Elation at a hard battle finally won quickly turned to shouts of anger on Wednesday.

Frankie Gay, the father of Cpl. Pruitt Allen Rainey, and the parents of nine other soldiers brutally killed in a July 13, 2008 attack on a combat outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan converged on Fort McPherson, Georgia on Wednesday to learn if their sons lives had been lost in vain.  They came to Fort McPherson to hear the findings from a second investigation into the attack. An investigation ordered by the head of Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus. An investigation that at first confirmed the families worst suspicions, only to see that investigation derailed once again through the chain of command.

On Wednesday morning, Gay and the parents were briefed by Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of Marine Corps Forces Command, who was appointed by Petraeus to lead the investigation.  What Natonski found proved that the families of the fallen soldiers, who died in one of Operation Enduring Freedom’s bloodiest battles, had not fought for naught.  

After months of interviews, intelligence retrievals and scouring of maps and army protocol documents, Natonski and his investigative team determined that the commanders supervising the combat outpost (COP) at Wanat “were, through neglect, derelict in the performance of their duties to properly supervise the planning and execution of Operation Rock Move and the subsequent construction of COP at Wanat.”

Operation Rock Move was the title given to the movement of soldiers from C Company, 173rd Airborne, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, from Camp Bella, Afghanistan to Wanat, Afghanistan with merely two weeks left in their deployment.

Seventy-six personnel, a mix of American soldiers and afghan soldiers would be the sum total of forces at Wanat when it was overrun by an estimated 120 insurgents on July 13, 2008.

In Natonski’s executive summary of the investigation that was sent to Petraeus on Jan. 12 of this year the names of the commanding officers are blocked out. They are listed as the battalion commander, company commander and brigade commander.

At the time of the attack Lt. Col. William Ostlund, served as the battalion commander and Col. Charles Preysler, served as the brigade commander. Capt. Matthew Myer, served as the commander on the ground at the time of the attack.

Earlier this year Myer, Preysler and Ostlund received letters of reprimand from the United States Army regarding the battle of Wanat from  General Charles C. Campbell, Commanding General of United States Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson.

In a document dated Jan. 21, 2010, Petraeus states that he is “satisfied that the report of investigation accurately details the relevant facts, draws informed opinions from those facts and makes appropriate recommendations concerning the combat action in Wanat.”

He goes on to state that the brigade commander, “should have known of its (Wanat) inadequacies with respect to planning, researching and supervision.”  This “culpable inefficiency” constituted a dereliction of duty, stated Petraeus.

Natonski and his investigators interviewed 48 witnesses under oath from all levels of command, according to a July 12, 2010 memo to Petraeus regarding the findings of the second investigation.

The investigation covered the actions of commanders and others leading up to the move from COP Bella to Wanat.

The price of Army negligence

In a private, closed room meeting with Natonski and other investigators the parents of the nine soldiers were briefed for about fours about the investigation.

Natonski told the parents that he found the commanders of chosen company negligent in the treatment of the soldiers at Wanat, Gay said.

The executive summary of the second investigation determined that there was: a failure to properly identify the resources required to simultaneously secure the site and construct the combat outpost; a failure to assign responsibility for specific tasks related to the construction of the combat outpost; a failure to develop and implement systems for the Battalion to track key metrics related to the progress and status of combat outpost construction at Wanat; confusion as to the purpose of Class IV construction supplies scheduled for delivery to Wanat; a lack of a plan for Second Platoon to execute specific actions on the objective, to include active and passive security measures; a lack of a plan for the engagement of the local population and government leaders at Wanat and a lack of a plan that Chosen Company or Second Platoon could provide to the unit scheduled to assume responsibility for Wanat and the completion of combat outpost construction.

Natonski went on to say that there was no written plan past July 10, 2008, regarding objectives for the combat outpost at Wanat, Gay said. “On top of Natonski’s investigation and findings, Petraeus personally added after his review a major dereliction of duty which is a very serious offense, which could even be charged with court-martial ,” Gay said.

The findings resulted in a list of recommendations and changes that needed to be implemented by the army, Gay said.

“We were excited, we were elated, we were surprised, we were happy that these three commanders were not whatsoever going to be commanding field combat officers,” Gay said.

The investigation detailed the lack of supplies, fortification and contact with commanding officers that the soldiers had in Wanat in the days leading up to the battle.

The memorandum to Petraeus states, “The failure of the Battalion Commander to visit Wanat, or have a field grade officer visit Wanat during the operation, and the failure of the Company Commander to travel to Wanat prior to 12 July 2008, resulted in a lack of awareness by leaders regarding the supply status at Wanat, the poor location of observation post Topside, the lack of patrolling by Second Platoon and the status of the defenses at Wanat.”

According to Natonski’s executive summary the Wanat combat outpost was seven kilometers north of the battalion command post at Camp Blessing.

