published Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Soldier claims death threats from fellow troops


Sgt. Erik C. Howard is a 32-year-old soldier with the Alabama Army National Guard’s 900th Component Repair Company, now serving at Forward Operating Base Dehdadi II in Afghanistan. Howard is a Red Bank High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate. He has written dispatches for the Chattanooga Times Free Press about his deployment experience.

A series of rapid-fire emails Friday from a local Army sergeant in Afghanistan has his friends worried about his safety among his comrades.

Sgt. Erik C. Howard, 32, claims in email exchanges to multiple friends that he has received death threats from fellow U.S. soldiers because he witnessed unspecified acts by other soldiers on a convoy operation.

He does not detail the acts in his emails, but outlines threats, intimidation and an Army investigation into actions by his fellow troops.

George Wright, an Army public affairs specialist, said Friday the office first learned of Howard’s allegations when contacted by the Times Free Press.

Wright said that he had contacted the International Security Assistance Force Public Affairs Office, whose personnel said they would request the U.S. military command in Afghanistan to look into Howard’s allegations.

One of Howard’s former teachers, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor of religion Bill Harmon, contacted the office of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., regarding Howard’s fears.

“We have been in contact with Dr. Harmon and are working to connect all of the relevant players in this situation,” Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for Corker, told the Times Free Press.

Harmon said he got to know Howard well as a student and kept in touch with the sergeant after graduation.

“I take it seriously,” he said. “Erik is a tough guy, nothing rattles him, nothing bothers him. I would be surprised if he just freaked out.”

Excerpts from Howard’s recent emails regarding his treatment by fellow soldiers:

“They have me locked in my tent right now. I was on a convoy where soldiers didn’t do good things and I witnessed it though I never would have said anything...they have made me look like a snitch. The entire unit has turned on me and I haven’t done the slightest thing but voice my opinion. PLEASE I AM DESPERATE.”

“Guys I assure you this is no joke...I am in honest fear for my life here. Bullying, harassing, death threats. Maybe it is all for show, maybe it is all for paranoia building. MAYBE IT ISN’T.”

“Think about the heat, testosterone, irrational mob psychology and semi-automatic weapons in everyone’s hands. You do the morbid math...”

Only scant details can be gleaned from Howard’s emails describing what may have happened among soldiers of Howard’s unit, the Alabama Army National Guard’s 900th Component Repair Company.

Howard’s emails claim that, in recent days, he’s been confined to his tent by commanders and had fellow soldiers threaten to kill him in retaliation for his cooperation in an Army investigation.

He has signed sworn affidavits for an Army captain conducting the investigation and been effectively ostracized by his unit, the emails claim.

A Times Free Press editor corresponded briefly with Howard via email, confirming that Howard sent the emails and he wanted media attention to what he has characterized as a life-threatening situation.

Last fall, Howard wrote dispatches for the Times Free Press about the unit’s deployment.

Howard did not respond immediately to questions from the Times Free Press on Friday. The time difference between Chattanooga and Afghanistan is eight and a half hours.

Friends at home are not taking the messages lightly.

James A. Mendoza met Howard in 1996 in San Antonio after Mendoza returned to school following eight years in the Army and service in Operation Desert Storm.

Howard was an 18-year-old college freshman, and Mendoza said they have similar, matter-of-fact personalities.

Regarding the emails, Mendoza said in a phone interview Friday from Austin, Texas, that he doesn’t think Howard would embellish or overstate something.

Mendoza also contacted U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, R-Texas, but said he had not heard from Doggett’s office by Friday afternoon.

It didn’t surprise Mendoza that Howard would speak out if he witnessed something improper.

“I think the people he’s probably coming in contact with are not accustomed to facing hard facts,” he said. “[Howard’s] going to do the right thing and knows how to take his punch in the mouth.”

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Legend said...

It's important that any soldier who reports improprieties at the hands of fellow troops should be immediately and completely removed from that unit for their safety. Anything can "accidently" take place during an investigation and even after as long as that soldier remains in that unit.

April 30, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.
ceeweed said...

Soldiers are humans first and warriors second. No soldier should fear their own comrades. Our soldiers are in Afghanistan at the bidding of our commander-in chief and the war hawks at the pentagon. They will remain there for years to come as long as we continue to elect spineless chicken hawks who lack the cajones to speak the truth. Even with the troop expansion in Afghanistan, there are more American contractors there than there are soldiers. Billions of dollars given to the Afghan government is unaccounted for. The Afghans are only following the American contractors lead who receive countless billions for projects on paper that never get done. It also seems these contractors are safe in no-mans land as far as having any legal jurisdiction to answer to...Sgt. Howard's concerns should be taken seriously. Serving in any war, a soldier knows the risks of making the ultimate sacrifice, that same soldier should not have to fear his sacrifice may be at the hands of those who are suppose to have his back.

This nation building, winning the hearts and minds, "democracy" spreading delusion has to end! Ignore history, repeat history. Insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome!

April 30, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.

War has a weird effect on the mind.

April 30, 2011 at 3:24 p.m.
sangaree said...

Never forget the lessons of Vietnam. Where occupying forces turned on one another. Calling in air raids against fellow units. This is the other side of war often ignored decades later and when we only want to glorify war and its warriors. We don't want to acknowledge the total breakdown where otherwise decent human beings have the potential to turn into barbaric uncivilized monsters.

May 1, 2011 at 10:14 p.m.
erikchoward said...

I AM ERIK C. HOWARD, about whom this article was written. And while I appreciate the compassion from the previous comments, I did not approve this article in its current form (AND I HAVE THE EMAIL CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE REPORTER POST-PUBLICATION TO PROVE IT). Incorrect inferences and connections were made that while might make press for the media or sense to the outsider, they also created an aftermath that made suicide seem like a daily viable option and a soldier now unable to look others in the eyes. Tossing around words like atrocities on convoys and commander's locking soldiers in tents (NONE OF WHICH I SAID) make the military look like they are up to no good and me look like a traitor, but again they make for good reading and fodder for a Michael Moore movie. The media certainly has a purpose and is currently evolving, but if that evolution is a distortion of reality, then it isn't life that is being created but DEATH!!!

December 1, 2011 at 5:08 p.m.
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