missing documents and photographs. We have been in touch with our representatives in Congress for help in getting the investigation reopened. As of this date, we have heard nothing.

We are being ignored by our Military and our Government. The Military says our son committed suicide. We strongly disagree with their opinion, but they will not take the time or effort to meet with us or even talk to us.

The documents that we have received and the photographs of the death scene (which arrived on Mother’s Day weekend in May 2006) show enough discrepancies to back our belief that PFC Jason Pirro was murdered while stationed at Camp Geiger, NC.

PFC Jason Pirro loved his family. His daughters have been deprived of a loving and caring father. His wife has lost her best friend, companion and the man she loved. We have lost our son. PFC Jason Pirro has lost his future. We want the Marines who did this to our son to be brought to justice and to take responsibility for their actions.

We want justice for PFC Jason Pirro. Are you willing to help us? If you can help us right this wrong, please contact us through this website.

Gary and Vicki Van Horn

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Death Anniversary

PVT Nicholas Davis, 1986 – 2005
 
Nicholas signed up for the Army on June 24, 2003 through the Delayed Entry Program when he was 17 years old. On January 20, 2004, in the middle of his senior year, he left for basic training. He was the youngest one in his platoon; (Ruff Ryder, A. Co. 1 – 19th INF, ITB, 9075 Holcomb Dr., Ft. Benning, GA 31905) he excelled at PT and was asked to help those soldiers who couldn’t keep up. Nicholas entered Jump School at Ft. Benning on May 10th. On May 25th his parachute failed and he fell 1250 feet. Amazingly, he did not die; however, his left ankle was severely injured, resulting in surgery and permanent  damage.
 
Ironically, his parachute and gear were missing when his father inquired about it the next day.
Despite his injured status, Nick was sent to Fort Wainwright, Alaska in July 2004. We, as parents, wondered who ordered that? How did he pass a physical to go? What was the plan for him when he got there? Nicholas was just 18 years and one month old at the time and had no counseling regarding the parachute accident and possible post traumatic stress.
 
When Nick arrived in Alaska he was in an air-cast and on crutches. It is my belief that this is when he began enduring abuse from his sergeants and others in his platoon. This unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq and Nick, who was still holding a Ranger status, was not fit for battle or even for regular duty. He held odd jobs within his unit for a while and then with the permission of someone on Ft. Wainwright, enrolled in The University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
 
His reassignment of barracks seemed fishy to me. They moved him across base where he would have to travel to get to the mess hall. I remember him talking about how hard it was for him to get around, how those who were assigned to give him rides and help him out were not doing well by him. I remember talking about for us (me, Nick’s father and his Aunt Becky in the Navy) the military was like a family; we took care of each other. But it wasn’t like that for Nick.
 
The sergeants and fellow soldiers in A Co., 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, Ft. Wainwright, AK began tormenting and threatening one of  their own. A portion of his unit even paid a visit to one of Nick’s friends from college, threatening to beat him up if he did not stop associating with Nick. He was an injured, isolated soldier who wanted to serve his country however he could. He would have done anything in his power to remain one of the elite. But he was no good to his unit and they saw him as an easy target. He feared for his life several times. It became hell for him and Nicholas saw no way to survive other than to leave.
 
Nick went AWOL for the month of February 2005. He was set up by an acquaintance and caught by his company commander and the MP’s. It was reported to me that he was not taken in easily. The MP’s turned their backs while the unit beat him up. It was soon after this that Nicholas attempted suicide. I’ve been told that the mental ward was where my son felt safe. After a couple of weeks he was returned to his unit. In April he left again, this time flying to his home town in West Virginia. He stayed with some friends, got a job and enrolled in college. But Nick was a patriot and knew the commitment he had made. He decided to return to the Army, hoping that he would not be sent back to his unit in Alaska.
 
He was taken to the US Army Personnel Control Facility (PCF), US Army Armor Center, Ft. Knox, KY. The day he arrived. near the end of May, he signed paperwork for a dishonorable discharge in lieu of a court martial.  Somehow, the abuse he suffered in Alaska found him at Ft. Knox. On June 15th he was admitted to a hospital in Radcliff, KY for another suicide attempt. Again, he chose the safety of the mental ward. On June 27th his discharge was approved. Nick was released from the hospital on July 12th. He made arrangements to go home on the 14th but he never made it. Nicholas was murdered in the latrine and hung on the back of a latrine door in the 7pm hour of July 13, 2005.
 
My son was a young soldier who should have been protected and mentored by anyone his senior. He was an eager learner with desires to help people. After the parachute accident he somehow slipped through the cracks of the system and all of a sudden no one knew what to do with him. One commander after another let him slide through without concern for his well-being.

Hundreds of suspicious deaths occur within our military branches each year. Our military kills their own soldiers to satisfy their needs.
 
Be careful: if you see too much,
they’ll kill you.
If you struggle with something,
they will kill you.
If you ask the
wrong questions,
they’ll kill you.
If you are in the wrong
place…
even simply by chance…
they will kill you.
You are not protected by the government you serve. The people who “stand behind you” are the ones who will stab you in the back. They will give the order to have you killed.
 
Kim Slapak-Smith
If you have any information about this case, please contact me through this website.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Death Anniversary

Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego
 
As we heard of our son’s death:
 
Our 26 year old son, Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego, was found dead in Army housing at White Sands Missile Range on July 13, 2007.  He was serving our country as Cadre, on his second term enlistment, representing the New Mexico Army National Guard. His duty involved training military branches of service for transition to a Warrior Transition course previously transferred to Dona Ana Range from Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

When we first heard of our son’s death, there was no official report released from the Army National Guard to his wife or to us, his parents.  The information we received early that morning on July 13th, was that our son had died.  The information was received from the public through their phone calls and visits of sympathy and condolences.

As we tried to make sense of this, we brushed it off as gossip since the rumor had come from a Wal-Mart employee.  Later, we learned that it had been channeled down from a sergeant on post at White Sands Missile Range to a family member employed at the local Wal-Mart in Clovis, NM.  That in itself was devastating and shocking to find this out in this manner.  We were on the phone early that morning frantically trying to make contact with someone from the White Sands Missile Range and the Army National Guard in Santa Fe, NM who would put these rumors to rest.  But to my disbelief, we were notified hours later that the worst had turned out to be true, our beloved son was gone.
Jeronimo, Ben’s father, was the last person to speak to Ben just hours before his death. He had made his father promise that he would call him while he was on the range the next day. We had made plans with Ben to pick up his father at the airport in El Paso, TX Monday, July 16th after duty. His itemized phone statement showed two phone calls were made to housing on base that evening.  We believe that he was trying to make accommodations for his father’s visit.

