Harry Schmidt is a major in the Illinois Air National Guard and was at one time an instructor at the Navy's elite TOPGUN fighter pilot school. On April 17, 2002 over Afghanistan, while flying an F-16, Schmidt mistook Canadian anti-tank and machine-gun exercises as enemy fire and dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on members of the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. The Tarnak Farm incident resulted in eight wounded and four dead: Sgt Marc Leger, Cpl Ainsworth Dyer, Pte Richard Green and Pte Nathan Smith. On July 6, 2004, Schmidt was found guilty of dereliction of duty and is no longer allowed to pilot Air Force aircraft.
Schmidt (whose flight name was "Psycho"), and his flight lead, Major William Umbach, were returning from a 10-hour patrol, at more than 15,000 feet, when they spotted surface fire. Claiming Umbach was under attack, Schmidt asked flight control permission to fire his 20 mm cannons, to which flight control replied "hold fire." Four seconds later, Schmidt said he was "rolling in, in self defense." He dropped a laser-guided bomb 35 seconds later.
On September 11, 2002, Schmidt and Umbach were officially charged with 4 counts of negligent manslaughter, 8 counts of aggravated assault, and 1 count of dereliction of duty, but Schmidt's charges were later reduced (on June 30, 2003) to dereliction of duty. He was initially offered non-judicial punishment proceedings before Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force Commander, on June 19 2003, which he declined to accept, demanding trial by court-martial. The charge was referred to a court-martial on June 30 2003. On June 24 2004--in connection with negotiations between the prosecution and Schmidt's attorneys--Schmidt was allowed to reverse his earlier demand for trial by court-martial and accept the previously offered non-judicial punishment proceedings. The charges against Umbach were later dismissed.
According to the defense lawyers of the two pilots, Schmidt and Umbach were told by their superiors to use "go pills" (amphetamines) on their missions, and blamed the incident on the drugs. Schmidt's defense also blamed the fog of war, specifically poor and needlessly complex communication procedures regarding the identification of friendly forces on the ground.
After a closed, non-judicial punishment hearing held at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Schmidt was found guilty on July 6, 2004 of dereliction of duty and was docked nearly $5,700 in pay and reprimanded. The reprimand, written by Lt. Gen. Carlson as part of the non-judicial punishment said Schmidt had "flagrantly disregarded a direct order", "exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline", and "blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement."
On July 8 2004, Schmidt's lawyer Charles Gittins announced plans to appeal the ruling and to file a lawsuit against the Air Force over the public release of documents in the case. On April 7 2006, Schmidt filed a lawsuit complaining of violations of the Privacy Act for the release. On September 20 2007 the lawsuit was dismissed, with the judge writing in her decision that "the competing public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs Schmidt's privacy interest.
The eight wounded in the incident were Sergeant Lorne Ford, Corporal René Paquette, Corporal Curtis Hollister, Corporal Brent Perry, Corporal Brian Decaire, Private Norman Link, Master Corporal Stanley P. Clark and Corporal Shane Brennan.
Major Schmidt is a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy where he was the starting goalie on the soccer team.