The Joint Base Lewis-McChord pilot accused of dereliction of duty in the death of an Army paratrooper took to the witness stand Thursday to burnish his credentials as an experienced aviator and insist he believed he was following protocol when he approved what became a fatal airdrop.
Capt. Jared Foley, 37, maintained there was no reason to cancel that airdrop because five previous passes over the same Montana air field had gone well according to the measurements he was reading on his aircraft and guidance he received from soldiers on the ground.
"The drop-zone controller is telling me everything is good on the ground," Foley said.
On the sixth pass, Special Forces paratrooper Sgt. Francis Campion fell to his death when he was blown off course and struck a building.
Campion was the second paratrooper that day to land outside the drop zone. The first incident should have forced Foley to discontinue the airdrops, the Air Force argues.
Foley faces 21/2 years in prison if he's convicted of one count of reckless endangerment and three of dereliction of duty. He has served in the military for 17 years and deployed at least twice to the Middle East, including a 2011 assignment in which he made 20 combat airdrops in Afghanistan.
Attorneys concluded their cases Thursday, and a court-martial panel of 10 Air Force officers is expected to deliver a verdict today.
His case drew strong emotions from the community of pilots at McChord Air Field. So many officers showed up to support Foley that one of them could not find a seat in court and stood to watch closing arguments.
"Above reproach," testified Lt. Col. James Sparrow, who recently supervised Foley as the operations officer for McChord's 7th Airlift Squadron. "One of the finest officers I've worked with."
Campion's family members, meanwhile, grew tired of what they perceived as finger-pointing from the Air Force over the soldier's death. Sgt. Campion, 31, of Hollidaysburg, Pa., served in the 19th Special Forces Group and had been on countless parachute jumps.
His mother and his sister have been in court the past two days. They say they are not invested in seeing a guilty verdict.
Nonetheless, "as a U.S. citizen, I am embarrassed that a highly reputable Air Force pilot would try to blame another service member," said Campion's sister, Vivian Desiderio.
Prosecutor Capt. Mark Rosenow showed respect to Foley's reputation as a careful, meticulous pilot, but charged that Foley made an unforgiveable error when he allowed the sixth pass over a Marshall Air Field on July 10, 2011.
Rosenow cited "black and white" Air Force regulations that say pilots must cease airdrops if a package or jumper lands outside a drop zone. One regulation says a crew must terminate its mission if an off-drop-zone landing is confirmed or suspected.
The prosecutor ticked off other errors Foley allegedly made on the Montana mission, such as applying incorrect data about the parachutes soldiers used and disregarding wind data that conflicted with reports from a nearby airport.
"We all fall short sometimes, but at the time (Foley) fell short, it was criminal," Rosenow said.
Defense attorney Maj. Matt McCall countered that the Air Force regulations governing off-drop-zone landings were not as clear as Rosenow presented.
Foley and his crew, for instance, believed that the first off-drop zone landing on the Montana mission last year was solid because an Army officer on the ground blamed the error on the jumper.
McCall called on the jurors to read 38 character letters that service members wrote on Foley's behalf. Jurors received them early in the day, and they reportedly show senior officers from all of the country endorsing Foley as a pilot.