Last week, Army Staff Sergeant Ricardo Branch received notice that a decision had been made in his third and final appeal.  Aware that he could not access the documents without a Common Access Card reader, he had two options: go to his unit, where he reluctantly admitted to me that he wouldn’t be comfortable, or go to the base library.  Branch chose to go to the library.

After logging in to one of the available computers, he downloaded the lengthy document and prepared to begin sifting through it for the important news – but he didn’t have to.  Right there on the first page, in black and white, he read the words, “we regret to inform you,” and he already knew the rest.  His two-year fight to stay in the Army, and indeed his entire thirteen year career as a soldier, were over just like that.  No ceremony, no medal pinned on his chest, not even a pleasant luncheon.

This is where it really sucks,” Branch told me over the phone, “where it really hits me in the heart.  I wanted to scream, unfortunately that wasn’t an option.  I was in a library, surrounding by soldiers in uniform, carrying on with their day… it was like getting punched in the face, and not being able to make a sound.”

Three months ago, SOFREP brought you the story of Staff Sergeant Ricardo Branch, a public affairs soldier previously assigned the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).  In February of 2014, Branch was tasked with reviewing an article by his superior officer that was set for publication in Boeing’s internal news service.  That story included a single sentence that suggested the 160th were involved in the historic raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

“I was doing everything in my power, that I knew of, to safeguard that information.” Branch explained to me.

Unbeknownst to Branch at the time, SOAR’s involvement in the raid was already nearing common knowledge.  In fact, only days after the raid occurred on May 2nd, 2011, President Barrack Obama gave a public address in which he congratulated the 160th on their participation in bringing down the most wanted terrorist on the planet.  All Branch knew, was that as far as he was aware, SOAR’s involvement in the operation remained classified, so he sent an email from his DoD account to that of the major who had sent the story along to him, citing his concerns about the article’s possible violation of OPSEC, or operational security.  Branch even quoted DoD policy directly in the email.

Days later, Branch would find himself under investigation for violating his unit’s operational security.  Apparently, the intelligence division of his command (commonly referred to as the S2) had flagged Branch’s email to the major, citing the sentence he copied and pasted from the Boeing article as the violation.  That’s right, despite the major emailing the article to Branch over the same mode of communication, only the Staff Sergeant was under investigation for allowing content from the third-party article to transmit from one DoD e-mail address to another.

In the months that followed, Branch would be subject to an Article 15, or nonjudicial punishment, for the e-mail he sent, then soon thereafter, he was notified that the violation would see him separated from the Army before his enlistment was up, as a part of the Obama administration’s Quantitative Management Program (QMP).  Branch, a career soldier whose father and brother both also served (or continue to serve) in the U.S. Army, was being sent out to pasture over an email in which he tried to protect OPSEC.  At the very least, his violation matched that of the major, who was never subject to any sort of investigation.