Wanat was determined to be a more direct combat outpost that COP Bella as it could be reached by vehicle and helicopter. Bella could only be reached by helicopter.

The plan for the soldiers at Wanat was to construct the combat outpost  fortifications using contracted Afghan heavy engineer equipment and labor. Before the soldiers struck out for Wanat on July 8, 2008 and prior to briefing higher ups, the battalion learned that the Afghan heavy engineer equipment, to be transported by an Afghan contractor, would be delayed at least five days beyond the start of Operation Rock Move.

An Afghan contractor was hired to bring the supplies in, Gay said.

During the briefing the parents were informed as to why the supplies never made it to Wanat.

“They were going to bring all the supplies, all the concertina wire, they were going to build a road and the fortifications,” Gay said.  They refused to come, Gay said, because the army did not provide the Afghan contractors with insurance.

Natonski said the battalion and brigade commander were responsible for providing that certificate, Gay said.

The investigation determined that “there were insufficient forces available to simultaneously secure the site with outposts and patrols while using soldier labor to construct defenses.” The investigation determined that no battalion officer visited Wanat during operation and that the company commander did not arrive at Wanat until July 12, 2008. The plan, called a Concept for Operations (CONOP) for Wanat stated that the company commander was scheduled to arrive on July 9, 2008.

It was also determined that the commanding officers also had little idea as to the actual operational plan for the soldiers stationed at Wanat.  The investigation states, “Other than the CONOP brief and engineer schematics, there was no additional plan prepared by the battalion or company for specific actions that were to occur at Wanat or to monitor the progress of construction.”

The investigation also determined that Chosen Company left Camp Blessing with a sufficient amount of water to perform standard security tasks, but not enough to allow soldiers to perform sustained manual labor in Afghan heat.  The initial supply of water was rapidly consumed as soldiers constructed the combat outpost, and when the supplies did not arrive on July 9, 2008, construction work was reduced to ensure all soldiers were sufficiently hydrated to fight if necessary, according to the investigation.

It was determined that the battalion was not monitoring the status of supplies to Wanat, though the combat outpost did receive a sufficient supply of water on July 12, 2008.

The investigation also determined that the soldiers stationed at Wanat received air support in the form of drones up until July 12, 2008, when the drones were shifted to “higher operational priorities and troops-in-contact situations.”

Gay said during the briefing they were told why the drones were not in the air prior to and during the attack on Wanat.

The drones were pulled off of Wanat due to the need for the drones to secure the safety of a high level official that was visiting Camp Blessing from Bagram Air Base, Gay said. “So it was more important to pull that drone off of Wanat in a time of need with highest priority, to escort this officer, out of Camp Blessing back to Bagram,” he said.

That was only one drone, Gay said, the briefing did not reveal where the second drone was at leading up to the attack at Wanat.

An investigation in secret

 The parent’s briefing regarding the investigation was delayed following the deadline in April due to new evidence reportedly uncovered by Campbell, Gay said.

At the meeting on Wednesday they found out what that evidence was following Natonski’s departure to board a plane to Washington, D.C. to brief congress and the senate on his findings.

Campbell, was head of Army Forces Command until June 1 of this year.

As the head of the army, Campbell was the person that sent out the letters of reprimand to Preysler, Ostlund and Myer, Gay said. “He stood in front of us and said he was going to have to reverse and retract his three letters of reprimand,” Gay said. “He said ‘ I’m going to have to drop all charges including Petraeus dereliction of duty and other charges, including all the charges brought forth by the investigation.”

Ostlund, Preysler and Myer are still actively serving in the military.

It was a grieving parent’s greatest nightmare in full and heartbreaking bloom.  At the end of April when Campbell was charged with implementing these charges he was advised and recommended by the Department of Defense not to do a review and not to talk to any of the commanders in question, Gay said.

“He admitted that he took it upon himself as a 40 year army veteran that he needed to give these three commanders a chance to sit down and talk,” Gay said.

Campbell then summoned all three commanders to Fort McPherson to conduct separate two-hour interviews with each, Gay said.

He told the parents his decision was a “judgment call,” Gay said, “this is not about the facts and findings of the investigation.”

Quoting Campbell from notes he took during the briefing Gay said, “This is not about the nine deaths or the 27 soldiers injured in the battle of Wanat, I made this decision about the three officers who have served in the army as commanders...this is a judgment call, I’m a good judge of character and I can read people very well and based on what I heard today I’m reversing and dropping all charges and retracting my three letters of reprimand.”

The parents told Campbell that he would have to live with the decision he made.  “The public and the people in this country and the soldiers who fought there, who told us what happened, you are calling them a liar, you are telling us we’re wrong, you’re telling Gen. Petraeus he’s wrong, that he made the wrong recommendations,” Gay said he told Campbell.

