Captain Derrick Anderson of the U.S. Army Green Berets has faced adversity many Hoyas will never encounter. His dedication to service and sacrifice has carried him throughout tumultuous events his entire life: from watching the events of September 11th as a senior in high school, to enduring the body crushing selection training of the Green Berets, to leading over 80 combat patrols in Afghanistan, to remaining steadfast throughout an investigation into Anderson’s decisions that resulted in the deadliest friendly fire incident of the Afghan War involving U.S. soldiers. Anderson, who is currently a Georgetown Law student, was featured in a November 60 Minutes segment that focused on the horrifying events of the friendly fire incident and the ensuing investigation; however, in order to understand Derrick Anderson, you need to start at the beginning.
Anderson was born and raised in Virginia and attended Virginia Tech on an Army ROTC scholarship. Anderson was drawn to military service partially due to familial connections to the military; however, on September 11, 2001 Anderson was a senior in high school as he watched the Twin Towers collapse in New York City. Originally considering enlistment, his family encouraged him to attend college and he was the first in his family to graduate from a four year university. Compelled by a sense of justice and service, Anderson decided that he would spend his post-grad years in the pursuit of ensuring security and freedom for people throughout the world by joining the military.
Only a year after graduating, Anderson was on his first deployment in the spring of 2007 to Iraq. He commanded a mechanized infantry platoon with the 3rd Infantry Division for 15 months. After returning from this deployment Anderson joined the 3rd Infantry Regiment Honor Guard where he conducted over 150 funerals in Arlington National Cemetery, including the funeral of Ted Kennedy.
Anderson began Special Forces training in 2009 and earned his Green Beret in 2012 and was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group. During this time Anderson led Special Forces units throughout the Middle East.
On June 9, 2014 during his second deployment as a Green Beret, Captain Anderson entered the Gaza Valley, commanding a 95-man task force of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. At the end of a day of clearing the valley from Taliban forces to protect polling stations for the upcoming Afghan presidential election, the Taliban opened fire on one of the units of the team. While under heavy fire members of the unit moved to a better defensive position on a nearby hill. With troops in contact Captain Anderson called for close air support from the Air Forces’ B-1 bomber.
The B-1 bomber, unlike most other close air support vehicles, was equipped with a “sniper-pod” precision targeting system unable to detect the infrared strobes worn by U.S. troops in the field, intended to allow aircraft to detect friend from foe. The official investigation revealed that everyone on the mission including the soldiers, the bomber crew and the Air Force controller thought that the B-1 targeting system could detect the infrared strobes.
The misunderstanding about the B-1 “sniper pod” became fatal after the Air Force controller on the ground unintentionally gave the bomber crew the location of the U.S. unit as a target, causing the crew to mistakenly bomb one Afghan and five U.S. soldiers.
Unbeknownst to Derrick and his team, the Air Force controller attached to the team, tasked with guiding Air Force planes on bombing or strafing runs, had been demoted and kicked off an Air Force Special Operations unit for poor performance.
The service men lost included Staff Sergeant Scott Studenmund, Staff Sergeant Jason McDonald, Private First Class Aaron Toppen, Specialist Justin Helton, Corporal Justin Clouse, and Afghan Sergeant Gulbuddin Sakhi.
Anderson stated, “Tending to the care of my own Green Berets, or the families of the lost Green Berets, was obviously one of the toughest parts of the incident.”
The investigation into the event, led by Air Force Major General Jeffrey Harrigian, spread blame to the Air Force controller, the bomber crew, and was especially critical of Captain Anderson, stating he lost track of his men which led him to misidentify friendly forces. Anderson fought back against the findings of the investigation, highlighting contradictions and falsities to show the blamelessness of himself and his team. With the help of his attorneys, Anderson was cleared, facing no military or disciplinary action for the events of June 9, 2014
Anderson was deployed twice more, once to Lebanon and once to Israel, before leaving active duty. Derrick spent ten and a half years as Army active duty and still serves in the Washington DC Army National Guard while he is pursuing his law degree at Georgetown University Law School.
On the incident Anderson said, “One thing that was gained from the investigation is that it gave me a new understanding of the legal process. I saw that there were good lawyers out there that really wanted to do the right thing and help people.”
Anderson decided to attend Georgetown Law School after retiring from active duty service and is in the Georgetown Law Class of 2019. He was drawn to Georgetown by a mentor, former Green Beret, and Georgetown Law alumnus who helped him throughout his investigation, while simultaneously remaining close to his family in Virginia. Anderson speaks highly of the veteran networks he found at Georgetown and in the greater D.C. area. In the future, Derrick looks to help veterans in difficult situations after learning from his own challenging experiences.
“I really want to help veterans with claims or disciplinary actions. I can empathize with those individuals because I’ve been through some of those things, whether it is legally or just emotionally. It’s something that I really think I could just help someone out.”