In a SNAFU of epic proportions, an Army PAO SGT is facing being forcibly removed from the service for trying to safeguard classified information. SGT Ricardo Branch was serving in the PAO office of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers).
Members of the Night Stalkers were to visit the Boeing aircraft company site in Mesa Arizona back in 2014. Boeing scripted a press release stating the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was the unit that carried the Navy commandos from SEAL Team 6 in to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He sent his commander a private email on the Army .mil server that basically alerted his boss that the company should remove that line as the Department of Defense (DOD) had never acknowledged that.
A higher up in the chain of command saw the email thread and alerted Army intelligence that a breach had occurred. He was ordered home and was facing a court-martial for the crime of actually trying to safeguard information.
The irony of the entire episode is that President Obama visited Ft. Campbell after the bin Laden raid and publicly thanked the 160th Night Stalkers for their role in the raid.
Offered the choice of a court-martial or nonjudicial punishment (Article 15), Branch opted for an Article 15 and was reprimanded. He was then transferred to Korea where he took up editing a newspaper for the troops.
But with the Army downsizing right now, Branch’s Article 15 showed up for the Army’s Quantitative Management Program (QMP), which immediately put him up for separation after 13 years of service. The QMP looks for any black marks on a soldier’s record.
“I love the Army,” he said. “I like my job. The reason I’m so in love with the Army is I’m a career soldier. I’ve done three tours in Iraq. I’ve survived cancer twice. The Army is my career. It’s what I know. It is my life. My dad was a soldier. My brother’s a soldier. My grandfather was a soldier. I like telling the Army story because I’m a writer. That’s what I do.”
In recent months, Sgt. Branch’s cause has been taken up by a former Army judge advocate, Jeffery Addicott, who directs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Addicott represents, pro bono, military personnel he believes are unjustly prosecuted.
“At a time when President Trump is calling for the buildup of our military, and rightfully so, it is ironic that the Army is seeking to jettison a dedicated, three-time Iraqi War veteran,” Mr. Addicott told The Times.
“In my professional opinion as a JAG officer with 20 years in service and having tried over 150 cases, they would have not brought this to a court-martial if he had turned down the Article 15,” Mr. Addicott said. “There is no way the government would get a conviction, particularly based on the fact that President Obama had already released the information to the public. If they did bring it to a trial, Sgt. Branch would exercise his right to demand a jury, and they would never get a conviction.”
Branch is appealing the decision and attempting to remain in the Army. Based on the public airing of the raid by President Obama, it is crazy to think that Branch’s situation has ever reached this level.
To read the entire article from The Washington Times, click here:
Photo courtesy DOD