I first met Debra Harrison in November 2002 in Norristown, PA where I was working with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade to get them ready to go to Iraq. In March 2003 we deployed together with the unit to Kuwait, and then on to Iraq in April. A non-combat injury kept Debra in Kuwait for most of the summer, so I didn't get to see her very much.
In September 2003 General Sanchez decided that all Reservists were going to stay the full 365 days in Iraq, instead of heading home early like some of us were hoping. Our original mission with the Marines had ended (the Marines were sent home) and some of us assumed, incorrectly, that we were going to go home, too. Instead, the unit was split between Tikrit, Kuwait, Baghdad, southern Iraq and Al-Hilla, where we had been living the past five months.
I was assigned to Hilla with the mission to be the civil affairs liaison from the Baghdad Headquarters to the Multi-National Division in south central Iraq. To perform this critical function for the war effort I was given Major Debra Harrison, Lieutenant Tamara Montgomery, Lieutenant Alicia Galvany and Specialist Mike Green. Not much of an Army, but deemed adequate for the mission by our Commander, Colonel Rob Stall.
The five of us stayed in Al-Hilla from October 1, 2003 to February 28, 2004. Debra and Tamara volunteered to remain in Iraq so they returned to Hilal in March. Tamara's stay was short, as she was wounded in an ambush in Baghdad in April and medically evacuated home.
Sometime in the first three months of 2004 Debra Harrison became involved in a criminal enterprise operating in the Coalition Provisional Authority Headquarters there in Al Hilla. The conspirators, all of whom I knew very well, one of whom was the Chief of Staff and four of whom were field grade Army Reserve officer, were taking bribes from an American contractor in exchange for funneling lucrative projects to the contractor's company.
They weren't very good criminals, or Army officers for that matter, since they left a treasure trove of evidence for investigators in the CPA email system. Debra got a new car and three hundred thousand dollars in cash which she poured into improvements in her house. She was recently sentenced in federal court to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $366,000 in restitution.
I haven't seen or talked to Debra since she said good-bye to me in Kuwait in March 2003 and then caught a ride with Tamara back to Hilla and Iraq. I was contacted by the lawyers, both prosecution and defense, about the case but I didn't have any information about whether Debra was guilty or innocent. The buds of the conspiracy sprouted when I was there but most of the criminal activity happened after I left.
I keep coming back to this sordid episode in my posts as new developments occur, vainly looking for a moral to the story. I am sure that emotions often cloud my vision of what happened. I am curious what rationalizations or self delusions went through Debra's and the other defendants minds as they rubbed their hands together and plotted to betray me and everyone else who served there during that period for something as base and meaningless as money.
I am sure that they, their family and friends have eloquent and long winded excuses for the actions that they took. The comments that Debra's family has posted to my blog are good examples of this. I never took sides for or against Debra in this episode until she was convicted by a court of law, even though I read the indictment and knew that she was in all probability guilty. All the prosecutors had to do was to read her emails.
Two more of the conspirators have yet to be sentenced, Colonel Curtis Whiteford and Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Wheeler. The final chapters of this story have yet to be written.