The next day, August 19, Lewis-McChord officials finally began to move. They asked Tucson police to check on the AWOL Barrett at his father's home. He wasn't around — a text to a friend revealed that he saw the cops coming and bailed out the back door — but his family learned for the first time that Brandon was in trouble. A fellow Tucson police officer also contacted Shane, asking about Brandon's DUI, his AWOL status, and some threatening messages he'd sent.

It was all shocking news to Shane, who wondered why the Army delayed contacting the family and hadn't put out an AWOL notification as required. Police could visit the Barrett home and talk to the family, Shane says, but had no authority to detain Brandon. The Army could have sent MPs from Fort Huachuca, south of Tucson, to detain him. "There is also an Army Reserve Unit near my father's house," says Shane. But no MPs showed.

Late that day, the Army issued a bulletin to law enforcement, announcing for the first time — 30 days after Barrett's departure from Lewis-McChord — that the soldier was not only AWOL, but officially a deserter. The bulletin, which included Barrett's picture, stated "he was ready to fight rather than flee and ready to make a name for himself." But by that time, Barrett had returned home after his father left, gathered his guns, ammo, and equipment, and drove off to parts unknown.

Other unit members began to hear from Barrett via text and cell. He told some he was planning to return to Lewis-McChord and accept his fate; to others, he said he was just kidding if it sounded like he would hurt anyone. Those may have been attempts to throw pursuers off his trail: He had texted or told other buddies that he had his weapons and body armor with him, and said he'd sooner die than allow anyone to arrest him or put him in jail.

Aware authorities were after him now, he seemed to purposely send mixed signals. "I'll be in Lewis on Friday," the 27th, he texted one buddy. But he would be in Salt Lake City instead.


Barrett drove his Pathfinder into the garage of the 24-story Grand America Hotel, a prominent symbol of luxury in Salt Lake City's skyline, around 3:30 p.m on August 27, a day later than he had planned. As security cameras rolled, he got out and began assembling his military gear. Then he plodded off, rifle in hand, toward an elevator. In a camouflage Army combat uniform and full body armor, bearing a modular communications helmet, an AR-15 rifle, two handguns, and a vest decorated with 21 fully loaded magazines (altogether nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, some of them armor-piercing), Army Specialist Brandon S. Barrett was ready for war.

But who was the enemy? It was the question asked by fellow Lewis-McChord soldiers Nikkolas Lookabill, who'd be killed by police a week later, and Dustin Knapp, who had died a week earlier. It had been hard enough to answer in war zones, where any seemingly friendly civilian can suddenly turn into a suicidal bomber. That happened twice to Barrett's 5th Stryker squad in Afghanistan.

"During Brandon's very first foot patrol," says Shane Barrett, "a suicide bomber attacked his platoon's formation, injuring 15 soldiers. A third of the wounded were evacuated from the country for medical treatment. One of the wounded was Brandon's platoon commander. A fellow soldier commented that Brandon felt guilty about the attack. Brandon felt that he 'could have or should have stopped it.' Our family believes the incident during his foot patrol and the incident with his senior officer [singling him out and canceling his leave] were the catalysts to the event in Salt Lake City."

Of course, members of the renegade Stryker Kill Team seemed to have resolved the friend-or-foe identity problem by shooting civilians whether they were a threat or not. But a Stryker soldier in Afghanistan had good reason to be confused: Their commander, Colonel Harry D. Tunnell IV, created a "dysfunctional" climate for war, says sociologist Stjepan Metrovic, a war-crimes expert. He has testified on behalf of soldiers accused of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and provided expert testimony last month at the court-martial of Specialist Jeremy Morlock, the first Kill Team member to plead guilty.

Though U.S. policy in Afghanistan was to win through a counterinsurgency that protected the government and noncombatants, Tunnell, Metrovic says, took a more aggressive, guerrilla-warfare approach, unconcerned about winning Afghan trust (the brigade's motto was "Strike and Destroy"). That made the Stryker brigade a "lone duck" among other units, says Metrovic. He notes that alleged Kill Team ringleader Gibbs had been a member of Tunnell's own security detail before he was assigned to lead Morlock and the other accused. "There seems to be connections between direct proximity to Colonel Tunnell and the chaos that pursued," says Metrovic. "Several [brigade members] mentioned the fact that you were good in Colonel Tunnell's eyes if you were aggressive and the body count was high."

Metrovic, who has read a confidential 500-page Army report on the brigade (it was released only to some Kill Team attorneys seeking to aid in their clients' defense), says two generals cited in the report regretted not removing Tunnell as commander before the unit departed for Afghanistan. The brigade itself did not seem prepared to fight, and nearly failed to get approval to be deployed, adds Metrovic, referring to information contained in the confidential report.

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The federal government will pay for their war crimes some day. They send these ignorant young people to do their bidding, not so that citizens can be free, but so that politicians and war contractors can get rich. Its ridiculous the brainwashing that occurs in this nation. I hope china attacks the USA one day focusing on wiping out government installments. Fuck the US federal government, I hope you all die.

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The members of the VFW were truly exemplary of the good in man.My condolences to the Barrett family, and to all families touched by these horrific governmental mistakes abroad.

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RIP Brandon. Angel wings of comfort to his family. The toll of war is tragic. All around a very sad series of events. Blessings to the Army, and all the soldiers serving in valor for our country. I believe in our Armed Forces despite the casualties that can't help but happen. Bless and comfort them all. Amen.

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