The Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander who directly supervised the “kill team” courts-martial gave his first public remarks about the war crimes investigation today and sought to retake his brigade’s legacy from the controversies that have overshadowed it.
Col. Barry Huggins of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has avoided questions about the courts-martial since he took command of the unit in July 2010. The cases came to a close early this month when the Army dropped murder and assault charges it pressed against Spc. Michael Wagnon, the fifth and final soldier it accused of killing noncombatants during patrols with the former 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The Army convicted 11 of Wagnon’s platoon mates, including four in connection with civilian murders. “Kill team” ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs is serving a life sentence for instigating three civilian murders.
“There was a group of soldiers in the 5th Brigade numbering in the single digits who did not behave with honor,” Huggins said. “Justice was served in a timely manner. We should not make the mistake of assuming those soldiers represent all soldiers.”
The top commanders over the courts-martial were Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles. Huggins was part of their chain of command. He also had to integrate the accused soldiers in daily work since most of them were not in confinement during the trials.
Huggins’ name appeared in some of the early reports about the “kill team” investigation when reporters learned he gave an order to conceal a trove of photos showing 5th Brigade soldiers messing around on their 2009-10 deployment to southern Afghanistan. Some of the images showed soldiers posing with casualties.
At the time, Huggins did not answer questions about the cases because he was charged with ensuring the accused soldiers received fair hearings in court.
One result was that Huggins was less visible to the public than other infantry commanders at Lewis-McChord as he prepared his 2nd Brigade for its deployment this spring back to Afghanistan. The photos he sought to conceal eventually found their way to the public, though the Army has not released them to the press.
His comments today were intended in some ways to take back the 5th Brigade’s narrative from the “kill team.” That’s challenging because the 5th Brigade technically no longer exists. The Army renamed it the 2nd Brigade in a change that was underway even before the unit returned from its last deployment, Huggins has said.
However, the subordinate units are the same, such as the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment. Those units will carry banners from their 09-10 deployment under the 5th Brigade on their flags.
The 5th Brigade’s soldiers “shared in sacrifice, they trained hard and they served with honor,” Huggins said.
“Their deployment should not be forgotten,” he said.