Return to

September 12, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Pilot's defense
Air National Guard Maj. Harry Schmidt's defense team has filed a ream of pretrial motions as the court battle heats up in the antiterror war's most infamous case of fratricide. We obtained copies via an Air Force source.

The Air Force has charged the F-16 pilot with dereliction of duty in the "friendly fire" bombing deaths of eight Canadian soldiers in April 2002 during the war in Afghanistan.

In the motions, Maj. Schmidt's civilian and military attorneys want:

•A public trial. The officer's pretrial Article 32 hearing was closed to the public. Defense attorneys want the court-martial opened so fellow fighter pilots can attend and report back to their units.

"In this case, a number of appropriately cleared military fighter pilots have expressed an interest to the accused of attending his trial," the motion states. "They have been very frank in their concerns that Maj. Schmidt receive a fair trial because of the nature of the charge and the fact that the accident occurred in a combat zone on a combat mission, much like they have been or may be called upon to fly in the future."

•Words struck. Maj. Schmidt's attorneys want the court to strike from the charging document the phrase "should have known." The phrase lowers the bar of proof the prosecution must meet to prove willful dereliction of duty.

•The charge dismissed. The military court lacks jurisdiction over National Guardsmen because, they say, the law allowing the federal government to activate them is unconstitutional.

•The charges set aside and appointment of a new officer, called a convening authority, to supervise the upcoming court-martial. Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, the current convening authority, veered from normal procedure, they say, by referring the charges for court-martial without first conferring with his staff judge advocate.

Stryker visit
Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee this week made a day trip to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to see firsthand how the Stryker vehicle's armor is holding up in renewed live-fire tests.

The Washington Times reported on Monday that the Army has been forced to subject the Stryker's ceramic armor to new tests after it discovered the German manufacturer, IBD, produced armor tiles that did not meet production specifications. The Army is testing 39 armor panels that represent the category of tiles that did not meet contract demands because they were made by an unapproved company, or were not the right size or had a changed chemical makeup.

The Army is subjecting the 39 tiles to heavy machine-gun fire to see if each meets a requirement of repelling a 14.5 millimeter round. Of the first 11, one failed. The Army says it will fix the problem by replacing the tile or reinforcing it with a steel plate.

IBD released a statement this week that said, in part, "In a large program such as the Stryker, the production of armor is an iterative process that often requires numerous tests and adjustments to the original design before it is accepted into service. These adjustments may result from changes in protection philosophy, configuration management and other technical matters. We are confident that people who understand this process realize that the IBD 14.5 armor is a sound design."

The Stryker has the fan who matters most: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "The Stryker is doing fine," he said this week. "We're planning to have some six brigades of Strykers. ... The Stryker is alive and well in America."

The first Stryker brigade of 300 vehicles and 3,600 soldiers is scheduled to make its combat debut in Iraq next month. The Army's goal is to get a Stryker brigade to an overseas hot spot in four days. That ambitious goal will not be tested in Iraq. The 300 Strykers are traveling by ship.

Buy Pakistani?
The Pentagon is about to waive "buy American" provisions of U.S. law and allow Pakistan to provide the goatskin leather used in the distinctive U.S. aviator bomber jackets.

The Defense Department has notified a U.S. leather tanner that it will waive provisions of the law known as the Berry Amendment that requires the Pentagon to buy key components from U.S. manufacturers.

In April, the Pentagon announced it would buy 12,000 to 30,000 of the brown, fur-collared bomber jackets over the next several years.

According to congressional aides, the Defense Department in the past allowed the jackets to be made with Pakistani goatskin. This is because the military did not believe either that U.S. suppliers had sufficient stocks of raw U.S. goatskins, or that U.S. tanners were capable of making the soft brown leather.

According to the aides, the Pentagon believes the buy-American law does not apply to the leather used to make the bomber jackets, only the jackets themselves.

We are told that the United States has plenty of suppliers of raw goatskin for the jackets and at least seven tanners who can make the jackets.

"The Pentagon's disregard of the Berry Amendment to allow foreign leather to be used in this procurement is entirely unnecessary, as well as unlawful," one House aide said. "The Defense Department should be urged to reconsider its waiver."

Proposed changes to the Berry Amendment in the House version of the pending defense-authorization bill would include bomber-jacket leather in the buy-American law.

Kielbasa swiped
Polish troops in Iraq suffered a setback earlier this month when two tons of Polish sausage sent from home was stolen before it could be consumed by hungry soldiers.

A Polish government aircraft sent the pork-filled sausage to Iraq for a ceremony marking Polish troops' takeover of the south-central zone in Iraq, Warsaw Polish radio reported Sept. 4.

"The cases containing the delicacy were collected from an airport in Kuwait by Polish soldiers who were to transport them to Iraq," the broadcast said. "But no sausage was served at the ceremony."

According to the radio, "it's impossible to find anyone at the Babylon Camp who knows anything about the shipment."

American sausages are served to the troops at Camp Babylon nearly every day. But for the Poles, those sausages don't measure up to the traditional Polish meat-filled cylinders.

Now that's Stalinism
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told this story before the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain Saddam Hussein's police state:

"The chief of police that we have found, who's done a fantastic job in Baghdad, is a Sunni Arab. He hates the Ba'athists. He spent a year in prison because he actually denounced Saddam Hussein. I told him, 'Were you crazy to denounce Saddam Hussein?' He said, 'Well, I only told it to my best friend.' "

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    Return to