Exonerated: Marines Restore Honor of Bronze Star Recipient Demoted for…Shooting a Tractor?

The Blaze

Capt. Joshua Waddell was exonerated by the Marine Corps this week, ending a two-year fight to restore his honor after a career-crushing demotion in 2011, when he ordered snipers in Afghanistan to disable a tractor being used to help a wounded enemy bomb maker escape.

Waddell, who was awarded the Bronze Star on his first tour of duty, found himself struggling to keep his career going following his second deployment in Afghanistan, when he was stripped of his command and denied promotions because teenage civilians were later discovered to have been among those helping the bomb maker.

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Capt. Joshua Waddell on patrol in Afghanistan

Capt. Joshua Waddell on patrol in Afghanistan

Capt. Joshua Waddell in Afghanistan.

"I'm grateful that the Marine Corps has seen fit, through due administrative process, to clear this unfortunate incident from my record," Waddell told The Blaze. "I look forward to the opportunity of continued service in the Marines."

Dozens of U.S. troops interviewed since 2009, in Afghanistan said the rules of engagement make their missions more dangerous. The rules, sometimes referred to as the Karzai 12, referring to President Hamid Karzai, limit what U.S. troops can do on military missions in the country. Those rules are implemented mainly to limit civilian casualties and are more stringent in Afghanistan.

While stationed in Sangin, Afghanistan on Nov. 1,  2011, then 25-year-old executive officer Waddell with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Corps Regiment, was monitoring surveillance of enemy fighters when he spotted a man who had been identified as a bomb maker working  in the area. It was an important mission for Waddell and his men who were hoping to find this bomb maker. Earlier that week, a sergeant from India Company had lost both legs and a hand when a bomb detonated in their area. Waddell had in his sight the man he believed was responsible.

He received permission from his battalion commanders and ordered Marine snipers to open fire on the enemy. The bomb maker was hit and then a group of Afghan men rushed to aid the accused.

They put  him on a tractor and attempted to flee when then Waddell  ordered the snipers to hit the engine block of the tractor. The Marines disabled the tractor so the enemy combatant would not escape.

Nearly a month after Waddell's encounter with the enemy, senior commanders were notified that the civilians who helped remove the bomb maker from the area were teenagers and Waddell was reprimanded for disabling the vehicle. Waddell was then demoted from executive officer, and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Seth Folsom, determined he had violated rules of engagement governing when Marines could fire.

In his paperwork Folsom said Waddell was "not recommended for promotion" and "in violation of [combat rules] during an engagement."  The report stated that "noncombatant local nationals" were in the area of direct fire and that "the engagement resulted in a damaged local national vehicle."

Mark Waddell, Joshua's father and a former Navy Seal, fought along side his son for more than two years to remove the report that tarnished his record.  He said he was grateful the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Performance Evaluation Review Board exonerated his son of "this grievous wrongdoing."

"They have restored the honor that was stolen from my son, Josh, as he was serving his Marines in leadership during combat operations against a known and extremely lethal enemy of the United States," Mark Waddell said. "Honor is the only currency on which our nation's warriors operate, and it may never be mortgaged...Those in command cannot chose safety, convenience, and political correctness over protecting and affirming their junior combat leadership faced with daily life and death decisions."

Enemies Use Rules of Engagement Against U.S. Troops

Joshua's father pointed out what troops on the ground have said for years, that the Taliban and other insurgent groups use our rules of engagement (ROE) against us.

"They continue to manipulate ROE as a tactic to discourage, confuse and demoralize our troops," Mark Waddell said. "Living under continuous threats of being prosecuted for ROE violations, our tactical leadership tend to move away from decisive direct action and begin to second guess themselves. Avoidance delays leadership decisions which greatly diminishes the surprise, violence of action, and fire superiority required to win a firefight and exponentially increases risk to our armed forces."

U.S. military officials and ground troops have blamed years of over-reaching and some call "ridiculous"  rules of engagement (ROE), initiated by senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan.

Several troops, stationed in Afghanistan, have told The Blaze, that it's only become worse. They say their hands are tied when fighting the enemy making it difficult to win a war that should have ended years ago and putting U.S. troops lives at risk.

"We're pulling out of Afghanistan," said a U.S. troop stationed in Kandahar that spoke with The Blaze. "But we haven't won because our commanders and the Afghan government has our hands tied with ridiculous rules of engagement."

Jeffery Addicott, a  former senior legal adviser to U.S. Army Special Forces who helped Waddell with his case, said "it is gratifying to learn that the senior leadership understands how ROE  can be abused, the problem still remains."

Addicott, who is director of The Center for Terrorism Lay at St. Mary's University School of Law said safeguards must be put into place to protect troops and "to provide independent assessment of alleged violations of ROE, military personnel will be subjected to unfair and uncertain treatment as a result of supercilious ROE."

A U.S. contractor, who recently worked in Afghanistan, told The Blaze that the rules of engagement have only become more burdensome.

The contractor, who works in the region and spoke under condition of anonymity, said troops are no longer permitted to "use any ammo that pierces through the walls of a mud huts."

"The enemy now stages a lot of their sh*t from residences," the U.S. contractor said. "In other words, if a few Taliban are shooting at our guys from a mud hut, our guys can't use large caliber weapons or missiles to take them out but can only plink away at them with small arms.

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