During Campbell’s briefing he told the families that the soldiers at Wanat had reasonable supplies and provisions for the task assigned, Gay said.

Gay said in all of the investigations it details that the combat outpost had one strand of concertina wire that did not completely protect the Topside observation post, where all of the nine soldiers were killed.

“Now Natonski had just sat there and told us that everything went wrong, they didn’t have all that they needed, no support, no fire power,” Gay said.

For the two hours that Campbell fielding questions from the parents, most were not answered and others were met with an outright refusal from Campbell to explain his reasoning or produce documentation, Gay said.

He would also not explain why he chose to only interview the commanding officers, Gay said.  When the parents requested to see the letters of reprimand, Campbell called the documents “irrelevant,” Gay said.

The first thing Campbell said in his presentation was, “Gen. Natonski in his investigation said there was no written plan, there was no objective of any kind, I find number one that there was a very definitive written plan, a 16 week written plan and all soldiers knew what they were doing for 16 weeks,” Gay said.

Campbell went on to say that the soldiers knew they were not there to build a combat outpost, he said they were there to improve the road from Count Blessing to Wanat, Gay said.

The general also said he had possession of the 16 week plan, Gay said.

“This was the new, uncovered information,” Gay said. “After he sent out the letters of reprimand, Petraeus did his thing, the investigator did his thing, after he sat down with the three commanders and did his own interview with these three they handed him personally a definitive 16 week plan.”

Gay said he is suspicious of the origins of the 16 week plan and when it was actually developed. Campbell stated that since they had a 16 week plan “they had adequate and reasonable fire support, they had adequate and reasonable fortification, they had adequate and reasonable plan of Medevac and the adequate and reasonable contact with battalion at all times,” Gay said.

The general did admit to some supply problems but that it was very common to have these problems because they were in such a bad area, Gay said. The parents asked to see the 16 week definitive plan and asked if it was available to Natonski. “He said no, I have it,” Gay said. “Nobody has seen this 16 week definitive plan, right now it’s imaginary.”  

A bitter taste

Gay thinks the time to make a statement is now, especially with Petraeus making headline news as the possible new commander of the forces in Afghanistan. His confirmation hearings are tentatively scheduled for next week but he is scheduled to be at a hearing today regarding the military in Afghanistan, Gay said.

The plan is to go to congress and the senate and demand to see the 16 week definitive plan, Gay said.

“The timing of this stinks,” Gay said. “Our boys didn’t know about it. Nobody knew about it but the commanders.” Retired Col. David Brostrom, father of fallen soldier 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, a fellow soldier of Rainey’s, flew to Washington D.C. on Thursday to begin meeting with senators and congressmen aware of the parents’ plight, Gay said.

A Dateline special about Wanat and the parent’s fight for answers is scheduled to air this Sunday, June 27, at 7 p.m., Gay said.

This new development has altered Gay’s feelings toward the United States Army forever.  

“ I regret my son ever going into the United States Army, the army let him down, they let these fathers and mothers down, they let these soldiers down who give their life, the Army has dishonored them, the Army needs to be held accountable,” Gay said. “It is appalling for one retired general to take two hours with three generals and draw his own conclusions and disagree with Gen. Petraeus, disagree with the inspector general, disagree with Gen. Natonski and 20 other investigators on their facts and findings after interviewing every single soldier that was there, even us personally as parents were interviewed.”

Battle of Wanat

The battle of Wanat began in the pre-dawn hours of July 13, 2008, when rocket-propelled grenades rendered the unit’s mortars ineffective and some 200 insurgents descended on the combat outpost. The observation post was assaulted the hardest, and, in just 15 minutes, all nine soldiers at the post were either killed or injured.

By the time air support arrived hours later, nine soldiers were dead. The soldiers stationed at Wanat were members of C Company, 173rd Airborne, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, based out of Italy.

C Company, or “Chosen Company,” 2nd Platoon was ordered to relocate to Wanat with two weeks left in its 15-month deployment.  In a report, Douglas Cubbison of the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute concluded that no senior commander ever visited Wanat before establishing it as an outpost and it was “highly questionable” whether these commanders exercised due diligence when they ordered a platoon to move there.

He writes that the Combined Joint Task Force, which heads operations in Afghanistan, did not place adequate emphasis upon the planning, implementation and sustainment of the move to Wanat.

Cubbison also states that the lack of heavy equipment to fortify defenses and the lack of intelligence support directly contributed to the casualties suffered on July 13. Since this battle and several others that have claimed numerous American lives in the Waigal Valley, where Wanat is located, the area has been closed to United States Armed Forces.

To view videos and news stories from various media outlets and to learn more about Cpl. Pruitt Allen Rainey, his fellow soldiers and the battle of Wanat visit the Facebook page “Playing for Pruitt.”

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