Ben was 26 years old, and the youngest of my three sons.  He kept close contact with us.  We spoke to him every day, we knew our son, and nothing was out of the ordinary the day prior. Everything was going well for him, except for altercations he had been having with three unit members who had recently returned from Iraq.  A DVD was given to us by his commander on the night of the Rosary, July 19th , which clearly demonstrates that problems existed.

My son presented a formal class on “Integrity”, ordered by the commander.  The commander,  first sergeant, and unit members were present.  The class was recorded on a DVD.  Some of the unit members admitted to “bum rushing” Ben before he presented the class.  On the same DVD, a death threat was made.  This was three weeks prior to his death.  The unit members admitted to bum rushing him and the commanding officer, the highest commanding officer present, asked if it was “round two”.  She was well aware what was going on.

Criminal Investigation Division

Our experience with the CID is that they were quick to close his case, claiming self-infliction and filling  in the blanks without thoroughly investigating claims.  We, his family, had real concerns and questions and presented concrete evidence.  The CID Senior Agent from El Paso, Texas seemed too bothered to return phone calls and delayed and rescheduled meeting after meeting.  That went on for months.  The CID Agent scheduled a meeting in November, 2007 and finally met with us in March, 2008.

We could not and do not understand why the CID did not keep or know the whereabouts of Ben’s blood stained clothes he wore the night of his death.  They were not aware that the Ft. Bliss Casualty office had picked up and washed the clothes, and made sure to destroy evidence in an on-going investigation.  Even to this day some blood stains still remain.

We discovered, through emails from a NM Representative (now Senator) in February 2009, that the CID closed my son’s case in October 12, 2008.   No official notification was given to the family about the case being closed.  How do they not think that this does not warrant personal and public outrage?  We are still in contact with the state representatives and senators in the hope of getting some support from them.

Autopsy Report

The original autopsy report was written exactly the way we heard  it from the men in his unit.  These were the men who were with him the night he died; the men with whom our son had altercations; the men who admitted to bum rushing Ben on the DVD; the men who had threatened him, as recorded on
the DVD, and the men who served as honor guards in burying our son.  They made our son sound like he was a drunk, pulling pranks, and that he premeditated his death by giving a key to his roommate that night, but in fact the roommate had a key months prior to his death.
The original autopsy report, which had erroneous entries of  race and weight, and another report with
testimony from the members who we suspected of killing him, became final legal documents.  We question why they would make these entries when the final report of the investigation had not been completed or finalized.

In the original autopsy report, physical evidence was noted:  a singed eyebrow, cut index finger, split
lip, and the examiner claimed his hyoid bone was intact.  After having an independent second autopsy report completed, we are told that his hyoid bone is missing. We, Ben’s family, request to have the hyoid bone returned; this clearly belongs with my son’s remains.  Why would the Army Examiner remove my son’s hyoid bone, and keep it without notifying the family?  According the Pathologist from the Department of the Army, they kept it for evidence.  The family asks,  “evidence of what?  Is it broken and the cause of death strangulation?”

Lastly

Every day we feel the void that my family experiences in their daily lives, as I see it in them and they
see it in us.

We have read many other stories of other soldiers’ questionable deaths and it saddens us that we share the same grief, emptiness, and alienation from what has taken place with our children in the military.  My thoughts and prayers go out to you.  God Bless.

Judy & Jeronimo
Griego
Link to interview:  Even More Suspicious Non-combat Deaths

Friday, July 11, 2014

Death Memorial

SSgt. Justin Lee Garza, June 1, 1981 – July 11, 2009
Justin Garza was born June 1, 1981 in Taft, Texas.  He was the youngest of four boys born to Teri Garza (currently Teri Smith).


Justin was called Jon by his family and close friends.  As the youngest, Jon had to learn how to be tough at a very young age, which, of course, he did and excelled at.  Jon was a truly intelligent boy.  As he grew up we knew he had an intelligence all his own.  He assisted his older brothers with their homework.  His outstanding intelligence caused him to get bored with what was handed him while he was going to school.  He was never truly challenged enough.  That is why he did homework for his older brothers.  Jon decided school was not for him and he got in trouble for disrespect and was suspended a few times.  I had to change his school.  At this time Jon was about sixteen.  Jon and I decided to remove him from public school when he was in his teens.  Jon could not figure out what to do with himself, so being a single mother at the time, I decided what I thought was best for him.  I sent him to a type of boot camp in Aberdeen, Maryland.  I believe he lasted three days and decided it was not for him.  As this was a voluntary school, I was called to come and pick him up.  Once home, Jon found a full-time job and enrolled at our local college and received his G.E.D.


Jon joined he Army at the age of twenty.  Once he completed basic and AIT, he was stationed in Ansbach, Germany for, I believe, about three years.  During this time, he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom at the age of twenty-one.  While there, Jon earned an AAM.  This deployment turned out to be very difficult for Jon in more ways than I will ever know.  Jon had to kill his first person.  It was kill or be killed.  To this day, I do not believe Jon ever got over this and suffered deeply within himself.  He thought of himself as a monster.


Jon returned to Iraq again in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  During this deployment he was injured, not seriously, but enough to leave another scar on such a young man.  I was never informed that he was injured and when we finally talked about it all, Jon told me that I was not to be notified when he was injured, only when he died (which, of course, is another story in itself).  All in all, Jon was deployed six times in seven years — too much for such a young person.
Jon earned the following awards/medals while enlisted in the Army:
  • two Army Achievement Medals
  • two Army Commendation Medals
  • two Army Good Conduct Medals
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Army Service Ribbon
  • Overseas Service Ribbon (a few)
  • Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
  • Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
  • Iraqi Campaign Medal
  • Driver’s Badge
  • He attended the Preliminary Leadership Development Course and the Basic Non Commissioned Officer Course
  • Two foreign awards
  • Polish Award
  • Award from Holland for his 100 mile march in uniform and 45lb rucksack
  • Competed in the German marksman competition
  • Received the German sportsman badge
  • Operation Victory Strike
As you can tell, my son worked hard for the Army (Alpha Braves) and gave all he had to give.  He gave the Alpha Braves his blood, sweat, tears.  He gave his all for them.


Now let’s talk about why I am writing this:  My son committed suicide on July 11, 2009.  I feel that the Army let my son down and that when he needed them the most, they were not there for him.  All I can do is lay out the facts as I know them and hope that I save one soldier, one mother from going through the awful pain and grieving that Jon’s three brothers, extended family, friends, and I are going through.


