DEFENDING AMERICA
David Hackworth
19 Aug 97

JUSTICE IN THE ARIZONA DESERT

Soldiers, who tell the world that their bosses are "crooks and criminals" normally end up standing against a wall, looking at the mean end of a firing squad's rifles.

Lieutenant Colonel John Pitchford's troubles began in July of 1994 when he told his boss, Colonel Raymond Bersano, that a Fort Huachuca, Arizona senior dentist, Colonel Paul Sharbo, had knocked off "several thousand dollars worth of supplies and equipment."

Bersano refused to believe that his old friend and former boss was a thief and dragged his feet about investigating even after Pitchford provided hard evidence of stealing and abuse of power. Instead of hanging the thief, Bersano got out a rope, started measuring Pitchford's neck and began looking for a tall tree. Bersano did all he could to shut Pitchford up except saddle up a lynching party.

But Pitchford was a pit bull who wouldn't let go of the truth -- even after Bersano told him he "could ruin him with a phone call."

Then Bersano asked for a meeting with Pitchford and his wife to "discuss (Pitchford's) future in the Army Dental Corps" -- at the very moment when Pitchford was being considered for promotion to full colonel in Washington, D.C.

His wife, a fighter herself, was thrilled with the chance to confront this cover up artist who had forgotten his oath of office, but she requested the presence of a civilian attorney. Bersano abruptly canceled the meeting. Lawyers take notes.

Bersano then employed the most common anti Whistle-Blower tactic going. Pitchford taking a little Stalin-like trip down to see the Shrink. But the Fort Huachuca's medical staff, refusing to play this evil game, rightly gave Pitchford a clean bill of health.

Bersano continued his campaign of terror. The next day, he and two Fort Huachuca doctor henchmen "suggested" that Pitchford was acting a little squirrelly and in need of a "voluntary mental health evaluation." Like, you know, anyone who reports the truth and refuses to change his mind and join the cover-up gang just must be nuts.

This really got Pitchford's back up, and he fired all his cannons. He griped to the Inspector General, filed a complaint under the Whistle-Blowers Protection Act and contacted Senator Strom Thurman and Congressman Jim Kolbe.

The rats retreated. A fair investigation conducted by the Fort's Deputy Commander found Sharbo guilty on three charges. And that seemed to be the end of the matter until Pitchford was selected for promotion to full colonel.

Pitchford would have been walking on clouds, except that Bersano, now following rule number two for zapping Whistle-Blowers -- paint 'em a thief and a scoundrel -- came forward with an ugly little list of charges he'd manufactured against Pitchford.

The most damning accusation was that Dr. Pitchford had coerced his fellow medics into lying on his behalf. Pitchford, who knew the charges were untrue, felt gas-lighted that his soldiers had been forced by Bersano to make false statements against him. Bersano's tack was: support Pitchford and lose your job, promotion, and future.

Confronted with giving up his promotion and hanging up his suit prematurely or facing a certain guilty verdict at a rigged court martial, Pitchford put in his retirement papers. Not that the Army was eager to get rid of him, but in less than 19 hours he had his approved retirement orders in his hands.

Pitchford says "The corruption had ground me up and spit me out. At that moment, I felt almost grateful to the U.S. Army for allowing me to get away without going to jail for telling the truth."

Now, the Army has done an ABOUT FACE. Pitchford has been totally vindicated in a recent report of investigation that nails a squad of senior army officers for deliberately violating regulations, fabricating false charges and lying to Congressman Kolbe while playing their dirty game of cover-up.

Criminally, the Army sat on the report for 18 months, effectively denying Pitchford's return to active duty at the grade he'd been screwed out of.

Stay tuned and we'll see if Pitchford is rightly promoted to full colonel and if a squad of senior officers are tried for criminal misconduct. Now the Secretary of the Army, Togo West, is up against the wall instead of John Pitchford.

The end