Head of Guard unit under investigation respected educator
2:41 p.m. August 2, 2005
SALINAS – The commander of a California Army National Guard unit that allegedly mistreated detainees in Iraq is a mild-mannered, highly respected special education teacher, according to colleagues who said they were shocked by the allegations.
Lt. Col. Patrick Frey, commander of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment, has been suspended as the investigation continues into mistreatment by soldiers under his command.
Some of the soldiers are charged with mistreating a person under their control, assault and making a false statement, said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for Task Force Baghdad in Iraq. One soldier is charged with obstruction of justice.
The company of about 130 soldiers, is stationed at Forward Operating Base Falcon outside Baghdad and has been put on restricted duty.
Despite some accounts that Frey is a strict disciplinarian with a fierce image, colleagues said the 50-year-old veteran of three wars genuinely cares about people.
"I have not seen such an honest man like him," said Aurelio Gonzales, who supervised Frey when they worked at Everett Alvarez High School several years ago.
Frey eventually moved to Mount Toro High School, a continuation school in Salinas, where he taught learning-disabled and mentally or physically handicapped students. He took leave from his job to take command of the Modesto-based battalion last year.
"He's a very fair man. A man of integrity. I cannot believe that he was treating prisoners unfairly," Gonzales added.
Fellow teacher Shane McDonough said Frey is "loved by everyone. He just lights up the classroom. When he's in it, it's on fire."
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the mistreatment investigation appears to deal with allegations an electric stun gun was used to abuse or torture Iraqi detainees after an insurgent attack in June.
The Army's Criminal Investigation Division will determine whether the soldiers will face court-martial.
That sounds screwy.
August 1, 2005 latimes.com
Controversy Surrounds California Guard Officer
Alleged misconduct by his troops in Iraq has exposed what some call his eccentric methods.
By Rone Tempest and Scott Gold, Times Staff Writers
SALINAS, Calif. — In this Northern California farming region, where he lives on a remote ranch with his wife, a teenage son and a donkey named Burrito, Patrick Frey is a hero.
An admired educator, Frey readily accepted one of the toughest assignments in the Monterey County School District: oversight of the district's most severely impaired students. His efforts recently won him honors as "Teacher of the Year."
He is chivalrous — he once interceded when a father was threatening to hit a student — and he is romantic, penning poetry for a school literary magazine.
"He's loved by everyone," says fellow teacher Shane McDonough.
But under the relentless sun of Iraq, where he commands a California Army National Guard battalion of 800 men, some see Lt. Col. Patrick Frey in a very different light.
There, some of his soldiers call Frey an erratic egomaniac who rules through intimidation, preaching abstinence to soldiers who are going on leave, comparing his troops to his special-education students and brandishing a small hatchet that he uses to "knight" soldiers he is promoting.
Last week, military officials confirmed that they had suspended the 50-year-old Frey, who served as a young man in Indochina near the end of the Vietnam War and later as a mercenary in Rhodesia. So far, he is taking the blame for what appears to be widespread soldier misconduct.
An investigation now appears to involve members of at least three of the five companies under Frey's control, no small concern considering that his unit — the 1st battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Modesto — represents a sixth of the California National Guard troops in Iraq.
One group under his command, Alpha Company, based in Fullerton, has been removed from patrol duties. The company is confined to a military base south of Baghdad as the Army investigates as many as 17 soldiers for alleged mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.
Eleven soldiers have been charged; some are accused of being involved in an incident in which a stun gun was allegedly used on seven detainees during a June operation at a power plant in Baghdad. All but one of those detainees were eventually released as noncombatants. Use of the stun gun was reportedly captured on videotape and is being reviewed by investigators from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Lt. Col. Cliff Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, said Frey would not be allowed to comment publicly "until all administrative and judicial actions have been completed." Frey did not return phone calls to his private Baghdad cell phone. His wife, Lynne, also declined to speak to a reporter.
The investigation has exposed some of the difficulties in sending part-time "citizen soldiers" — bankers and police officers, fathers and husbands, many of them in their 40s — to the front lines.
Some of the biggest scandals of the two-year military occupation of Iraq have involved soldiers from Army Reserve and National Guard units. Most of the soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case, for example, were reservists from Virginia.
Frey took the helm of the 1/184th in June 2004. He was flamboyant from the start, eschewing a microphone and a stage at a chain-of-command ceremony, standing in a field with 600 men around him, yelling at the top of his lungs.