I need to take us all back a few years and try to begin the story of Jon’s ending.  As stated earlier, Jon’s first deployment to Iraq was when he was twenty-one.  How traumatic could that have been?  Not only did he see what he saw and went through what he went through — he actually had to decide to kill another person, which is totally against all he knew.  When Jon came home from Iraq, he came straight home to see me.  I can say that he had no  counseling.  He was just sent home and sent on leave to deal the best way he could.  I can tell you it had an impact on my son.  It took him quite awhile to readjust to live in the States.  He did not talk much about this experience as he knew I could never relate to what he saw or went through.  I spent about a week or so with my son and could tell that he was different, but I had no idea how to talk to him or how to help him through this.
Jon deployed numerous times while in Germany.  He supported Operation Victory Strike II in Poland.  While there he was the American liaison to the Polish Army.  He deployed to Normandy, France, to host the 60th Anniversary of D-Day and also went to Holland to compete in a 100 mile, four-day rucksack march.


During the years, Jon would talk about how he wanted to volunteer to go back overseas.  He said he felt more comfortable there and I believed him.  It was hard for him here in the States, trying to defend all that was going on and yet not being able to discuss it with his friends or family.  Soon, the only friends he had were his Army buddies.  Yes, we still talked and emailed, but it was never the same as before his first deployment to Iraq.  He started coming home to visit less and less, always saying he was bus and had to be there for his unit.  At that time, I know I lost my baby and did not know how to get him back, how to be close to him like we were before.  He did come home for a few holidays, special occasions, and a family vacation, but it would be few and far between.  We did get him home for, I believe, two Christmas’ in a row.  It think it was easier for him to talk to us on the phone and email than to see us face to face, as we could then see his depression and desperation.
Please excuse the long background.  I want everyone to know who my son was before the Army and while in the Army.  He loved the Army and excelled in all that he did for the Army.  I have reviewed all the military records I have and can tell you my son got written up for the excellence and motivation he showed in his work and all that he brought out in his soldiers as well.  He felt most at home with the Alpha Braves; he loved them and worked as hard as he could to be worthy of them.
My son got reassigned to Ft. Gordon, Georgia in March of 2009.  He, for whatever reason, could not settle in.  He felt alone and abandoned there.  He felt like he just did not fit in, but during this time he again gave 100% to his training and to Ft. Gordon.  For whatever reason, looking at all his letters, emails, and talking to his buddies, I believe this was the beginning of the end for my son.  I truly believe he had PTSD and will explain a little later.


The downhill started for my son in May 2009.  On or around May 15, 2009, my son used his web cam and emailed and talked with a friend of his.  During this conversation, he had letters strewn all over the floor and was talking about being a monster and wanting to stop the pain and commit suicide.  His friend talked him out of it at that time, or at least so we thought.  On May 22, 2009, my son wrecked his car in a suicide attempt and again he survived.  At some point in June 2009 (the Army will not provide dates to me) my son went AWOL.  He was tracked by his credit card receipts.  He was headed to Texas and along the way he bought a shot gun and some alcohol and was in a hotel.  Family and some of his Army buddies tried calling him all day, but he would not answer his phone.  When one of his closest Army buddies got ahold of him, he told my son he would come to him.  Instead, one of his superiors found him and took him to Metroplex Hospital in Killeen, Texas.  From the records I found in my son’s car after his death, it looks like he only spent a few days at Metroplex and then was transferred to Darnall Army Hospital on the 19th of June.  He hated Darnall (which he told his Uncle, Gary Garza.)  It seemed Metroplex did more for him.  He was in Darnall Army Hospital for about ten days.  When Darnall released him, they released him with specific instructions, as follows:


24 hour adult supervision
Safeguard the home:  make sure there is not access to any weapons, knives, medications, guns, or any other items that can be used in a harmful manner.
Discharge level:  Acute Psychiatric


He was discharged on June 30, 2009 with adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotion and conduct.  Depressed mood.


His first follow-up visit was scheduled for July 9, 2009.  I have a message on his phone stating that there is a backup/mix up with counselors and if he does not hear anything by Monday the 14th to give a call.  Well, he committed suicide on the 11th.  There were also messages from a chaplain.
Okay, who was the “24 hour adult supervision” for my son?  Who went to his house with him to ensure there were no weapons?  He shot himself in the head.  All his appointments were listed as “pending.”  Again, why a delay in counseling and why no 24 hour supervision?  When he was discharged from Darnall, Ft. Gordon did not want him.  They realized he needed to back with the Alpha Braves.  Well, Fort Hood had not processed him in, so again he was alone without a Unit, not able to be in formation or on base, so he was alone in an apartment all day with his thoughts.  He was not receiving pay, as the Army still had him listed as AWOL.  He could not pay his bills and had to borrow money from his Uncle Gary.


I was never informed of any of the above –  that my son had an accident, that he was AWOL, or that he was suicidal.  If I would have known, I wold have flown to be with him.  The Army robbed me of a life with my son and at the very least a chance to see him again and tell him that I loved him.  I did not get to say goodbye.  My son filled out all the required paperwork and questionnaires tat Darnall Hospital gave him and knew the answers they were looking for.  Why would you have someone counsel him who had never been through what my young son had gone through?  How could they understand what he was feeling and how did they miss the PTSD?  Hell, I could have counseled him!  I, at least, knew my son and who he is/was and knew that he was pulling the wool over these people’s eyes.


Once we got the news of my son’s death (By the way, I was never formally notified that he passed away) we headed to Texas.  We had to go through my son’s storage shed and car.  In his car, I found numerous letters addressed to himself, to me, to his Unit, and to a friend.  These letters were dated May 15, 2009 and he died on July 11, 2009.  What the hell!  Someone had to have noticed the change in him.  My son was dating a girl and she was in Texas and my son’s best friend was a friend of hers.  I have a very disturbing letter that he wrote and you can tell that PTSD had hit him strong.  I am willing to share most of each one of these letters so that the Army and the general public can see how my son slipped through the cracks.


Believe it or not, this is just a general overview of all that took place.  If you are interested in my son’s story, please contact me.  My son asked in the letter to me and the letter he left on his laptop and to his best friend that his story be told.  If this even saves one soldier and one mother from going through what I went through, then telling his story will be worth it.  I will be my son’s voice for as long as I can and to whoever will listen to me.


Teri J. Smith, mother of SSgt. Justin Lee Garza
Video
Photos
You can contact Teri Smith through this website by clicking here.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Panel member: Military sex assault response hard to fix

From Stars and Stripes:


NORFOLK, Virginia — Harvey Bryant hoped the panel he was appointed to last year would bring a sea of change to the military's handling of sexual assaults. Instead, Virginia Beach's former top prosecutor says the group's recommendations are little more than "a wading pool."


He was one of nine members on a panel that examined the handling of military sexual assault and made recommendations for improving the process. The group submitted a 284-page report to Congress on June 27.

Bryant, who served for 13 years as Virginia Beach commonwealth's attorney before retiring last year, said his biggest disappointment was the panel's support for keeping authority over the judicial process in the hands of military commanders.


