Battle Rattle

Thoughts on the ’60 Minutes’ piece with Dakota Meyer

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President Obama presents Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House on Sept. 15. (Photo by Rob Curtis/Staff)

Last night, the messy background behind Sgt. Dakota Meyer’s Medal of Honor was reintroduced to the nation.

In a 15-minute piece on “60 Minutes,” CBS reporter David Martin outlined what went wrong in the six-hour battle in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, that led to Meyer taking his life in his hands on Sept. 8, 2009, in an attempt to save as many Afghan and American forces as he could from the teeth of a well planned ambush.

The clip is up here:

Some of the details reported last night will be common knowledge to those who have tracked Ganjgal, but there were some new details.

The Army Center for Lessons Learned training video of the account had not been widely distributed, for example. CBS also tracked down retired Col. Richard Hooker, one of the two officers who investigated the leadership failures that played a key role in what went wrong. Meyer himself also described what happened with refreshing candor, as painful as it is.

Readers of Marine Corps Times, Bing West’s “The Wrong War,” and some of McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay’s initial reporting on the battle will know much more about the failures and frustration that day, however.

Since late 2009, I’ve actually written four Marine Corps Times cover stories that focused heavily on Ganjgal (note: I’ve linked them below), along with about 20 other shorter pieces.

There’s always another thread to pull on with the story. What about the reprimands? What about awards that are still pending? It’s a messy situation, and it still isn’t all resolved.

Martin’s piece last night does the story — and the families involved — a great service. It elevates Ganjgal’s profile yet again, adding in a lot of things that didn’t come up last week when President Obama awarded Meyer the nation’s top valor award.

Already today, The Associated Press has jumped on the story, leveraging comments that Gold Star family members Susan Price and Charlene Westbrook made on “60 Minutes.” They’ve shared their thoughts before, but this time it’s with a recently awarded Medal of Honor in the national consciousness.

It’s hard to say what’s next. Already, the Battle of Ganjgal has become a signature moment in the Afghanistan war, and that’s without considering the Medal of Honor case pending for Will Swenson, the Army captain who assisted Meyer in bringing home the bodies of four Americans killed in the battle.

If Swenson receives the award, it’d mark the first time since 1993′s Battle of Mogadishu that two service members receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the same fight. In yet another way, Ganjgal would become Afghanistan’s “Blackhawk Down.”

We’re watching history unfold before our eyes. It’s just shame it has to be so painful.

Previous Marine Corps Times cover stories on Ganjgal
Families outraged over engagement restrictions
Report: Army denied aid to team under fire
Heroism in ambush may yield top valor awards
MoH nominee says he does not feel like a hero