It was a poor introduction, several soldiers said: Frey recounted his work with disabled children — and then said he felt that work prepared him perfectly to work with the soldiers. "When he said that, you heard a lot of people go: 'Oh,' " said one soldier who was there.
From the start, Frey's self-confidence and unconventional methods were clear, embodied in the small hatchet he carried with him at all times.
"His eccentricities were beyond what I, in my career, had ever seen," said Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Dominguez, a National Guard and Marine Corps veteran. Dominguez trained under Frey, has criticized the battalion's leadership publicly and is awaiting honorable discharge in California.
Dominguez recalled a promotion ceremony in December 2004 that Frey conducted at Doña Ana Army Camp deep in the New Mexico desert where the battalion conducted much of its training prior to deployment. It was, Dominguez said, "like a King Arthur thing."
"He screamed out: 'Take a knee!' Everyone was shocked."
"The guy getting promoted hesitated and finally dropped to a knee. [Frey] starts doing his knight routine with the hatchet, 'knighting him' with it. He moves it side to side, and you can hear him slapping his shoulders. Whack. And then he goes over to the other one. Whack. Then he orders him to stand up and then puts his hand up, almost like a baptismal thing."
I've always preferred Tolkein or C.S. Lewis when i look for good fiction.
Controversy Surrounds California Guard Officer
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"I understand pride. I understand military tradition," said Dominguez, who has served 14 years in three stints with the Guard and Reserve. "But I have never seen anything like that."
During training, soldiers were ordered — as they have been for decades — to "clear" their weapons before entering barracks or a mess hall. Typically, soldiers aim their weapons into a barrel full of sand, pull back the bolt, release it and pull the trigger, all to prevent accidental shootings.
"This man would 'clear' his hatchet," Dominguez said. "He would stick the hatchet in and tap it. We'd just look at each other."
Some soldiers under Frey's command admire him.
"I absolutely would follow that man into the worst firefight in the world," said one platoon leader in the battalion, who spoke on condition that he not be named. He said that Frey has become a target of disgruntled soldiers and that Army leaders panicked at the prospect of another prisoner abuse scandal.
"I find him to be an inspirational leader, though I can see where someone a little less drawn by the romance of things might find him off-putting," the platoon leader added. "He is a very old-fashioned guy," he said, adding that he found Frey's hatchet somewhat romantic. "The symbolism is lost on the Nintendo generation."
Dominguez, however, said older veterans, particularly those who had participated in the active-duty military before joining the Guard, had a hard time respecting Frey.
"This wasn't awe inspiring. It was embarrassing," he said.
At home in Salinas, a modest, largely Latino farming community of about 150,000, Frey's theatrical personality has won him many admirers.
Frey taught first at Everett Alvarez High School, named after a Salinas native who was one of the longest-held POWs during the Vietnam War. There he founded a student-faculty literary magazine, "Wings," to which he contributed his own work, including a nightmarish poem titled "The Realities of Combat:"
I leave the horror of my dream
And realize myself
Hot tears roll down my face
I feel hopelessly trapped
In what is real
As a teacher, colleagues said Frey was able to get the attention of even the most difficult of students. Murry Schekman, his principal, described Frey as "absolutely the best special-education teacher with whom I've ever worked."
McDonough, a fellow teacher and friend, remembers Frey's dedication and energy, including driving more than an hour each day from his home in the remote Carmel Valley near Soledad to teach the school's most difficult students.
McDonough was asked to give a speech when Frey switched to a continuation high school, and he said he struggled to come up with the right word to describe his friend's classroom style. He eventually settled on "exhilaration."
"He just lights up the classroom," McDonough said. "When he is in it, it's on fire."
But by last fall, it was Frey's military unit that appeared to be in conflagration. Some of his soldiers staged an unusual rebellion by telling a Times reporter of their concerns about poor training and preparation for Iraq.
Controversy Surrounds California Guard Officer
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The soldiers said, among other concerns, that they had received very little "theater specific" training. They also said they received little training that would prepare them to fend off insurgents' roadside bombs.
The soldiers were bracing for Frey's response, and, several said, it was not long in coming. After they returned last November from a brief Thanksgiving leave, Frey marched the entire battalion into the New Mexico desert, said one member of the battalion who was there. Frey, the soldier said, was dressed in his full "battle rattle" — full combat gear.