Read the entire story here.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but Not Scrutiny

From the NY Times:


FORT SILL, Okla. — Jessica Zeppa, five months pregnant, the wife of a soldier, showed up four times at Reynolds Army Community Hospital here in pain, weak, barely able to swallow and fighting a fever. The last time, she declared that she was not leaving until she could get warm.

Without reviewing her file, nurses sent her home anyway, with an appointment to see an oral surgeon to extract her wisdom teeth.

Mrs. Zeppa returned the next day, in an ambulance. She was airlifted to a civilian hospital, where despite relentless efforts to save her and her baby, she suffered a miscarriage and died on Oct. 22, 2010, of complications from severe sepsis, a bodywide infection. Medical experts hired by her family said later that because she was young and otherwise healthy, she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at Reynolds properly diagnosed and treated her.


Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Death Anniversary

Spc. Morganne McBeth
January 22, 1991 – July 2, 2010

The Hidden Enemy

This is a very well done documentary about the use of psychotropic drugs in the military with historical context. 

http://www.cchr.org/videos/the-hidden-enemy.html

From the website:

THE HIDDEN ENEMY DOCUMENTARY
EXPOSES THE COVERT OPERATION
BEHIND MILITARY SUICIDES 

 
In early 2013, the official website of the United States Department of Defense announced the startling statistic that the number of military suicides in 2012 had far exceeded the total of those killed in battle—an average of nearly one a day. A month later came an even more sobering statistic from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: veteran suicide was running at 22 a day—about 8000 a year.

The situation became so dire that the U.S. Secretary of Defense called suicide in the military an “epidemic.”

Some have claimed that this spate of self-harm is because of the stresses of war. But the facts reveal that 85% of military suicides have not seen combat—and 52% never even deployed.

So what unsuspected factor is causing military suicide rates to soar?

According to the new documentary The Hidden Enemy: Inside Psychiatry’s Covert Agenda, all evidence points in one direction: the soaring rates of psychiatric drug prescribing since 2003. Known medication side effects of these drugs such as increased aggression and suicidal thinking are reflected in similar uptrends in the rates of military domestic violence, child abuse and sex crimes, as well as self-harm.

Pull the string further and you’ll find psychiatrists ever widening the definitions of what it means to be “mentally ill,” especially when it comes to post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers—and PTSD in veterans. And in psychiatry, diagnoses of psychological disorders such as PTSD, personality disorder and social anxiety disorder are almost inevitably followed by the prescription of at least one psychiatric drug.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Death Anniversary

Jesse Bartel

My name is Lisa Parris, I currently live in rural Montana. I lost my only child, my son Jesse Bartel, age 20, July 1, 2003.  He was 17 when he enlisted right out of high school, induction date 9-11-2000. He did his basic training at Ft. Knox, AIT at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and was stationed at Ft. Hood for his MOS D 52 Generator Mechanic, and some radar, 1/21 C Battery, Field Artillery,1st Cavalry Division. He was diagnosed as bi-polar, mismedicated, and took his life by hanging July 1, 2003, stateside. Although he had been on suicide watch the week before, the family never knew, the Army kept us shut out.

My son was born March 28, 1983 at 12:46 a.m. in Ardmore, Ok. He was a beautiful child inside and out. He was a good kid, a great young man with a bright future. He was loving, caring, compassionate, a good friend, and with his love or children, especially special needs, he would have been a great father when that time came.

He loved to play football, Tae Kwon Do, work on cars or motorcycles with his step dad, physical things. He loved his grandparents very much, he actually lived with them during his high school days-they had better school district and I was working many hours and my husband (Viet Nam Vet combat, disabled, decorated) was having multiple surgeries due to injuries sustained during his service. I was unable to keep everything in order, and the school district we lived in was riddled with gangs and drugs. It was not a good situation. It was a very difficult decision to let him go, but it was best for him. We remained very close and he was happy he could go to a school without problems. He was also very happy to spend time with his grandparents.

He wanted a college education, he had a football scholarship but lost it when he injured his knee and ankle, and we couldn’t afford his education. He admired his step dad, he was 101st, SF, MI, and thought that would be a good way to do 2 things at once-serve his country and earn a college education. He had so many plans for after college, and we hoped he would settle down by 28 or so and make a family. He never married (he was only 20!), therefore left no children of his own, no grandchildren for us. He was like a big brother to all his cousins, he loved them so much. They were devastated when he passed, they were young at the time.

I miss my son more than words can describe. My husband and I have been married 19 years, and we have holes in our hearts, a void that can not be fixed. It’s been almost 7 years, however found no help until last year with TAPS. It has actually reopened wounds I thought were buried deep enough. There were so many things that could have been done differently and it is our belief he would not have passed away in that manner. God may have called him Home, we just weren’t done with him yet.

Lisa Parris
If you know anything about this case, you can contact Lisa Parris through this website.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Death Anniversary

1st Lt. Louis Allen, HHC, 42ID
Lt. Louis Allen

My name is Barbara Allen. I am the widow of Lt Louis Allen, the high school teacher and National Guard officer who, in June 2005, was killed by fellow Guardsmen, Staff SSG Alberto Martinez.
This Memorial Day will mark 9 years since I kissed my husband for the last time. I can still remember the feeling I had as I drove away from Fort Drum. I felt as if a part of me was being ripped out, and I was filled with sheer panic that I would never see him again. Ten days later he was dead. I was 32 years old when I became a widow.

Lou and his friend Captain Phillip Esposito, Company Commander of the 42nd ID in Iraq, had worked together to arrange for Lou to join Phil at FOB Danger. Phil was filing nonjudicial punishment (an Article 15) against Martinez, dismissing him from the unit. This would result in Martinez losing not only his position in Iraq, but his stateside civilian position with the National Guard. Lou was brought in to assess the damage in supply and restore order to that division. Lou expressed to me his eagerness to help his friend and do his part by deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This confidence was shaken upon arrival; Lou told me in a phone call that the supply mess was worse than he could have imagined, and Martinez was publicly hostile about the situation. What Lou did not know, and I cannot find peace with, is that he would be dead just 3 days after arriving on base- murdered by one of our own. While Phil knew Martinez was responsible for missing supplies, poor accountability, and gross insubordination, he did not know the extent of Martinez’s hatred for him, or the suspicious past of his supply sergeant. Phil did not know Martinez was accused of stealing from his UPS job, or setting his home on fire to collect insurance funds rather than lose his home to foreclosure. He could never imagine that people he saw on a regular basis – many of whom called him their friend- would not tell him that Martinez was openly threatening to frag him, making some of them uncomfortable enough that they began avoiding him themselves.
Martinez knew Lou’s arrival signaled his own imminent departure. He was unwilling to accept this. On the eve of June 7, 2005, he detonated a claymore mine outside Captain Esposito’s office window, killing Phil instantly and mortally wounding my husband. Just like that, I was transformed from a happily married wife to a widow facing life without my best friend and father of our four small boys. Trevor, our oldest son, was just six years old the day his dad died. I was thrust into a world I would never have believed I was capable of navigating; a homicide investigation, capital trial, military cover-ups, deceit, and betrayal.

