Internal Army investigation questions explosives accountability measures
By Lauren Sage Reinlie | Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach | Published: July 27, 2014
A single, fraudulent document was likely what allowed a large cache of military explosives to go missing from the 7th Special Forces Group, according to an internal Army report.
The Army did not even two boxes of TNT, dynamite and grenades were missing until they were located in a soldier’s Baker home in December and another was discovered later stashed along railroad tracks in Crestview.
The trial of Vaughn Pottle, the 31-year-old 7th Group soldier who was found with the explosives in his home, wrapped up this week with a not-guilty verdict.
Though Pottle admitted to moving the explosives from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Florida and storing them in his home for over two-and-a-half years, the jury acquitted him based on the defense that he did so under orders of a supervising officer.
An internal Army investigation into the case found some accountability procedures at the 7th Group allowed for the theft, including requiring a single signature on a form stating explosives have been used.
“This method provides a window of opportunity for someone to steal munitions,” wrote Army Col. Jamal Wigglesworth in an Army report issued in March.
That form was likely faked in this case, allowing the explosives, which were meant for a cancelled training mission in Argentina, to fall off the radar until they were located in Pottle’s garage.
“We had no reason to believe they were missing or stolen because the paperwork was provided,” Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Sullivan, one of the Army’s investigators, testified during Pottle’s trial.
Exactly who faked the document is unknown. It may have been destroyed in line with the Army’s three-year retention policy or it could have been lost during the group’s move to Eglin Air Force Base, Sullivan testified.
Wigglesworth also found that some accountability procedures were not being followed. Many senior officers were signing off on the form saying explosives had been detonated before they even made it out to the range for demolition.
He recommended the Army update its policies so only someone present on the range during use of the explosives be able to sign off on the forms.
Wigglesworth also determined that many lower level 7th Group soldiers believed turning munitions back in would be detrimental for their unit.
They believed if they had some left over one year, they would be authorized for less the next year, Wigglesworth wrote in the report.
“This is not true,” he said.
He recommended an amnesty effort at the 7th Group to get soldiers to turn in any unused munitions and a search of the entire compound for any unused explosives.
Army Capt. Thomas Cieslak, a spokesman for the 7th Group, said a number of the changes recommended in the investigation have been implemented, though he said he could not elaborate on details.
“Leadership at all levels within the Group is focused on accountability and we strive to be good stewards of the equipment and expendable materials placed in our care,” he said. “Senior leadership of the Group are confident in the recent reviews and refresher training and remain proud of the incredible soldiers of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).”
More soldiers than just Vaughn Pottle knew about the explosives that were stolen from the Army 7th Special Forces Group, according to an Army investigation.
“I truly believe there was more than one person involved in acquiring these munitions,” wrote Army Col. Jamal Wigglesworth in an investigative report.
Pottle on Wednesday was acquitted of federal charges — the jury ruled in favor of the defense that he was ordered to move and house the explosives by a superior officer — but the Army’s own proceedings against him are ongoing.
They will result in his separation from service, said Army Capt. Tom Cieslak, a spokesman for the 7th Group.
The Army’s own criminal investigation into the explosives is also still underway, though it was unknown whether they are proceeding with charges against anyone else.