Are Soldiers Really Being Assaulted on the DC Metro?

A memorandum circulated via email in the Department of Defense earlier this week warned of a rash of verbal assaults on uniformed members of the military on Washington D.C. Metro lines. The memo had been distributed to Department of Defense security managers and became public knowledge when it was provided to war correspondent Michael Yon, who published it on his web site Wednesday.

Within hours, soldiers, military bloggers, and their supporters were inflamed by what appeared to be an outbreak of anti-military, anti-war sentiment by protesters against an unpopular conflict in Iraq. The memo, however, now appears to have greatly exaggerated the situation, and at least one element of the story was confirmed to be false.

The key points of the memo claimed:

Washington D.C.

Dept of Transportation Federal Transit Administration sends:

Recently, there have been local incidents in which military personnel have been verbally assaulted while commuting on the Metro. Uniformed members have been approached by individuals expressing themselves as anti-government, shouting anti-war sentiments, and using racial slurs against minorities.

In one instance, a member was followed onto the platform by an individual who continued to berate her as she exited the metro station. Thus far, these incidents have occurred in the vicinity of the Reagan National Airport and Eisenhower Ave metro stations on the yellow line, however, military members should be vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times while in mass transit.

It appeared that American soldiers in uniform had encountered multiple incidents where they became the subject of verbal abuse and even racial slurs for merely wearing their uniforms in the presence of agitated anti-war protesters. One might even infer from the memo that the harassment was orchestrated.

But there are problems with the memo, beginning with its mysterious origin.

Pajamas Media contacted the Federal Transit Administration Wednesday, and Velvet Snow, spokeswoman for the FTA, stated categorically that the agency never issued such a memo.

Lt. Col. George Wright of Army Public Affairs noted that a similar email was circulated internally by the Army Material Command at nearby Fort Belvoir, VA. When asked to provide information about specific incidents of verbal abuse, Army LTC Lee M. Packnett stated that "none of the messages sent included definitive information about incidents that occurred. They were sent for soldiers to be aware of and to be vigilant in their travels to and from work via the Metro rail system."

Then there's the problem surrounding the number of incidents that occurred. Washington D.C. Metro officials could only point to the existence of a single episode as the probable trigger of the memo.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spokesperson Angela Gates stated that there was precisely one reported verbal assault against a female soldier on the Yellow Line recently. A female soldier was verbally harassed, left the train, was followed, re-boarded the train, and reported the incident to MTA Police once she arrived home. Gates was unable to confirm that the verbal abuse was related to anti-war sentiment, and no other reports have been filed with the MTA to substantiate insinuations of multiple incidents.

There is no pattern of verbal abuse against uniformed Department of Defense personnel in the DC Metro system. The memo sent to Department of Defense security managers was authored at a high level, and exaggerated the number of verbal assaults from one confirmed event into an apparent outbreak, while attempting to shift authorship to another federal agency.

Soldiers are not being systematically targeted by aggressive anti-war protesters in the Washington D.C. area, but someone within the Department of Defense is willing to stoke those fears, without merit.

Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.