The circumstances of Lou’s death were sketchy at best, and in the midst of trying to absorb our loss I was also attempting to discern the actual facts as opposed to the details we were being given. As I got in the car at the cemetery immediately after the services, my CAO told me an American soldier had been arrested for killing Lou and Phil. For the second time in seven days, my world was upended.
For the next 3 ½ years our families were consumed with the trial of SSG Alberto Martinez. I traveled to Kuwait for the first hearing, and our families all traveled from NY to Fort Bragg, NC, and the appellate courts in DC for countless other hearings leading up to the trial. We watched the case disintegrate as rulings against the government became the norm in the proceedings. Our rising panic was met with assurances we should trust the government. Our efforts to gain public support through media interviews were met with admonitions that we were jeopardizing the case. Inquiries on my behalf from a JAG officer to the government’s prosecution team were met with assurances that no guilty plea was being discussed — the same day, we later learned, a guilty plea had been offered by Martinez and rejected by Lt General Vines, Convening Authority, who then ordered the plea be suppressed. I did not learn of its existence until a day after Martinez was acquitted. One of my own sources gave me a copy of the plea. With this copy tucked in my bag, I confronted the commander of Fort Bragg’s 18th Airborne Division. I knew he had received his own copy, yet he looked me in the eye and denied it existed. I then made the first of what would be many moves to expose the steady lies and attempt to set the record straight – I gave the plea to the NY Times, and it made front page news. Still, nothing happened as far as the government admitting any wrong-doing.
The shock of the acquittal was soon replaced by a need to set right what the government failed to do. There is no doubt Martinez is guilty; in the military, it is mandatory that defense attorneys agree to offer enough evidence of such to the judge, to submit a plea. Rather, the military judicial system’s weaknesses combined with human error and willful misdoings – a list of which is too lengthy to include here- resulted in further pain to our families and dishonoring of my husband and Captain Esposito. To that end, I have not stopped in my efforts to clear the record, encourage the military to enact protocols that would have saved not only my husband, but the dozens of other fratricide victims since, and secure for Lou the Purple Heart he has so far been denied. The government’s reasoning for denying Lou the Purple Heart is that he was not killed by the enemy. For obvious reasons, I vehemently disagree. It is my position that any soldier who willfully inflicts or conspires to inflict death or bodily harm to a fellow soldier thus declares himself an enemy of our nation. Ironically, the murder weapon in our case emphasized this sentiment, with its inscription, “Front Toward Enemy” on the front of the mine.

I have watched in disbelief as repeated instances of fratricide continue to occur. I have researched these cases, attended one of the court martials, met with prosecutors and government experts, written a master’s thesis on them, and firmly believe all but one of these cases were, like ours, preceded with ample warning signs to have been prevented. I find myself needing to try to prevent other families from experiencing the same devastation ours has. I feel compelled to do my part to ensure the men and women of our military are not needlessly subjected to danger and are properly cared for with relation to physical and mental health issues acquired through their service. I am racing the clock on this matter, as one of my sons continues to tell me he will one day wear the uniform and serve this country.

I have received tremendous support from active duty and veteran soldiers. Two Vietnam veterans went so far as to give me their own Purple Hearts in honor of Lou. Feedback from those who read my book, Front Toward Enemy, has been inspiring and supportive. I believe I can one day hold Lou’s Purple Heart, and see his name rightfully placed alongside others who lost their lives in service to this country.

To say I loved Lou would be an understatement. To say I don’t love him still would be a lie. We are moving forward in life and have welcomed a second chance at happiness. But I still feel I owe it to my husband to set the record straight and secure for him the legacy that is rightfully his. I cannot rest until I have exhausted all avenues of seeing him awarded the Purple Heart, achieving accountability to those who have escaped such, and ensuring no other family suffers the same loss. Had situations been reversed, I know with certainty he would never stop working to do the same for me.

Barbara Allen

To contact Barbara through this website, click here.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Death Anniversary


Col. Theodore S. Westhusing 44,

A U.S. Military Academy professor serving with the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq Dallas, Texas Died of non-combat related injuries in Baghdad, Iraq, on June 5, 2005.
6/1/2005. COLONEL TED WESTHUSING 44 BIAP, IRAQ GUNSHOT

 I am Sullied-No More.  Faced with the Iraq war’s corruption, Col. Ted Westhusing chose death before dishonor by Robert Bryce Ted Westhusing was a true believer. And that was his fatal flaw. A colonel in the U.S. Army, Westhusing had a good job teaching English at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was a devout Catholic who went to church nearly every Sunday. He had a wife and three young children. He didn’t have to go to Iraq. But Westhusing was such a believer that he volunteered for what he thought was a noble cause. At West Point, Westhusing sought out people who opposed the war in an effort to change their minds. “He absolutely believed that this was a just war,” said one officer who was close to him. “He was wholly enthusiastic about this mission.” His tour of duty in Iraq was to last six months. About a month before he was to return to his family—on June 5, 2005—Westhusing was found dead in his trailer at Camp Dublin in Baghdad. At the time, he was the highest-ranking American soldier to die in Iraq. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command report on Westhusing’s death explained it as a “perforating gunshot wound of the head and Manner of Death was suicide.” He was 44.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Death Anniversary

MSSR Stephen Killian
Stephen’s Story

In the summer of “98″ Stephen, at just 18yrs. of age, decided on his own to turn his life around and join the United States Navy. I, his mother, at his request, bought him a book to help him study for the ASVAB test as he was bound and determined to make it. He worked out every day, started to jog and studied hard every night. He took the test and passed with flying colors telling me that an instructor at the testing site told him that he did better than most of the seniors that graduated from high school. Stephen only had a GED and was thrilled that he had done so well. He graduated bootcamp and then went on to San Antonio, Tx. for his Aschool where he would be studying for Mess Specialist.

Stephen had big plans of opening up his own “Sports Bar/Restaurant” when he got out of the service. Stephen did well in Aschool and graduated at the top of his class and that is why he got first pick at where he wanted stationed. He chose Nas Oceana, Va. as it was closest to home and would make it easier to travel back and forth when he was on leave. He was home for 2 weeks before heading off to Virginia and he told everyone all of his stories about bootcamp and San Antonio and how happy he was that he joined the Navy.

