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Marines order sniper out of medical retirement after paperwork error

May. 6, 2013 - 09:38PM   |  
Sgt. Robert Richards displays his DD-214 military discharge paperwork aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., last week. Shortly afterward, he was notified there had been an error and he was being recalled to active duty so he could remain on legal hold.
Sgt. Robert Richards displays his DD-214 military discharge paperwork aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., last week. Shortly afterward, he was notified there had been an error and he was being recalled to active duty so he could remain on legal hold. (Raechel Richards/Courtesy photo)
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The Marine Corps has revoked the medical retirement of a scout sniper who is facing court-martial for his role in one of the most highly publicized incidents of U.S. troops misbehaving in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Robert Richards, one of seven Marines to face disciplinary action for a video showing him and others urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in 2011, was “erroneously discharged” on April 29 as a result of an administrative error, a Marine spokeswoman said Monday. He and his wife, Raechel Richards, thought they had caught a break last week when they got a call from the Camp Lejeune Installation Personnel Administration Center in North Carolina, saying that Richards’ medical retirement paperwork had been processed.

A photo that Raechel Richards posted to her Facebook page May 2 shows Richards grinning and clutching his DD-214 discharge papers in both hands. The Richardses lost no time turning in their military ID cards and base vehicle passes, disenrolling from active-duty Tricare insurance, and paying a fee to begin retiree coverage under Tricare Prime.

Richards, who had an Article 32 hearing March 19, had been recommended for a special court-martial and an arraignment was scheduled for later this month. But personnel officials told Richards that he was not on legal hold. The couple had their civilian attorney, Guy Womack, give the prosecution a courtesy call to explain the new development, thinking the Marine Corps had opted not to pursue the charges further.

“We were under the impression the Marine Corps had decided this was the right thing to do,” Raechel Richards said.

Shortly afterward, according to Womack, they received a “frantic” phone call from the Marine Corps saying there had been a mistake; Richards was supposed to be on legal hold, and he would have to be recalled to active duty.

Raechel Richards said the news was devastating.

“For the first time in 17 months, I saw a smile on his face yesterday,” she wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “... It was as if the weight had been lifted after all of these long months of beatings and emotional abuse by the organization that so adamantly preaches ‘Semper Fidelis.’ ”

Richards rejoined active duty Monday and is receiving his full pay and allowances, said Maj. Shawn Haney, a spokeswoman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, Va.

“Any gaps in his pay due to this error will be resolved,” she said.

According to the manual of the Navy Judge Advocate General, Womack said, enlisted personnel can be called out of retirement only by an order from the Secretary of the Navy.

On Monday, Richards reported to his command at Camp Lejeune. They sent him home to wait. He has requested mast with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a process that will require meetings with each military commander up the chain of command, and which will likely take several weeks to complete.

“Anyone along the way could resolve this and do the right thing, but if they don't, we'll ask the secretary,” Womack said.

In 33 years of working on military legal issues, Womack said, he had never heard of a situation like this. Raechel Richards said she wants an apology from the Marine Corps’ commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, for all that she and her husband have endured.

As Marine Corps Times has reported previously, the video was filmed during Richards’ third deployment. During his second, he was severely injured by an improvised explosive device that nearly severed his foot and lodged a quarter-sized hexagonal hardware nut in his windpipe. Following surgery, which included reconstruction of Richards’ throat with a titanium Adam’s apple, he was rated eligible for medical discharge.

But when an opportunity arose to deploy with a sniper team attached to 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines, Richards opted not to leave the Corps yet. When he was told by Marine officials at Camp Lejeune that he was not fit for active duty, Richards drove to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to secure the authorization.

Over the course of the deployment, Richards was put up for a Bronze Star and received accolades for his ingenuity. But in separate videos shown during his Article 32 hearing, Richards is seen lobbing grenades over a 10-foot wall without identifying who was on the other side and telling his Marines that “for the next five minutes, every military-age male south is hostile.”

Richard’s special court-martial is expected in August.

Two other Marines from the unit, Sgts. Joseph Chamblin and Edward Deptola, have already received demotions following special courts-martial for their involvement in the videos. Capt. James Clement, executive officer for Kilo Company, 3/2, also faces charges related to the incident. Three other Marines received nonjudicial punishment.

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