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Stolen Valor: Fake Green Beret Forced To Shut Down Honor Guard Group
Papotia Reginald Wright started the 8th Special Forces Regiment New York Honor Guard more than a year ago to perform burial services for veterans. But according to investigations by multiple groups, the supposed Special Forces veteran vastly inflated his military service, including medals for valor, and his group has since shut down.
Wright claimed to be a retired command sergeant major from Special Forces and used his fraudulent claim to run a veterans service organization with no official nonprofit status in Brooklyn, N.Y., according the state Attorney General’s office. Military records seen by Stars and Stripes show he served in the Army from 1982-90 as a truck driver who never ranked higher than a specialist – a far cry from his claims of combat service.
Photographs show Wright in full dress uniform at promotional events including a New York Giants game. Most of his decorations – a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and others – are allegedly fake, according to Steve Antson from Guardians of the Green Beret, a watchdog group that works to expose people pretending to be part of Special Forces.
According to federal law under the Stolen Valor Act, it is a crime to lie about military awards for monetary or other tangible benefits.
Wright, who goes by “Reggie,” told Stars and Stripes that his rank is honorary, not an attempt to mislead.
“Because I started the unit (the Honor Guard), I was the top NCO there,” he said. Wright has said he never claimed to be in Special Forces specifically, but that he drove trucks for the 75th Ranger Regiment and 5th Special Forces Group as an attachment.
As part of the Army’s Authorized Provider Partnership Program, organizations like Wright’s can perform military honors for funerals of former military personnel or honor guard ceremonies for events. “When they couldn’t take up the slack, we were called,” Wright said of the Army.
According to its now-defunct Facebook page, the “8th Special Forces Regiment New York Honor Guard is a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) that renders final honors to Veterans with an Honorable Discharge or General Discharge with Honorable conditions.” It is based at the Park Slope Armory building on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn.
The name is an apparent reference to the 8th Special Forces Group, which conducted counterinsurgency operations and training in the backdrop of the Cold War in Latin America. The unit was disbanded in 1980.
The Guardians of the Green Beret said they have been aware of the Honor Guard for about two months, after being alerted by another watchdog organization called Guardian of Valor that Wright was exaggerating his military service to promote the Honor Guard.
Wright claimed he had been part of the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu in 1993 that led to the deaths of 18 U.S servicemembers, Antson said. Wright’s service ended in 1990, according to his personnel record.
Multiple people confirmed to Antson that Wright told the story of an enemy fighter who snuck up behind him and cut his kidney out. “He’s saying he is walking around with half a kidney,” he said. Wright never received a Purple Heart, according to his military records.
An official at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, who wasn’t permitted to talk on the record, said no one questioned Wright’s rank and credentials at the base, and he used that to gain access to government vehicles “for whatever reason.”
Jeffrey Johnson, a former Army major, joined the Honor Guard to help veterans, he said. Wright immediately asked Johnson to work promotional events with him.
The pace was frenetic, Johnson said. They attended an annual Heroes Gala event by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America where he met former Army Gen. David Petraeus and other well-known military figures. He worked with Wright at a New York Giants game and at the Nov. 10 reopening of the Times Square recruiting station after its renovation.
“I got caught up so quickly in the events,” he said, eventually leaving the group because of the time commitment it required.
He said he was “crushed” by the revelations about Wright’s inflated service record and self-promotion.
“I believed in the organization. It was a feeling of pride to put on the uniform again since I was always proud of my military service,” he said. “It sunk my heart.”
The Honor Guard website was taken down after accusations of fraud were made. Its Facebook page states in its last post on Nov. 29 that “information has been posted on the Internet which we were not aware of until this month of November 2017. As a result we will look into the matter, therefore we will be closing our social media until further notice.”
The post was signed by Maj. Tammy Feliciano from the group’s S-1 office, referring to personnel management sections in Army headquarters units.
The Guardians of the Green Beret claim they have been able to find no evidence that Feliciano served in the military after a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Personnel Records Center.
“She is calling herself a major. She was not active duty, she was not in the Guard, she was not in the Reserves,” Antson said. Wright says Feliciano is a civilian and the title was honorary. “She’s never been in the military and she’s never portrayed herself to be in the military.”
She could not be reached by Stars and Stripes for comment.
The 8th Special Forces New York Honor Guard is officially defunct, Wright told Stars and Stripes in December.
“If people don’t want us to bury veterans, that’s a shame. That is what our mission was,” he said.
©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.
Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.
Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."
Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.
Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.
Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.
"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."
Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.
Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.
"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.
Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.
Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.
Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.
When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."
Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.
Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.
Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.
Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.
"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.
"Yes," Graffam said.
The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.
US troops are using dating apps more and condoms less as sexually transmitted infections surge within the ranks
The U.S. military is seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in part due to dating apps, according to the Military Health System.
"There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner," Air Force physician Maj. Dianne Frankel said in a news release.
Three Marines killed in a December plane crash are finally coming home.
Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Hercules and one Marine on an F/A-18 Hornet were killed when both planes went down about 200 miles off the Japanese coast.
A recent salvage operation of the KC-130J crash site recovered the remains of three of the Marines, who were later identified, Corps officials said.
The Air Force is investigating an airman after he posted a video on YouTube rife with homophobic slurs and insults.
A man in an Air Force uniform, identified only by the YouTube username "Baptist Dave 1611" ranted in a recent video, calling gay people "sodomites," "vermin scum," and "roaches" among other slurs, according to Air Force Times, which first reported the story Wednesday.
"The specifics of the situation are being reviewed by the airman's command team," said service spokesman Maj Nick Mercurio, confirming the incident. Mercurio did not provide any identifying details about the airman.
Two U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, defense officials have announced.
Operation Resolute Support issued a terse news release announcing the latest casualties that did not include any information about the circumstances of their deaths.