What really happened to a US Marine from NW Ind.?

February 22, 2011 10:00:00 PM PST
It's been one year since Lance Corporal Josh Birchfield was killed in Afghanistan.

As his parents tried to find out what happened they declined all interview requests -- until now.

This is the painful truth: Josh Birchfield went to Afghanistan to fight for his country, and ended up dead at the hands of a drug-addled gunman who was hired by his country: a Pentagon-paid private security officer.

For his parents, the questions are: how could such a thing happen and how can it be prevented from happening again?

One day to the year Marine Josh Birchfield was killed on a battlefield halfway around the world, his neighbors, friends and family gathered in an American Legion hall to celebrate him as a war hero.

On February 19, 2010, Birchfield's Marine unit left before sunup on a routine patrol in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

Less than a dozen Marines took up positions in a dry river bed, overlooking a road project that was being protected by heavily armed security guards who worked for an Afghan contractor.

"Shots were fired and Josh was unfortunate to catch a bullet," said Bruce Birchfield, father.

At 24 years old, a high school baseball star, an American patriot, he died from a single sniper's bullet that entered just over his right eyebrow.

"I just feel like these guys aren't being watched enough, and our people are getting killed foolishly. Josh didn't need to go there and get killed, he could have done that right here. He did that to help his country and got foolishly murdered," said Shelly Hacker, mother.

"When I did talk to him in phone conversations, which were brief, told me it was like the wild, wild west over there. You could go into a village and you don't know who's got a gun and who hasn't and they are not a trusted people," said Bruce Birchfield.

Birchfield was the only Marine in that patrol unit using a weapon known as a 'saw gun.' His father says he's convinced the shooter was a terrorist sympathizer out to kill a Marine, and aimed at the one with the most potent weapon.

"I truly believe in my heart that the shooter knew exactly what he was shooting at," said Bruce Birchfield.

The shooter's identity has been shielded by Afghan authorities -- they say to protect his privacy -- even though he was convicted in an Afghan court. He was sentenced to just 15 years for killing Josh Birchfield.

According to the final report by U.S. naval criminal investigators, the killer had "a bag of opium in his left front pocket" when he was arrested, and that he "uses opium every day," according to co-workers.

One of Birchfield's fellow Marine told authorities Afghan "security contractors routinely use drugs and work their posts while high on drugs."

"I'd like to know whose paying them. I want to know how you can pay somebody who is not trained, then we send trained people over there to give them some freedom and a government and they shoot our boys. Just as they did Josh," said Bruce Birchfield.

"Congressman, as you sit here right now, who was paying his salary?" asked Chuck Goudie.

"We still don't know and the NCIS report did not answer that and so that's why were going back again and were sending a letter to Sec. Gates at the Department of Defense and Secretary Clinton at the State Department saying we want to know 'who was paying this individuals salary'?" replied Rep Joe Donnelly, (D) Indiana 2nd.

In a letter sent Wednesday, the Birchfield's congressman Joe Donnelly states "security contractors clearly failed with fatal results."

While they wait for answers, Bruce Birchfield carries this constant reminder of his late son.

"For him to die like this, it's just not right," said Bruce Birchfield.

Other than Congressman Donnelly, the Birchfield family says their government has ignored them. Last year, Bruce Birchfield sent his own letters - handwritten - to Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Gates and even President Obama, telling them he was the father of a dead Marine and asking why U.S.-paid contractors are allowed to threaten American soldiers.