Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Lt. Pantano

I originally wrote the following post in the comments on this article regarding the resignation of Lt. Pantano. As many of you know, I think that he got a raw deal in this case. Mustang23 disagrees, and offers a thoughtful, reasoned discussion of his point of view. He suspects that there was an understanding that lesser offenses wouldn't be considered against Pantano in exchange for his resignation. I hope not, but it does go to show that even soldiers who have "been there, done that" can have different interpretations of whether something is right or wrong. As I've mentioned here before, I've seen a long-time friendship end over whether a particular shot was justified.

I do think though, that absent some clear indication of malice, the proper forum for such discussions is the AAR (after action review.) I think that we do need to be seen punishing those in our ranks who wilfully violate the law of land warfare, or who act unlawfully out of hatred towards the enemy. But I don't think that, absent a clear violation or malicious act, decisions about tactics and rounds fired, etc. need to be debated in the pages of Time, or decided in a military court. All that incidents like the aftermath of the Pantano case do is demoralize the troops, and introduce another layer of doubt into the most uncertain situations imaginable.

With that said, here's what I said about Mustang23's post:

I'm afraid that I have to disagree with Mustang23, a soldier for whom I have a great deal of respect, at least in terms of his feeling that there was a lack of proportionality in Lt Pantono's response. I'm not convinced, at least from what I've seen in the case, that 2 mags worth of ammo was overkill. The 5.56mm NATO round is woefully ineffective as an immediate manstopper, and I can certainly envision a situation where, even after 30 rounds, a human body or two is still moving around - in the worst case scenario, with enough conscious control to move a finger and detonate a remote controlled IED in the car before expiring.

If he was justified in shooting at all - and I strongly believe that he was - he was justified in shooting until all movement ceased and the two threats were completely, totally and finally dead.

If I were in the same situation - faced with a potential carbomb and two men who appeared threatening, and who could potentially have a device as small as a keyring door opener that required as little as a single slight finger push to detonate the carbomb - I don't think that I would fire a few rounds and stop to evaluate the situation. I would fire until both bodies were conclusively incapable of any further movement. And, to be honest, I doubt that I would even notice that I had changed magazines. For a well drilled marksman, a magazine change is a pretty automatic act.

I wasn't there, but my interpretation is that the nature of the enemy dictated his response - for the enemy to threaten his life and the life of his men did not require an obvious, overt gesture like pulling the pin of a grenade or pointing a weapon - all it required was that the enemy press a button on a concealed detonator.

The cyclic fire rate on an M-4 is 600 rounds per minute, or 10 rounds a second, or 3 seconds per magazine - and it takes less than a second for a trained shooter to make a magazine change. Again, I wasn't there, but the whole thing could easily have taken place in far less than 10 seconds, under the extreme stress of close quarters combat, within killing range of a potential carbomb. I'm not willing to second guess the number of of rounds fired under those circumstances. (And the reports I've seen indicate that he was armed with an M-4, not the M-16A2 with its ridiculous burst mode, so emptying a mag would require one trigger operation, not 10.)

Which leaves only the calling card as a possible offense. Was leaving the calling card wrong? Maybe - it's certainly something that US units have done in past wars. I don't know what the RoE says about it, but absent a clear prohibition in the RoE, I don't think it's a sufficiently heinous to be career ending. And I don't think that it would have been, absent the hysteria over the premeditated murder charge.

I do think that Mustang23 nails it when he says that "this has been a black mark on the Corps and needs to be buried." I also agree with that, given the media attention that would have followed him around, Pantano would have been ineffective as a combat leader. At this point, whether or not there was a quid pro quo agreement, I don't think that he had a real alternative to resignation - given the embarrassment the Corps caused itself through him, had Lt. Pantano stayed on, he would have been a pariah in the Corps, and certainly would not have been afforded a opportunity for a meaningful career.

I disagree with Mustang23 over the root cause, however. Absent some detail that hasn't been made public, I don't think Pantano's actions that day have been demonstrated to have been wrong. (It would be different, for example, if it came out that Pantano had paused, ensured the two men were dead, and then fired into their corpses to mutilate them, or if it came out that the RoE emphasised that calling cards were prohibited. But I haven't seen anything like that established in the reports I've read about the incident.) I think that the Corps overreacted to the potential media response if Coburn went public with an allegation of murder (which is why I believe the commanders on the ground were overruled) and Pantano paid the price.

Maybe, given Coburn's allegations, the Corps had no choice but to prefer charges, and given the media attention those charges engendered, maybe Pantano had no choice but to resign. I'm not convinced, though, that the whole situation couldn't have been handled in a way that preserved the career of a good combat officer and ended that of a substandard NCO, instead of the other way around.

And, while I agree that a "poor example to the troops" has been set, I think that it has been set by a Marine Corps JAG officer somewhere who has let the troops know that, if they resort to automatic weapons fire in close quarters combat, they stand the chance of being subjected to excessive and automatically career-ending scrutiny over that choice.

A wise old sergeant major once told me that "you may love the Army, but don't make the mistake of thinking that the Army loves you back," and I think that applies here to the Marine Corps as well. Pantano loved the Corps, but when, at least from what I know of the case, through no fault of his own, he became a liability to them, they cut him away like a screaming bag-lock. The Marine Corps has a fine sense of public relations, and I think that in this case, they let that overcome their sense of honor.


Anonymous A Brit said...

In relation to this post, and in some ways the ones below, I was wondering about your opinion on the different RoE used by the Brits and American forces in Iraq?

Fair enough the population is less hostile in the south, however do you think that the average soldier in the US army has been let down by their training with regards to dealing with the civilian population?

In particular language and cultural training, things are probably different in SF, but I wonder if better relations with the civilian population could be achieved with a less 'vigourous' approach to force protection.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Mental Meanderings said...

