ProPublica has a long must-read report today on the astounding number of records the US Army has lost or destroyed from its years in two wars.
“I can’t even start to describe the dimensions of the problem,” said Conrad C. Crane, director of the U.S. Army’s Military History Institute . “I fear we’re never really going to know clearly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan because we don’t have the records.”
…Recordkeeping was so poor in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007 that “very few Operation ENDURING FREEDOM records were saved anywhere, either for historians’ use, or for the services’ documentary needs for unit heritage, or for the increasing challenge with documenting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” according to an Army report from 2009 .
Entire brigades deployed from 2003 to 2008 could not produce any field records, documents from the U.S. Army Center of Military History show.
…By mid-2007, amid alarms from historians that combat units weren’t turning in records after their deployments, the Army launched an effort to collect and inventory what it could find.
Army historians were dispatched on a base-by-base search worldwide. A summary of their findings shows that at least 15 brigades serving in the Iraq war at various times from 2003 to 2008 had no records on hand. The same was true for at least five brigades deployed to Afghanistan.
Records were so scarce for another 62 units that served in Iraq and 10 in Afghanistan that they were written up as “some records, but not enough to write an adequate Army history.” This group included most of the units deployed during the first four years of the Afghanistan war.
The lack of records is having immediate and tragic consequences – one serviceman interviewed by ProPublica had to fight for five years to get PTSD disability benefits because his service records didn’t show he’d ever been in Iraq at all, despite his having served with the 1st Cavalry Division in combat in 2004 and 2005. Eventually, a judge accepted the testimony of an officer in his unit. “By then he had divorced, was briefly homeless and had sought solace in drugs and alcohol.” he is far from being the only disabled veteran who can’t get the help he or she needs because these records don’t exist.
On a wider scale, we will never know how many crimes and how much corruption will escape justice because there will be no evidence they ever happened. As Sean-Paul tweeted to me today, that might be an intentional feature rather than a bug.