Inquiry complete in death of soldier

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(Host) The wait may be over for the family of Tom Stone.

Stone is the 52-year-old Vermont Army Guardsman who was killed in Afghanistan in March of 2006.

The Army has now informed his family that a year-long inquiry into his death has been completed.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, even though she’s been told unofficially that he died in a friendly fire incident it’s, been a frustrating wait for Stone’s partner.

(Dubie) “After reviewing initial reports of enemy contact, the commander of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan determined that an investigation was warranted.”

(Zind) Last April, Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie announced the Army was investigating the possibility that Tom Stone’s death in Afghanistan was a result of friendly fire. A Canadian soldier was killed in the same incident.

Exactly one year later Dubie says the investigation has only now been completed.

(Dubie) “It’s taken way too long. I’m not making excuses for the U.S. Army. What I would say is that three governments have been involved in this investigation, it’s very sensitive.”

(Zind) Dubie said the Army has told him it will soon brief Stone’s family on the results of the inquiry.

It’s been an agonizing wait for Stone’s longtime partner Rose Loving of Tunbridge.

Even though she has learned that Stone was, in fact, killed by friendly fire, Loving says the details are important to her and the conclusion of the inquiry will be another step in her grieving.

Loving says the amount of time the inquiry has taken isn’t her biggest complaint. It’s what she feels is a lack of responsiveness on the part of the Army.

Loving says for the past year she’s been kept in the dark about the progress of the inquiry, why it’s taken so long and when it might be completed despite her repeated attempts to get answers. It’s left her feeling abandoned.

(Loving) “I don’t want to feel like a piece of paper on a desk. I want communication and if there’s reasons why it takes so long, I want to be contacted and be told. ‘There’s reasons, we care, we’re here, we’re working for you. That’s really important’.”

(Zind) Loving says the Vermont Guard has been supportive, but it too has had little success getting information from the Army.

She also contacted Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy talked with the then Secretary of the Army. He says he was told the inquiry was taking so long because the Canadian government is also involved.

(Leahy) “It’s somewhat saddening to think the only way they can get information is when a U.S. Senator starts rattling the doors down at the Pentagon. I’m very disappointed in the way the army has handled this.”

(Zind) For its part, the Army says inquiries invariably take longer than family members would like and that it would be merely speculation to give them timeline.

Rose Loving’s soft-spoken demeanor belies her frustration and anger.

She says the Army hasn’t treated her in a way that honors Stone’s sacrifice.

(Loving) “It’s respect, its respect to me. I’ve lost the dearest person. I’ve lost my partner.”

(Zind) Loving says she and Stone’s sister will attend the Army briefing, which she hopes will take place later this month. When she finally learns the details of Tom Stone’s death she says she’ll gain a measure of peace, and the relief that the long wait is over.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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