On April 17th 1999 his father and I drove him to the airport where he would be headed for his first duty station at Nas Oceana, Va. This would be the last time we saw our son alive!!
Stephen called once a week at first but then started making friends and  stretched it out to calling every 2 weeks. He was getting along fine, excited about going on his first cruise and had just bought himself a tv and got his cable hooked up, a Sony Playstation with a couple video games, a clock radio and a telephone so family wouldn’t have to pay long distant phone bills. Stephen lived on base and had no problems of any kind that we his family were aware of. Then on May 30, 1999 I received the horrible and shocking news that Stephen was found hanging in a hotel room in Las Vegas, NV.

The LVMPD never conducted any type of investigation and the Navy stated that because his death occurred off base, while he was off duty, and had nothing to do with the Navy (I wonder how they knew this?) that the NCIS would not be conducting any type of investigation as well. Only after my constant nagging did his base command conduct a “tiny” investigation which didn’t amount to anything and only went along with the reports from the LVMPD. No matter how many letters I sent, phone calls I made and numerous attempts at getting different people to help no investigation ever got done and his death remains a complete shock and mystery to our whole entire family and everyone who knew Stephen.

Two of Stephen’s friends from the base came to Pa. and attended his funeral. At the cemetery, we were told by the one young man that he knew that Stephen wasn’t traveling by himself or taking money out of the ATM machines by himself!!  I pressured his base command to have this boy questioned after telling them what we were told at the cemetery, and a year later I get a report, or should I say an email conversation on legal paper, and the only question they asked him was, “How well did you know Stephen Killian and what was his attitude towards the Navy?”?!! They totally disregarded my concerns that this young man knew something about what happened to my son!!! I just don’t understand how such a happy young man who could get along in any type of situation can suddenly just become suicidal!! Of course, It may be able to happen given certain circumstances but the point is nothing was ever proven that pointed to  depression or suicidal thoughts of any kind!! It seems that my son just vanished off base without anyone knowing and took a greyhound bus from Virginia Beach to Las Vegas and ended up hanging in a hotel room.

When I received his belongings from Las Vegas the only things we got were a pair of what appearred to be neatly ironed “baggy levi’s”, a neatly ironed cotton button up shirt, a clean t-shirt, his wallet with no money and his Nike shoes which also looked spotless. These clothes seemed a bit “too neat and  clean” for a person who was traveling by bus for 2 days plus 19hrs. The Administrator’s office in Las Vegas assurred me that they do not launder the clothes before they are returned home. Also, in his jean’s pocket was a phone number written on the hotel stationery without an area code so our family
assumed it was either a Vegas number or a Virginia Beach number. The police assured us (yeah right) that this number didn’t check out and when we called it ourselves with a Virginia Beach area code it was a cell phone number that had just been disconnected?! I called his base to ask if there was any way they could check out this number as it may be someone on base or someone who lived off base but I was told that they have no means of checking out a phone number!!! Wow…. since when can’t the military, government, etc. not be able to check out a simple phone number????
I also believe that if my son was actually taking off, going AWOL whatever, that he would have definitely packed a bag and called one of his friends at home here, but he had nothing with him except the clothes on his back!!

Additionally, the funeral the funeral director told Stephen’s grandfather that the ligature mark didn’t course up behind his ears, as the autopsy report stated, but went horizontal around his neck. He also stated that he noted bruises to the torso of the body, another important fact left out of the autopsy
report?!

I just get so frustrated that I trusted the military with my only son and thought he would be safe!! It seems that the military’s only concern is keeping “their own” from getting into any trouble as they surely wouldn’t want their command to look bad?! I thought that because my son was a member of the United States Navy that everything in their power would be done to investigate and prove that he either committed suicide or was murdered and that we our family would get a thorough report of the events leading up to his untimely death and a report that would tell us why and how our only son died!! But instead we got nothing, we got a report that was to say the least, inadequet and could fit into  a large white letter envelope!! It is very difficult to go on when you lose a child but when you honestly don’t know what happened it is just maddening!!!

I still keep in touch with the young man from the base who talked to our family at the cemetary, and although he never addresses my questions or comments.  I continue to write him in hopes that one day he will tell me what happened to my son….. Until then I continue to pray that God will let me find out the truth someday so my son can have the justice and dignity that he deserves and our family can have the peace of mind and closure that we deserve.

Sonya Killian
Proud Mother of Mssr Stephen J Killian, Jr. USN
7-14-80 to 5-30-99
Who Died Under Questionable Circumstances and Was Denied A Proper and Thorough Investigation
Painfully Loved and Missed By Family and His Many Many Friends
If you have any information about this case, contact Sonya Killian through this website.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Death Anniversary

LTC Dominic Rocco Baragona, 6/14/1960 – 5/19/2003
 
My younger brother, LTC Rocky Baragona was killed on May 19 2003, on his way home, in Safwat Iraq, by Kuwait Gulf Link Transport.  One of their flatbed tractor trailers, driven by a driver with improper papers and a truck with missing license plates, suddenly jackknifed and landed on his Humvee, crushing him instantly. Rocky, a decorated career soldier, with a flawless military record who had been in the top 5% of his West Point Class, proudly served his country with honor as the Commander of the 19th Maintenance Battalion out of Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
 
Because of the irresponsible contracting practices by this DOD multibillion dollar foreign contractor, my brother was killed.

Our family received a miserable AR15-6 report eight months later: two days before Xmas. The report gave no information about the company or the driver that killed him. The accident scene photos later showed KGL’s name 20 inches high written across the front of the vehicle with other KGL trucks and 18 people at the scene that day. Some inaccuracies surrounding the crash smeared his good honor with insinuations that his death was his own fault. The officer who accompanied the report said in all of his years, he had never seen anything quite this bad. It was a dark day.

No family should ever have to do their own investigation into the death of their loved one. In shock and grief, following this report, we did just that.

Distraught and with disbelief toward the military, who appeared to now have abandoned and betrayed us, we looked for legal recourse. After 700 attempts failed to find an attorney who would consider our case, we found Steve Perles’ Law Firm, experts at plaintiff claims in international laws and Middle Eastern affairs. Their skills were the cutting stone for what appeared to be an impossible set of circumstances and we relied heavily on their skills and expertise. Mr. Perles himself taught us, in spite of our grief, how to reach out to the military, Congress, and even the White House to get results.
By 2005, with his guidance and the support of Sen. DeWine we received, 2 years later from Brig. Gen. Wright, a second, still faulty revised AR15-6 official report stating Kuwait Gulf Link Transport indeed was responsible for the death of my brother. It was a huge victory that allowed us to let go, for the moment, of a missing criminal investigation, required but never done at the time by the Army. It now appeared impossible to do a criminal investigation, as the evidence seemed all but lost. With KGL now officially in an Army report found responsible for his death we could move forward for the first time. It was our first piece of legal evidence it meant Justice for Rocky could now be found civilly in a US court of law.

