Profile: Kevin Tillman
Kevin Tillman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Corporal Pat Tillman. [Source: US Army / Public domain]St. Louis Cardinals safety Pat Tillman visits the team complex in Tempe, Arizona to tell his coach he will enlist in the Army. Although he has been offered a three-year, multi-million dollar contract, he wants to become a US Ranger and fight in Afghanistan. He clears his locker and sees to his insurance, but does not yet disclose his plan to teammates. [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002] However, the story breaks the next day. [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002] Both Tillman and his brother, Kevin Tillman, a former minor league baseball player in Cleveland, dodge media attention by refusing to be interviewed and driving to Denver, Colorado to enlist, rather than enlist in their home state of Arizona where they are better known. [Express (London), 5/30/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002]
Tillman Does Not Want to Be 'Poster Boy' for Military - Tillman continues to refuse media interviews, denying requests from sources such as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, as well as most major television networks. He asks that the Army not “use him as a poster boy.” [San Jose Mercury News, 5/29/2002] Nancy Hutchinson, a public affairs officer for Army recruitment in Phoenix, Arizona, confirms that Tillman has requested that the military not publicize his enlistment and says that this should ensure his privacy. [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002]
Lionized by Media - Despite Tillman’s best efforts to avoid the limelight, the media gives the story widespread coverage, characterizing him as a “hero” and “an inspiration.” [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002; Daily Herald(Arlington Heights), 5/27/2002] The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that his desire to join the Rangers is “a special calling,” and that both brothers are “volunteering to give up the life of privilege and perks for the opportunity to kill terrorists.” The Tampa Tribune describes Tillman as that “one in a million” who has “got your back.” The Tribune interviews former Rangers who recount the extreme hardships recruits endure, noting that “65 percent of would-be Rangers” do not complete the training. However, it predicts that the Tillmans will go on to “defend our country.” Former Education Secretary William Bennett calls Tillman “a patriot, somebody with a deep, abiding love for our people, our country, and constitution.” [Tampa Tribune, 5/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/27/2002] Although Tillman never discusses his reasons for wanting to join the Rangers publicly [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002] , several news stories see his choice as a patriotic reaction to the events of 9/11, with David Whitely of the Orlando Sentinel writing, “Oh, for Osama bin Laden to run a crossing pattern in front of Pvt. Tillman.” [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002]
New Army enlistees Pat and Kevin Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002), both former pro athletes, undergo the Army’s three-week “Ranger Indoctrination Program.” They then attend Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and are finally posted to Fort Lewis, Washington as members of the Second Battalion in the 75th Ranger Regiment, serving in the same unit. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006]
Pat and Kevin Tillman, pro athletes who joined the Army Rangers and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom (see May 23-June 1, 2002), are presented with the annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN. Both refuse to attend the awards ceremony, another example of their continued effort to avoid the public acclaim surrounding their joining the military. Younger brother Richard accepts on their behalf, and for the first time since their enlistment, their friends and parents speak publicly of the brothers in the ESPN televised tribute. ESPN senior vice president Ron Semiao says of the occasion: “The Tillman brothers’ story is remarkably inspiring. They turned their backs on stardom and potential fortune, dedicated themselves to a larger cause and never once sought glory or recognition. Pat and Kevin’s approach of leading by example is reminiscent of the way Arthur Ashe lived his life and like Arthur, the Tillmans’ decisions have had a profound impact.” [ESPN (.com), 7/2003]
Noam Chomsky, noted linguist and and “anti-imperialism” activist. [Source: Convencion Bautista (.com)]Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006] After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005; Sports Illustrated, 9/11/2006] Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. [Media Matters, 9/24/2005; Nation, 10/24/2005]
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004]
Cover of Mary Tillman’s book, titled after reason given for order to split platoon. [Source: Rodalestore (.com)]En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004] Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” [ESPN, 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino, 2008] Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. [Tillman and Zacchino, 2008, pp. 51]
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal.
Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ] Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Serial One is the first to go through a dangerous canyon en route to complete a combat patrol mission (see 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004). Military writer Stan Goff will describe the extremely narrow canyon as acting “like a funnel, a megaphone.” In a later book, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer will write that Pat Tillman’s convoy must “move at an excruciatingly slow pace,” taking 20 minutes to do so because “the slot [is] so tight that the Humvees’ fenders scraped against its sheer walls.” [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Afghanistan Canyon Area. [Source: ABC News]Serial Two of the Tillman brothers’ Rangers’ platoon, the Black Sheep, heads in a different direction from Serial One to deliver a disabled Humvee to a wrecker on the Khost highway (see April 20-22,2004). However, the tow truck driver refuses to continue when the road becomes impassable. He suggests taking the same route as Serial One, passing Manah to “circle around to the designated highway.” Sergeant Eric Godec must make the call. Although he finds his serial, Two, has lost radio communication with One, he agrees. Two must now make it through the same narrow passage as One (see 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004) with about 17 men and six vehicles, including the tow. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Soldiers Have Eerie Feeling - Men in both convoys will recall having “an eerie feeling” as they pass through the canyon. Kevin Tillman will say, “I knew damn well we were going to get hit.” According to author Jon Krakauer, “the cliffs rose so precipitously [on either side of the canyon],” Private Bryan O’Neal, in Serial Two, has to “lie on his back in order to scan the canyon’s ledges for Taliban through the scope of his M4 carbine.” Sergeant Trevor Alders, manning the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) for Serial Two, and later named one of the “friendlies” shooting at Pat Tillman’s position, will recall that the men speak of this “mutual feeling” of “eeriness” among themselves. As he remembers it, “the canyon closed in on us as we went further into it.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Kevin and Pat Tillman. [Source: IraqHeroes (.com)]The Tillman brothers (see May 23-June 1, 2002) ride in separate convoys to complete a mission, Pat Tillman in designated Serial One and Kevin Tillman in Serial Two; while One moves safely through a dangerous canyon, Two, following shortly behind, runs into an ambush ( see April 22, 2004 and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Trapped in 'Kill Zone' - Serial Two—in the canyon only a minute—hears an explosion. Thinking they have hit a land mine or that an IED has been detonated, Sergeant Greg Baker and his men follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and dismount their “machine gun-laden” vehicle. Baker, in command of that vehicle, will later testify that he “noticed rocks falling,” and “then… saw the second and third mortar rounds hit.” He also will say that he could hear the “rattle of enemy small arms fire.” Now, realizing they are in an ambush, Two tries to get out of the “kill zone,” but the tow truck, which has been at the head of the convoy, blocks the way, its driver “cowering behind rocks.” Baker grabs the driver, throws him back in the truck, and gets him to move out, while he unloads his weapon “up the canyon walls” until it is out of ammunition. He dismounts the tow truck, racing back to his own vehicle—a roofless Humvee open on all sides—reloads, and continues firing. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 264]
Serial Two 'Trigger-Happy' - Ranger Corporal Jason Parsons, a Serial Two member, will describe a scene of “tunnel vision” and “panic,” as his “trigger-happy crew”—men in the convoy’s last vehicle—fire at dark shapes they perceive above, to their north. Both Black Sheep soldiers, Pedro Arreola and Kyle Jones, shoot multiple rounds at this area, the northern ridge line. Kevin Tillman, riding atop Parson’s Humvee, holds his fire, fearing a ricochet effect will land his ordinance on a fellow Ranger’s head, but when he does finally see an opportunity to get off a shot, he finds his Mark 19 machine gun jammed, perhaps due to all the jostling, and he cannot get off a grenade during the entire incident. [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Half of Pat Tillman’s platoon, the Black Sheep, attempts to exit a narrow canyon-slot in southeastern Afghanistan where it has been ambushed (see 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). Coming out of the ambush, the part of the platoon known as Serial Two, in which Tillman’s brother Kevin rides, fires on Serial One, Pat Tillman’s convoy (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Serial Two out of Canyon, Keeps Firing - As the men in Serial Two race out of the canyon, firing at an enemy they believe surrounds them, they do not know where One is positioned. And they do not know that One is trying to provide them with cover. Testifying in the Army’s later criminal investigation, Pat Tillman’s squad leader, Sergeant Matthew Weeks, will state that he “heard over the radio” of Two’s change in route. But he does not recall being able to get through to Two to coordinate their positions. Yet, he will state that because Two had been briefed as to One’s route, according to “Ranger training,” its men should have been able to maintain “situational awareness.” He will add that he does not think, however, that they “had any idea how close we were.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Pat Tillman Leads Fire Team - Specialist Bryan O’Neal is nearest in proximity to Pat Tillman during the whole of the firefight. Initially, upon hearing an explosion, Lieutenant David Uthlaut orders the first convoy to dismount and “press the fight.” He assigns Tillman as one of the three fire team leaders. Tillman dismounts the second vehicle in the convoy and beckons for O’Neal, in the lead vehicle, to hurry up and follow him. One of the Allied Militia Forces (AMF) soldiers, an Afghani armed with an AK 47, has dismounted the vehicle he shares with four other AMFs and their interpreter, and he catches up with O’Neal and Tillman, the three of them then taking a position on a spur on the outskirts of a nearby village. Testifying in the third Army investigation which will, subsequent to this day’s events, be conducted by Brigadier General Gary Jones, O’Neal will state that he follows Tillman’s fire, opening up where he believes Tillman thinks the attackers are firing from. O’Neal can see muzzle flashes up on top of the ridge line. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Army, 7/19/2006 ; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Serial Two Draws Fire; AMF Soldier Fires AK-47 over Road - Weeks will report seeing muzzle flashes and silhouettes and that the first convoy “received fire from across the valley as well.” Tillman runs back to his squad’s leader to ask him if he can take off his body armor and also to let him know where he is positioned. According to Army regulations, Weeks cannot allow him to drop his body armor. O’Neal will tell Army criminal investigators that while Tillman seeks orders from Weeks, the AMF soldier is “firing in all directions… firing over the main road.” Coming back to position, Tillman tells the small firing team that it will be running up a hill.
Squad Leader Weeks Gives Cease-Fire Signal; Sets off Flare - At this time, Weeks gets a radio transmission with the information that “Serial Two [is] mounting up to get around the tow truck vehicle.” He will state: “I remember the lead vehicle starting to make its way out of the canyon, after I had to stand up and look over the spur. I told everybody on the fire teams that friendlies [were] coming out of the low ground, and the lead vehicle was coming out of the canyon, and they mimiced [sic] the call. When I saw the vehicle coming out I also saw [Tillman’s] position. I knew Serial Two did not know where we were.” He will further relate that he rolls on his back and prepares a pen flare gun, then sees a vehicle carrying Sergeant Greg Baker and others stop and “the M240B gunner in the back… fire a burst of fire towards me.” Weeks sets off the flare and gives the cease-fire signal; although some of the soldiers will state to criminal investigators that there is no such signal known, others confirm that the signal is made by waving a hand and arm over the front of the face, palm out. As Weeks does this, he hears another burst, and then people in Baker’s vehicle shouting “cease fire.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
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