Tank commander charged in 'Friendly Fire' death

Lance Cpl. Benjamin Schmidt was killed October 2011

SAN ANTONIO - The mother of a San Antonio marine killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan said she has learned that charges have been filed against the man who gave the order to shoot. 

Lance Cpl. Benjamin Schmidt, 24, died from a gunshot wound to the head while on duty in Afghanistan in October 2011. Military investigators later determined he was killed by "friendly fire."

Schmidt is the son of San Antonio Spurs team doctor, David Schmidt, M. D., and Becky Whetstone, a former columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. 

In a telephone interview, Whetstone, who now lives in Little Rock, Ark., said she got a visit from officials with the U. S. Marine Corps last week.  She said they gave her details, including graphics and maps, explaining exactly what happened leading to the death of her son. 

Whetstone said they told her the tank commander, Sgt. Jason Byrd, and the marine manning the tank’s machine gun, failed to follow proper military procedure. She said the gunner spotted through his gun sight what he thought was the muzzle of an insurgent’s weapon, but failed to double check by using either a higher-powered setting on the sight, or high-power binoculars. 

“Then he asked for permission to shoot from a commander,” Whetstone said.  “The commander was supposed to either look through the highest magnification on his gun sight or high-powered binoculars, and he didn't do that." 

Whetstone said ultimately, the blame goes to the commander. 

Byrd was charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. A military hearing next week will determine whether the case against him will proceed. 

"There's no joy in this man being punished.  However, if he did something negligent and didn't follow the rules, I suppose they need to do something to get his attention," Whetstone said. 

Whetstone said her family has already forgiven Byrd and the others involved.  Now, she said, she also feels a sense of peace, knowing exactly how her son died.


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