Oblivious to all of this was the company that killed him. You see KGL, during this time, was enjoying and reaping the benefits of being a DOD multimillion dollar foreign contractor. Through US taxpayers they were growing from a mid size company to a major player in the contracting world. Quickly learning the contracting game, they chalked up military subcontract victories from other USG Prime Vendors like Agility, CSA, KBR.

KGL’s success in USG contracting soon lead to major changes in their business structure, I watched the forming of the KGL holding company, with 7 plus subsidiaries. It was a $30 million investment into Circle Oil, KGL Petroleum and the KGL Port Development and KGL Shipping lines with all of the money going back into the middle east. Then there was the development of the RAK area near Iran. Diamond trading, a private investment company in the Cayman Islands, the investment in the Philippines with Clark Air Force Base and on and on.

Did this get your attention? It sure started to get mine!

The US taxpayer was not getting a dime back except a trade for goods and services in the Iraq War — KGL was getting a lot.

At the same time I watched KGL also begin launching a major campaign to court the US Military with their website, bragging of their becoming a prime vendor for the Army.
However, all this growth did nothing to help KGL’s military victims. In our case, when approached to work towards a resolution in the death of LTC Baragona, they turned a deaf ear over and over again.

At first, we simply wanted an answer to what happened on May 19 2003, but as time went on and the silent arrogance grew, we began to question, “Why didn’t this company want to communicate?” It was concerning to us, that a military contractor who had the obvious skill to win millions in US military contracts could not file an insurance claim. Or maybe they had something to hide? We asked ourselves, “Why did a potential Prime Vendor want to take these kind of risks when millions of future contracts could be at stake? Was it cultural difference, arrogance?”

It seemed stupid on their part. Maybe it was bad advice from lawyers who wanted their own financial gain? Or did this contractor really have something to hide? KGL’s silence wore on us and it raised all of our suspicions about the secret world of contracting, leading us deeper into the investigation of their business practices.

During these years, we learned through newspaper accounts that KGL truck drivers had complained of being trafficked against their will in order to deliver goods to US troops in Iraq. Some were kidnapped and other’s were arrested for smuggling grains on the black market. An ex employee spoke of insurance fraud and falsification of documents to win Army contracts, but was too afraid to do anything about it. KGL was banned in India for false recruiting scams which tricked much-needed truck drivers to deliver goods to Army bases in Iraq.

The truth began to change, and we learned all too well how quickly the US Army looked the other way when a contractor like KGL used questionable practices. There simply was no oversight. I was appalled at the acceptance of our military to do nothing about any of it. Isn’t this what we asked our soldiers to fight and die for: democracy and a free life for those persecuted? Yet we allowed our defense contractors to perform government contracts using human trafficking? It was clear that forced labor in contracting was an acceptable way of doing business. The Army’s position was to Protect and supply the troops . But at what and at whose cost did we do this?

Undeterred, we stayed focused on our case and worked towards creating communication solutions with KGL through the Kuwaiti Ambassador and their Prime Minister, using the Army and many members in Congress as our messenger.

With no response from KGL on all fronts, we felt compelled to file a wrongful death suit in the courts as our only hope for accountability.

So it began: the horrible task of going through Rocky’s last days. We had to painfully recount each moment of his dying, spending hours at researching the FARS, gathering evidence by reconstructing the accident scene, finally dividing his life into dollar values to determine a means for restitution (a system of debilitating humiliation).

All of this was done so that we could sit across a table to look into somebody’s eyes from KGL to ask “Why?” “Why the silence? And what are you/KGL willing to do since your company, your driver, killed him?“ We wondered aloud among ourselves.

Could we keep our promise to get justice for Rocky with a company who could not see how their silence looked to everyone in America, well, except the Army? …….and the big question… did this really even serve justice? A lot of doubt came over us, And still we continued:  this time to the White House. Through a chance encounter, I was fortunate enough to get a moment to speak with President Bush who promised to help us fight for answers. The President assigned our case to the White House military liaison, Terry Chauncey, who we loved at first sight. He facilitated a Presidential inquiry to the DOD debarment office asking for KGL’s participation. Otherwise, they would face suspension and possible debarment. It was a good moment and we quietly celebrated.

We thought, “This is the end, it will be over soon…you cannot get much higher than the President of the United States of America. Commander in Chief…right!!!! Now, thank God. Finally some peace: we can get some real answers and hold KGL accountable.

Not so fast…

The Army sent out an official request for KGL’s response from their office.

KGL then hired an ex-debarment official, retired Gen. Bednar, of Crowell and Moring, as their counsel. He quickly went into the DOD debarment office and had off record discussions about our case. Ahhh — the good ole boy club. Something we should have seen coming, but it seemed incredible that a retired General would defend a foreign contractor on a case from the President of the United States against an Army family. Rocky was a Commander who had served in Iraq and died for his country!

Well, believe it — it happened.

The debarment office quickly ended our relationship, except for one last off the record conversation my father had with the Army Debarment official, who told him, “ Hey Dominic, what can I do? This guy used to be my boss.” The Army official said that there was nothing more he or we could do unless we won the case.

How is that for pressure?

And how, may I ask, is it possible for KGL, a foreign contractor serving the interest of the United States, to be able to trump the debarment inquiry from the President ,Commander in Chief?
Well they did, and the debarment inquiry very quietly went on hold –indefinitely. The White House Liaison was fired and sent to Japan. We never saw another person from the White House.
We learned in that moment, that we had no idea what we were dealing with.

The game of High Stakes Poker just went up.

They showed us who was boss, KGL continued their position of silence a lot more confidently, even ignoring service to participate in the current court proceeding by the US Federal Court’s Judge Duffy. Finally, in response to their arrogance, the Georgia Courts would agree to our argument for jurisdiction and awarded our family the default judgment of $4.9 million dollars.
Seems incredible doesn’t it?

This victory, however as we were warned, would be short-lived.

Why?

Personam Jurisdiction — which meant the US could rule against the settlement if KGL could prove they had no business ties with the United States. (Which to us seemed impossible given the millions and millions in payments KGL had received as a government contractor from the Army and the Air Force, and KBR, Bechtel…it’s impossible to name them all.

And as you guessed it: KGL would appeal using this law “personam jurisdiction”. I call it a “get out of court free card.” gift wrapped from the FARS.

We knew we were going to lose, but we didn’t care…The battle went forward.

KGL used all means available to fight the jurisdiction with an entire team of lawyers who scheduled a Sept 11th deposition with KGL officers finally coming to America.

The silence was broken. We had waited a long time for this.

My first and only meeting with them, began with a handshake and an apology, asking me not to take any of this personally. OMG….OMG….Who says that? I was locked into a gag order by my lawyer or I would have come out with every*7%%# I could think of .

