January 09, 2006
Call gave false hope to corporal’s family
By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer

Glenda Fales received a call from Iraq on the night of Dec. 16 and was told her son was injured while serving on a security detail at Camp Fallujah. The caller was wrong.

The next morning, a casualty- assistance calls officer and a Navy chaplain arrived at Fales’ Cullman, Ala., home to deliver the news that her son was dead.

More specifically, the Marine told Fales that her son, Cpl. Adam R. Fales, a military policeman assigned to 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, was killed in Iraq on Dec. 16 by nonhostile fire while off duty in his living area. He was 21.

There was immediate confusion. Family members didn’t know who to believe — the Marines on their doorstep or the call from Iraq. The CACO spent the next few hours breaking the military’s most somber news to a family with cause to hope he was mistaken.

Officials have since told family members that a preliminary report showed Fales’ death was a tragic accident, the result of inattention to weapons safety procedures that resulted in what Marines typically call a “negligent discharge.”

“He was listening to music with three of his buddies when two of them got up to leave,” said older brother Jacob Fales, also a Marine corporal, in a Dec. 23 article in The Cullman Times. “They picked up their guns. One of them accidentally pulled the trigger. The gun was pointed at Adam.”

Marine Corps Times was unable to reach the Fales family, but Glenda Fales, through a spokeswoman for 2nd MLG, said she does not want to press charges against anyone involved in her son’s death, saying it was an accident and she doesn’t want to punish Marines her son considered friends.

In fact, Adam Fales, in his final letter to his parents, wrote that he was confident in his Marine brethren and wanted to stay in touch with them for the rest of his life. His father relayed this to his son’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, during a phone conversation on Dec. 21, Anderson said.

The Corps is investigating the shooting incident. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry will determine if a crime has been committed by the shooter. A Judge Advocate General Manual investigation will recommend charges against anyone identified by NCIS, and a II Marine Expeditionary Force safety officer will submit a report as well.

The initial misinformation made the notification process more difficult for both Fales’ family and CACO 1st Sgt. Alan Caldwell, the senior enlisted Marine of Kilo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, in Huntsville, Ala. Not only did Fales’ family have to go through the worry of hearing he was injured, they were caught off guard emotionally to hear that the truth was actually worse, Caldwell said.

“Everybody was in a state of shock, a state of dismay. They reacted differently because they initially heard [Fales] was injured. Their mind-set was totally different,” said Caldwell, a veteran of “quite a few” notifications. “They make you start second-guessing yourself, and you got the paper in your hand.”

Anderson said he wants to identify the caller at the root of the mix-up.

“In this age of cell phones and e-mails, someone is bound to muck up [the casualty notification process],” he said. “We all take this very seriously. I’m going to do my own investigation and figure out who the heck it is.”