This is one example of the military practicing a very poor management technique that I like to call "Management by Complaint." Something happens and rather than stick to previously established policies (ROE or UCMJ for example) they jump about to avoid telling a reporter or a lawyer no. SFalphageek is right, this kind of management is bad for morale and bad for operational excellence.


5:39 PM  
Anonymous Geno Beano said...

Your comments show me great thought, it is amazing how those of us that do not know the specs of the weapons can be making judgement on those that do!!!
God Bless your efforts, your thinking is real straight!!!

11:44 PM  
Blogger Uncle Jimbo said...

Geek Meister,

The problem I have is the reload and the sign. The LT is a combat leader and his actions inform his troopies actions going forward.

At the point he noticed his weapon was locked to the rear and performed the appropriate immediate action of recharging his weapon, he also should have reevaluated the threat.

I don't recall the count of rounds in the bodies of the bad guys he killed, but I remember it was enough. The extra half second looking over your front sight post was called for because we don't countenance shooting indiscriminately.

The hanging of a sign was also a very bad choice. We are tasked with presenting the face of America to many who will never see another American other than folks like the Geek and he represents us well. The LT stepped over the line of decency by his own admission and I believe did the honorable thing by resigning.

Nobody wants a good man run out of the service, but nobody reloaded that gun but him.


Uncle J

Military Matters

1:21 AM  
Blogger Uncle Jimbo said...

I failed to mention that I don't believe he should have been punished beyond a letter of reprimand at most.

1:31 AM  
Anonymous George Dooley said...

As an SF Vietnam vet, I have a few thoughts about Lt Pantano.

First, one magazine (in my day, 18 rounds) ought to be sufficient to kill two bad guys (at least it was for me). If you have to reload, something is wrong.

I recall that the 5.56mm round had an hydraulic effect on the body. With the velocity and tumbling effect, one round usually produced a kill.

Lastly, Lt Pantano was dead in the water if he stayed in the Marines. With the courts martial on his record his chances for promotion and selection for senior service schools were nil.

I still contend that the services are eating their young. We're holding soldiers/marines to a higher standard than we did with the "greatest generation". Our WW II grandfathers routinely killed SS POW troops in Germany and Japs in the Pacific as shown in almost every biography or movie about that war.

The services have recruiting problems. I can see why. As an army retiree I wouldn't want to serve in the military now.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Chevy Rose said...

I'm not experienced in military training, but my gut says he should not been discharged. This enemy is not unlike a bed of snakes; some are rattlers, some are asps, some are garden non-poisonous. You, the soldier, must only kill the rattlers and asps. Pretty tough job to do when you and your people are in standing in the middle of that bed. Is that a bad metaphor?

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be curious to know what happened to Coburn, the Marine that made the accusation in the first place.

3:26 PM  
Blogger jbrookins said...

Killing a bad guy with one bullet or 100 bullets, does it matter? Only to the log officer (he has to order more bullets) and those that sit on the sidelines.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, M4s as used by the USMC and US Army are not CAR-15s, they have burst mode-they are not fully auto.

He had to squeeze the trigger ten times, reload, and then ten more to fire 60 rounds.

That being said, it is not indicative of anything other then perhaps, surprise/shock. He was taken by surprise by the approach of these people and fired as much as he could as fast as he could, I'd guess.

The sign was a bad call and is of more significance then ammo expenditure. Hard to justify that one.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect...
Pantano fired sixty rounds into two targets at contact range, and changed magazines halfway through.
Either he COULDN'T stop shooting (which I read as a loss of control, as you won't be able to convince me that ANY human target will still be offering fight after thirty rounds of 5.56 at 6 feet or less) or he DECIDED NOT TO stop shooting, even after the targets were definitively down.
THEN he leaves a "greeting card".

Sorry, but as an American and taxpayer that is NOT the kind of behavior that I expect from a junior leader and public representative of my nation.

Dave P.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I just don't understand. The two Iraqi's had already been held prisoner for some time in cuffs, the vehicle had already been searched once. And you're talking about a "keyring car-bomb trigger" and "eliminating the threat"? The Iraqi's were not armed. They were on foot. It wasn't a vehicle approaching him.

"According to Pantano, during the search of the vehicle he felt the Iraqis posed a threat to him. They were talking, and Pantano believed they were conspiring together. When they both turned to face each other, he shouted "Stop!" in both Arabic and English, and when they did not, he shot them" (His Mother's website gave an innacurate account - directly contradicted by the latter revelations of his statements to investigators, they were not facing him or approaching him - he began his action while they "were facing each other".)

The only reason he wasn't convicted was that everyone else was looking outwards and didn't see exactly what the two Iraqi's were doing - and the only willing witnesses just so happened to be not so smart.

In all likelyhood, he's a murderer. He let his anger overwhelm him.

At the VERY least, he was incompetent - he somehow allowing two unarmed alread-searched civilians to "pose a threat to himself" despite being there with his entire squad - and instead of using warning shots, backing up, and using single shots or bursts he decided to use two full clips -- and he also executed unarmed wounded prisoners (you don't think they died with the first bullet or two, do you?).

It's pathetic to see just how infrequently the US Military is able to successfully prosecute those who kill unjustly in what is supposed to be a just War. I expected better.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Oldsalt said...

As a vet I agree with the earlier assesment that todays military is held to a much higher standsrd then any generation of warfighters has ever been and have only the knoledge gleamed from an admittedly flawe press and various mill-bloggers. That being said justifying current bad acts based on what was an ignored but still wrong actions of our fathers is idiotic, and immoral. I believe from what I have read and seen that the lt. either panicked or snapped neither of which is allowable in combat leader. The seperation strikes as a fair soloution

6:49 AM  

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