Instead I sat there seething while in the deposition…listening to their testimony about how small and helpless they were. Didn’t we know it was a war? Their limited employees lost records; there was no help to be able to find them; and on and on… I couldn’t believe this. Did they not know their website was public domain? It currently stated they had over 6,000 employees! This approach could not work in court!

Well, I was wrong.

The court date came up and KGL with their team of lawyers, swept into the courtroom to fight the personam jurisdiction On the stand their witnesses gave the impression KGL was the size of a shoe department behind the bowling alley.

It made me want to puke. The worst part was watching my father and mother’s heads sink into their laps in utter despair. They were humiliated by the experience.
Did this affect KGL?

Oh yeah. Right!

– So much so, that each time someone got off the stand from their side, I would see the smile and knowing looks between them and the slight side high five — like “Good Job…!!!!!”
The judge watched too. It didn’t really matter. The Judge’s hands were tied by the law. This was America, where the law actually meant something.
It seemed that although the Judge would have liked to award justice to us, this would have required a path toward new law he was unwilling or unable to take. Once awarded a $4.9 million default judgment,  Judge Duffy would be forced to overturn the decision based upon KGL’s claim of Personam Jurisdiction.

 Disbelief and shock does not come close to expressing how discouraged we were by the process at that time!

Our Advice for future cases: Do not try for your day in court until the law can be changed for military families. It was too much — like going through his death twice.

After digging out of our depression, we shook off the pain, and looked again for justice. This time we would work to influence Congress by using our personal experience to improve future legislation.
We poured our hearts and souls into learning about personam jurisdiction for foreign contractors and the fight in us really got stronger Washington saw us , monthly, as we spoke with every legislative staffer that would listen to us as we raised problem after problem we had faced. Our fight became a National Issue, moving from our own personal battle to one that could be used as a model to change military and public policy.

Our message was clear: lack of personal jurisdiction rights for military families meant that if you served your country, and were harmed or died at the hands of a foreign contractor, or a domestic contractor using a foreign subcontractor, the company never could be held accountable in a US court. They have the protection of US law and the support of the US Army. The conflict of interest was glaring. The Army could not be unbiased in an investigation of their own when it had to choose between their soldiers or their contractors
.
Soon a second soldier would die in another crash with a KGL vehicle in 2008 with still more TCN’s victims’ complaints hidden in Middle East newspapers.

At the urging of our lawyers, Washington served as a second home. We found ourselves bringing brownies, the only allowed thank you, to the many Senate and Congressional staffers who listened to and learned from our first-hand experiences.

Our case moved from one of personal to one of national significance, turning into a model study of foreign contracting policy loopholes in the FARS. We showed a history of the military’s overdependence with other military contractors whenever media attention towards bad contracting gained a national spotlight in cases such as Blackwater, the electrocution of Ryan Maseth lawsuit, and the Jamie Leigh Jones rape case. On and on we complained for ourselves and all of the other victims that no one knew about.

It was during this process that the LTC Rocky Baragona Act was born.

Lunchroom conversations between staffers brought our family’s plight to the attention of Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chaired the Contracting Oversight Committee. The first inkling of legislation came to her from a West Point military staffer on her team, Stephen Hedger. Hedger shared same birthday as Rocky, June 14th Flag Day, the Army’s Birthday and he was also a West Point Graduate.. Steve called us in on one of our visits to tell us about the legislation, and we jumped at the opportunity to help move it forward.

The LTC Baragona Act we learned, in simple terms, will stop foreign contractors from evading responsibility in civil actions and require them to participate in the US court system or face debarment.

No longer could companies like KGL put military families through the emotional turmoil we had been through. A sister bill sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan (who had attended the same high school as my brother) would soon follow. The bill was now gaining support on a bipartisan basis from both sides of the aisle with Senators Collins, Bennett, Brown and Martinez signed on.
Dominic Baragona, my father, testified at a homeland security hearing on the bill to ask for the Wild West of Contracting used by KGL to end. He pleaded to have what happened to us never happen again. It was an emotional hearing. Sen. Claire McCaskill stood up and spoke words of dismay in an open forum about how a military family would be forced to do their own investigation. It was a small moment of triumph in Rocky’s name.

The hearing was followed with a letter from Representatives Tim Ryan and Steve Driehaus to the Department of Justice with a request for a criminal investigation of KGL’s unethical business practices in both our case and that of others.

In the case of KGL’s bad practices, our family continued to dig further and found new evidence of their subsidiary company, “Combined Shipping Company”. This company is in a joint business venture with the Iranian Government in partnership with a company banned on the US treasury SDN list as a proliferator of WMD’s IRISL’s Val Fajr. We turned all of this over to DODIG with further evidence from a newspaper article showing that the company wanted to increase their presence in the port and shipping industries while IRAN was snubbing their nose at the US/Iranian Sanctions.
Our discovery helped to lay the groundwork for section 102 in the Iran’s Sanction’s Act, with the support of a consultant on our case, Andy Cochran, from the Perles Law Firm. A letter to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, from Congressmen Brad Sherman and Ron Klein has now asked that KGL not be considered for future procurement contracts. Again, along with Congress, we have personally asked for KGL’s debarment. Currently KGL is bidding on over 2 billion in US military contracts.
The curtain is starting to be pulled back on bad contracting players. Foreign and Domestic Contractors have been blatantly abusing their immunity, hiding behind jurisdiction, with little oversight for far too long.

The danger of our US Military’s overdependence on contractors allows for minimal oversight and is a minefield for corruption on both sides.

The Baragona case vs. KGL represents most of what is wrong with foreign contracting companies who use taxpayer dollars to further a war for their own profits; putting in harm’s way all of our brave soldiers who have relied on them as their base for support.

American citizens must demand from our policy makers the courage to change these laws with clear lines on how to enforce them. Families like ours need solutions in jurisdictional laws, so companies like KGL do not go unnoticed. We applaud Sen. McCaskill and Rep. Sherman for their efforts to level the playing field between domestic and foreign contractors.

With the passage of the Iran’s Sanction Amendments and the potential for the “LTC Rocky Baragona Act” to become law, we can balance contracting performance in our favor. This will allow for due process against bad players to take place, which in turn, forces other foreign companies to realign their policies with US principles if they want to do business with us.

Our fight for justice is far from over. We went to Washington yet again for the Weekend of Remembrance, honoring all our soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We visited Arlington to talk to Rocky and we updated him on our criminal investigation hopes.

We also visited our staffers and lobbied on behalf of the bill. All of it has been worth it.
Rocky would say “The Truth has Changed” and we would agree.

“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst but tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” It was a model for my brother’s life.

I hope we are carrying on Rocky’s legacy by doing the same.

Pam Baragona
Contact Pam Baragona through this website.