SGT Jeffery Middleton
HHC, 1-41 INF 2AD (FWD)
In honor of SGT Jeffery Middleton who gave the ultimate sacrifice 27 years ago, 17FEB91. — at Ft Knox KY and Garlstedt West Germany.
I met Jeff on September 18, 1987. We were in OSUT together at Ft. Knox KY US Army Armor Center, US Armored Reconnaissance School.
In January of 1988, our troop transferred over to 2nd Armored Division (FWD) as a cohort unit.
I served there from January 1988 - January of 1990 before PCS to Ft Stewart GA.
2AD (FWD) did not deploy to the Gulf until much later.
While in Saudi Arabia, I had written to my old platoon mates and told them I hoped they didn't have to go.
The following are exercpts from several articles on the incident:
"SGT Jeffery Middleton and PVT Robert Talley were killed by friendly fire from an Apache helicopter on February 17, 1991 prior to the start of the ground war during Operation Desert Storm. He was survived by his wife and his parents.
SGT Middleton and PVT Talley were among 35 friendly fire casualties during the Persian Gulf War.
He was buried in Oxford Cemetery, Oxford, Kansas on Tuesday, March 4, 1991."
"On February 17, 1991, at approximately 1:00 a.m. (Persian Gulf Time), a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle (Bradley) and an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (M113) were destroyed by two Hellfire missiles fired from an Apache helicopter commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hayles. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in the incident.
The incident occurred after U.S. ground forces, which were deployed along an east-west line 5 kilometers north of the Saudi-Iraqi border, reported several enemy sightings north of their positions. In response, ground commanders called for Apache reconnaissance of the area. A team of three Apaches subsequently found two vehicles, which appeared to be those described by ground forces. These vehicles were, in fact, a Bradley and an M113.
The Apache helicopters apparently had drifted into a location that caused the pilots to believe that they were looking at was enemy territory."
From the book Crusade, The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War by Rick Atkinson
"The Apache battalion commander was a forty-two -year-old lieutenant colonel named Ralph Hayles. A tall, aggressive Texan who had been flying helicopters for sixteen years, Hayles infused his unit with fighting spirit. "Gunfighters, Sir!" his men barked whenever they saluted him. Division staff officers considered Hayles a bit of a cowboy, but knew him to be competent and experienced. In training sessions at Fort Riley and in Saudi Arabia he had repeatedly stressed the importance of identifying enemy targets before firing. "I have high confidence,�?? he told reporters during an interview three weeks earlier, "that we won't shoot any coalition forces."
The division commander, Major General Thomas G. Rhame, though something of a firebrand himself, had ordered his subordinate commanders to avoid direct participation in the fighting, the better to control their forces. Hayles chose to disobey. As he later explained to Army investigators, this would be the first night mission flown by his Apaches in support of U.S. troops in combat, and he regarded himself as the battalion's most qualified pilot. Moreover, flying conditions were wretched, with twenty-five know southerly winds and no moonlight. Hayles's driver found himself momentarily lost in a sandstorm during the hundred-yard trip from the battalion commander's tent to the Apache helipad.
Five minutes after midnight, three Apaches lifted off and headed north. Hillman's scouts shut off the ground radar, because its electronic emissions resembled those of Iraqi antiaircraft batteries. At 12:30, Hayles, flying under radio call sigh Gunfighter Six, spotted the American screen line on his cockpit infrared scope. He raised Task Force Iron on the radio. Hillman described the disposition of his troops, noting that no friendly forces were forward of the map grid line known as 25 east-west.
Hayles's wingman, Captain Daniel L. Garvey, flying four hundred yards behind and to the right of Gunfighter Six, then noticed two rectangular vehicles that seemed to be sitting more than a mile north of Hillman's screen. Garvey pointed them out to Hayles, who again radioed Hillman. "Gunfighter Six has two big APC [armored personnel carrier] sort of vehicles . . . They do not appear to be part of t your screen line. They're stationary. Let me look at them a little bit here." Hayles saw several small figures moving around. He concluded that Iraqi soldiers were shifting equipment from one vehicle, perhaps damaged by the earlier TOW shot, to the other.
"Yeah, those are enemy," Hillman reassured him. "Go ahead and take them out."
But Hayles was confused. Instead of flying due north, his formation had drifted northeast, so he was flying nearly parallel to Hillman's line rather than perpendicular. He also misread the Apache's navigational data on his fire control computer, which correctly informed him that the two targets were at a different grid location from the one Hillman's troops had reported. Garvey noticed the discrepancy on his own computer. "Hey, uh, Gun Six, this is Blue Six," he radioed. "I'll tell you, I'm getting a range of about four thousand meters, but it's not coming out right. We better go take a look. You think so?"
The Apaches crept closer, noses tilted downward by the wind. At 3800 meters, or roughly two miles from the targets, Hayles decided to rely on his own battlefield judgment instead of the Apache computers. "Can you still engage those two vehicles?" Hillman asked. "Roger," Hayles reported. "I could shoot those easy."
Still he hesitated. "Boy, I'm going to tell you, it'?s hard to pull this trigger." He tried to fire the Apache's 30mm cannon, but after three rounds the gun jammed. Aligning the larger vehicle in his sights, he readied a Hellfire missile and radioed, "Okay. I'll be firing in about ten seconds."
The first missile leaped from its rail in a halo of white flame. "I hope they're enemy," Hayles said, �??because here it comes." The missile exploded dead on. "I guess you could say that hit it," Hayles said. "I'm gonna go ahead and shoot the second vehicle. It's still intact, but it's fixing to go away." A second missile struck home as the other Apaches opened with cannon fire.
Moments later an unidentified voice came over the radio. "Friendly vehicles may have been hit. Over."
"Roger. I was afraid of that," Hayles answered. "I was really afraid of that."
"Cease fire. Cease fire."
"Cease fire," he repeated. "I hope it's not friendlies I just blew up, because they're all dead."
Not all. One missile hit the Bradley anchoring the right flank, wounding three soldiers and killing Specialist Jeffrey T. Middleton and Private Robert D. Talley; the second destroyed the M-113, wounding three more. For a few panicky moments other soldiers in the screen line assumed that Iraqi sappers with rocket-propelled grenades had slipped behind them. A platoon leader nearly compounded the tragedy by firing on figures silhouetted against the flames at the last instant he noticed they wore American helmets. One Bradley crewman leaped from the burning vehicle then dashed back to save his badly burned platoon sergeant as ammunition detonated around them. The wounded were wrapped in flak jackets for warmth and bundled into another Bradley, which raced off to find a medic. The bodies of Middleton and Talley would not be recovered until dawn.
Hayles flew up and down the screen line, trying to fathom the unfathomable. At 2 A.M. he led the Apaches back to the helipad in Saudi Arabia, where he sat alone in the darkened cockpit for thirty minutes after landing.
Early the next morning, as ordered, he reported to Rhome's command post. There, the division commander slipped Hayles's gun camera cassette into a video play. The room fell silent but for the taped voices of the pilots. Hayles watched from a folding chair as the two doomed vehicles flickered into view on the screen, then exploded in a white flash. " I made a mistake," he told Rhame. "I made a mistake." Rhame played the tape again, then again. After a fourth viewing he turned to Hayles. "Okay," the division commander said brusquely. "That's it. No question about it."
Hayles was relieved of command for violating orders by leading the mission."