Partly for that reason, the Army could be in for an embarrassing PR hit when the Defense Department Inspector General's Office releases its findings after an almost yearlong review of the events surrounding Tillman's death. That could come perhaps as early as September -- the start of another NFL season. The IG's Office initiated its current inquiry after determining the three earlier military investigations, including the one by Kauzlarich, failed to fully address concerns and allegations raised by the Tillman family as well as by Washington politicians.
In a March 23, 2006, letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN.com, Reps. Michael Honda, D-Calif., Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., wrote: "The Army ... should have a shared interest in determining whether Army officials covered up the true facts regarding Corporal Tillman's death." To that end, the lawmakers suggest congressional hearings ultimately might be convened to delve into the matter.
Both the White House and Rumsfeld's office declined comment for this story. Through spokesman Hollen J. Wheeler, the secretary of defense turned down the opportunity to address ESPN.com's questions about the Tillman situation e-mailed to his office.
The Army, too, isn't eager to discuss publicly either the specifics of the battle in which Tillman was killed or the events and investigations that have taken place since. ESPN.com e-mailed a series of questions about Tillman's death to the Department of the Army. Paul Boyce, the Army's deputy director of public affairs, cited the ongoing investigation as a reason for declining to respond.
In some cases, it appears the Army has tried to discourage the soldiers who fought with Tillman from speaking about how he died. Some of the Rangers contacted by ESPN.com said they were told that a nondisclosure agreement they signed upon entering the regiment precludes them from talking about the incident. Others told ESPN.com that a confidentiality agreement they signed upon leaving the Rangers prohibits them from discussing classified information for 80 years. Notices also have been posted around Fort Lewis advising soldiers not to talk about the Tillman incident with the media, according to a Ranger from Tillman's platoon who was stationed there.
O'Neal, the Ranger alongside Tillman when he was killed, told ESPN.com, "I've been advised not to talk by my superiors -- people that control me."
However, with the help of a number of other Rangers who were willing to talk about the firefight, along with documents from the Army's investigations, ESPN.com has been able to reconstruct the events leading up to and including the battle scene.
On the morning of April 21, 2004, a day before Tillman was gunned down, a failed fuel pump on a ground mobility vehicle -- Army jargon for a Humvee -- brought the Ranger platoon to a halt as it searched for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Another pump was flown in by helicopter that night, but according to an Army synopsis of one of the investigations, it didn't fix the problem.
The Army's elite fighting group -- 35 soldiers in 11 vehicles -- pulled out from their camp, towing the broken-down Humvee. The Rangers had no tow bar, so they improvised with straps. A few hours later, the Humvee's front end gave out near the village of Magarah and the Ranger convoy stopped.