"He had somebody with a .50-caliber machine gun, with blanks," the soldier said. "They started firing. We didn't know what the hell was going on. Next thing you know, you see the colonel crawling in the dirt."
As the battalion watched, Frey and his right-hand man, Sgt. Maj. Edgardo A. Coronado, began performing what soldiers call IMT — Individual Movement Technique.
"They are rushing and dropping, getting up, then rushing and dropping," the soldier said. "That's how you rush the enemy. We were all standing there, watching this episode unfold. There was a little puddle of mud. They purposely crawled through it."
Frey stood and called for his assistant, who brought out a copy of the Times article. Frey read it to the battalion, and when he got to the end made it clear that he felt that any public criticism was akin to criticizing "anyone who would serve their country," the soldier said.
By then, the soldiers were operating under a host of restrictions on behavior and movement that many of them felt were excessive, even for the military. The soldiers were not allowed to drink alcohol, had little contact with their family and were placed under "lockdown" at Doña Ana, unable even to go to the Army's nearby base, Ft. Bliss, or to the nearby city of El Paso.
"Even to go to the PX, you had to be escorted," one soldier said.
Some soldiers say Frey was merely implementing policies handed down by Army commanders; others blame Frey himself.
"I could understand if he was dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids out of high school," said one soldier, a former active-duty Marine and a veteran member of the National Guard. "But these are grown men."
When soldiers were about to go on a rare leave, he counseled them on abstinence.
"If you're not married, I know what you are going to do," Frey said, according to one soldier. "But I would strongly recommend against doing it."
Frey's soldiers believed in the mission for the most part; many were former Marines or active-duty Army officers who returned to the National Guard specifically because they believed in the war. But, fed up, they started going home before the Iraq deployment, with more than 20 declining to extend their 24-month tours of duty.
"I told him, 'I don't like the way things are going here,' " said one soldier, a sergeant who was among those who stayed home rather than fight under Frey. "Basically he said that this is the way it is, and things aren't going to change. I saluted. And I left."
After word arrived late last year that the 184th was being summoned to Iraq, Frey wrote a letter to the families of his soldiers, addressing it to "Night Stalker Families," using the self-declared nickname of the battalion.
"Love abounds in and around this task force, just as it would in any good family," he wrote. "Your rough, tough men have formed bonds as tender as any we've seen, though they disguise them with crude banter and coarse ways. They are not fooling anybody!"
Frey pitched the mission as a last and decisive struggle between good and evil.
"Our cause is just. Never doubt that!" he wrote. To "eclipse goodness forever is for good people to do nothing."
The battalion landed in Kuwait in January and moved into Iraq in February. According to two sources in the battalion, not long afterward, a Quick Reaction Force was dispatched to an area in southern Baghdad after a roadside bomb exploded.
When the squad arrived, a car approached, and a soldier, whose identity could not be confirmed, opened fire, the sources said. A civilian inside the car was shot, and though some members of the battalion performed CPR and offered other assistance, the man died.
Some soldiers said the car had run through a checkpoint and represented a threat. Others felt the shooting had been unjustified and unprovoked. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, arrived to launch an investigation.
No charges or administrative action were ever pursued because of the conflicting accounts offered of the shooting, the sources said.
But the 184th had landed on the CID's radar.
The first suggestion to investigators that detainees may have been abused or tortured by members of the battalion came during the investigation of that shooting, and many in the battalion believe that day marked the start of the problems the unit is facing today.
Frey had emphasized to his troops the need to follow the "three Ps" — to be polite, professional and prepared to kill, said the platoon leader who defended him.
"The colonel himself has said that we fell down on the first two to some extent," he added. "We went in a little wired."
In a journal entry sent to friends and family after the incident, Frey confided his concern that the incident could snowball into something bigger.
"Alpha Company," he wrote, "drew first blood in the battalion. ... [T]hey engaged a vehicle, it caught fire and is destroyed. That is all I know. Higher headquarters wants reports. There will be an investigation. Woe betide the kids who engaged if the shooting is found to not be in accordance with the Rules of Engagement. This is not a simple war."
He sounds cockoo for cocoa puffs...
he sounds like a wacky kali guy...
So he's a little bit of an eccentric.
