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Friendly fire hearing officer recommends against courts-martial

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFPN) -- The two Illinois Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots implicated in a deadly "friendly fire" incident last year should not face courts-martial, the investigating officer's report said.

Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach, of the 170th Fighter Squadron, face a variety of charges stemming from the April 17, 2002, incident that killed four Canadian soldiers and injured eight others near Tarnak Farms, Afghanistan.

Schmidt reportedly dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Canadians, who were conducting night training. The two faced a Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 32 hearing in January to determine if there was enough evidence to proceed to court-martial.

Col. Patrick Rosenow, the Article 32 hearing officer investigating the charges, has concluded that there is sufficient evidence to charge each pilot and try him by court-martial. However, Rosenow's non-binding recommendation is that disciplinary action be handled through administrative action.

Specifically, Rosenow's report recommended that Schmidt's case be considered in a non-judicial or administrative forum in lieu of trial by court-martial, and that Umbach's case be considered in an administrative forum in lieu of court-martial.

Rosenow asserted that the interests of good order and discipline could adequately be addressed by sanctions other than trial by court-martial.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force commander and the general court-martial convening authority, will review the report and advisory recommendations before deciding on each case. His options include referral of some or all of the charges to court-martial, non-judicial punishment, administrative sanctions, or dismissal of some or all of the charges with no further action.

Schmidt had been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of assault, and dereliction of duty by failing to exercise appropriate flight discipline and failing to comply with the rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

Umbach faces the same charges besides an allegation that he, as flight commander at the time, failed to ensure that Schmidt complied with the rules of engagement.

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