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Accident that caused Tacoma soldier’s death in Afghanistan led to sanctions for his commanders

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on May 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
May 2, 2013 9:55 am
Pfc. Neil Turner died in an accident at his combat outpost in Afghanistan on Jan. 11, 2012.
Pfc. Neil Turner died in an accident at his combat outpost in Afghanistan on Jan. 11, 2012.

The accident in Afghanistan that took Pfc. Neil Turner’s life not only led to a court-martial for his killer, but also contributed to some negative consequences for officers and senior enlisted soldiers in his unit.

As we reported today, Spc. Francisco Perez last week was sentenced to 15 months in confinement for killing Turner on Jan. 11, 2012 by pointing a loaded shoulder-fired rocket launcher at him and pulling the trigger inside their company headquarters in Afghanistan. The missile tore through Turner’s abdomen, but did not explode.

The Army investigator who looked into the incident laid almost all of the blame for Turner’s death on Perez’s carelessness with a launcher known as a light anti-tank weapon (LAW). The investigator noted that other soldiers had caught Perez mishandling weapons in the past, such as by pointing them playfully at others.

That recklessness contrasted with the generally good morale the investigator found in Turner’s unit. The officer pointed out that the company was performing exceptionally well in combat.

However, the investigator also found some lax standards at their combat outpost, such as allowing live and training weapons to be mixed together instead of clearly separated.

Moving up the chain, the incident led the Army to:

  • Remove the company commander and first sergeant overseeing D Company of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment. Those soldiers also received written letters of reprimand from their battalion command sergeant major.
  • File a letter of concern with the D Company executive officer.
  • Rotate Turner’s platoon to another assignment in Afghanistan.
  • Implement new policies on storing weapons and explosives.

Tuner, 21, was the oldest of four brothers. He graduated from Lincoln High School and was well known around his neighborhood.

His parents have said they could not have imagined the manner of their son’s death. When he deployed, they braced themselves for gunfire and mines, not careless fratricide.

The Army investigator seemed similarly appalled by the accident.

“Regardless of whether (Perez) knew if the light anti-tank weapon he was handling was a training aid or an armed weapon, (he) should not have handled and mounted the weapon on his shoulder while Pfc. Turner and (another soldier) were in front of him,” the investigator wrote.

The officer had more to say on Perez’s pattern of carelessness.

“Despite the light anti-tank weapon not being a weapon assigned to him, (Perez) still handled one without being qualified to verify if it was armed … and loaded. He did not follow proper muzzle discipline when he shouldered and pointed the weapon in the direction of two soldiers. Further, the soldier has exhibited a pattern of careless actions while handling weapons, all related to improper muzzle discipline and negligence in his duties to ensure arms, ammunition and explosives were properly stored.”

Here’s one more quote from the investigation I should have put in the newspaper today. It’s from a sergeant who served with Turner describing the young soldier’s potential.

Turner was a “phenomenal soldier, always in the right place at the right time, did his job, never had to teach him things twice.”

 

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