Banging his tomohawk around inside the rifle clearing barell struck me as odd. An enlisted Marine who did the same with his bayonet or kbar would get an appointment with a Navy shrink.
I met this very light colonel while he was doing his train up with his unit at Fort Bliss, TX waiting to go to Iraq. When I would get off duty everyday I would go to his office w/my laptop and talk to him about his time in Rhodesia, typing up the story of his life. He really is an amazing man, and there is not another officer in the world I would follow into combat before him. This is extremely fucked up situation.
Ok, knowing a few of the guys from 1-184, 3 specifically from A co. I can say this: From what they told me, it was an 8up troop who went AWOL at Dona Ana to go off base and talk with a reporter about his concerns. These 3 told me there was NEVER a shortage of ammo, and they suffered from the same BS that anyone in the Army gets. They were training for WAR. suck it up and drive on; if you cant get lost. Some did. Across the desert.
These 3 bros of mine NEVER mentioned an overly kooky commander. Period. The odd NCO from C co (asswipe ), yes, but otherwise, no.
Sounds like just another left wing media exaggeration to me.
BTT for night crew.
Don't he know you use a sword to knight folks, and it ain't official if you arn't a king or queen?
Does the Army have a drill & ceremonies manual? Does it include promation ceromonies? Does it include getting on your knees in front of the CO while he knights you wilth the tomohawk he picked up at the gun show?
This promotion ceremonie can only be done if jerky and kettle core are present..
Being a leader and a warrior does not go well with being PC. A certain amount of insanity is required.
The hatchet is just an inspirational tool. Corny? Maybe. Romantic? Yes, and military officers are expected to be Romantic. Considering where he has been and what he's done, he probably doesn't need it, but I can understand why he uses it.
Edit for spelling
great humour there, simply great
Patton was eccentric (Ivory handled revolvers) but you cannot deny he was a friggin military genius.
ANYONE who knows Frey would not deny he is a friggin military genius as well. He has done some MUCH crazier things then was mentioned that I know about, not wrong, they were brilliant, but doomed to failure and crazy.
I'll be curious to meet up with a few of my 184 colleagues when they get back and find out what happened... however....
1) The 'knighting' thing is not particularly unique. Other examples were being inducted into some special exclusive order of some point at OCS, and also joining the Order of St George if you're an outstanding tanker. Both used a sword, however, not a hatchet.
2) The battalion 'symbol' for our task force was a tomahawk. Not having any tomahawks to hand, the battalion staff acquired a hundered hatchets instead, and called them tomahawks. They were handed out in a similar manner and instead of a battalion coin. We were authorised (indeed encouraged) to wear it as part of the battle rattle. For my part, after being presented with a bull-whip for Christmas, I took to wearing it Indiana Jones style on foot patrols after that.
3) I saw nothing wrong with the 'clearing barrel' incident. I was known to point my tank's main gun into the clearing barrel in Iraq. (It was a statement of protest against the policies of the Gate Guards of the base at the time). Usually the more 'rear echelon' the base, the stupider the clearing policies. FOB Marez in Mosul was a very refreshing change compared to LSA Anaconda. At Marez they treated us as adults.
Ultimately, the Colonel is responsible for the conduct of his troops. He may not have done anything wrong, but that doesn't alleviate him of the responsibility to ensure that his troops work out well. Part of the reason, I would wager, that the troops went in 'wired' is the training regimen that the Army puts deploying soldiers through. It's always a case of 'something goes wrong'. The soldiers are conditioned to the fact that every scenario will go bad, and as a result are a lot quicker on the trigger than most would like. This isn't his fault, it's the Army's. But then, it's hard to blame the Army, because they need to make sure the troops know what to do in a variety of scenarios and they only have limited time.
You tankers are fuckin' nuts, man. I love it.
I had a tanker buddy that went to Kosovo. They issued his crew bayonets, and they were like, "We're tankers, wtf are we going to do with bayonets?" So they affixed one to the main barrel.
I wanted to do that with my cavalry sabre. But decided at $600 it was too pricey to risk being blown off if we needed to shoot a main gu round.
We were never issued our bayonets. The thinking was along the lines of...
"I've got 40 main gun rounds, 900 .50 cal, 11,000 7.62mm, 4x210 5.56mm, 4x45 9mm... and that's in just one of my tanks.. oh, and two tracks to squish people with. If it comes down to the bayonet, I'm giving up and going home"