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Mar 13, 2020

When Can Soldiers Use their Discretion While on the Job?

This week we’ve been reporting on the preliminary report coming out of the investigation into the helicopter accident that killed four B.D.F. soldiers. That report was prepared by the Honduran Air Force Accident Prevention and Investigation Board. The document outlines a number of issues found lacking and makes recommendations but the probable cause of the accident, it noted, was human error. The report cited the use of cell-phone onboard the chopper, as well poor weather conditions and lack of night vision goggles as possible factors that resulted in the pilot error.  There are still many questions about the chain of events leading up to the execution of that mission. One of the main points raised was about the weather condition that morning. On Tuesday, the Minister of National Security Michael Peyrefitte pointed out that General Steven Ortega reportedly made note of the weather to the Commander of the B.D.F Air Wing, Major Adran Ramirez. The minister went further to say that had Ramirez had any concerns, he could have used the discretion to refuse to carry out the operation and that there would be no consequences. One person who has been brave enough to respond publicly on the matter is Lieutenant Colonel Charlton Roches. In a Facebook post that has been widely commended and shared entitled “Don’t Blame our Pilots,” Roches responded to the statements made. He wrote that it is the first time he has heard that soldiers have the right to use their discretion say, “After serving over twenty-three years in the B.D.F., I now know that I have the discretion to refuse an order from a superior officer, well, according to the Minister of National Security. I’m trying to figure out in what military doctrine or the Defence Act does ‘discretion’ trump command or orders?” Roches wrote that the Defence Act speaks of instances of discretion, but not in the context of trumping a command. He noted that, “Consequently, the responsibility, to have launched that aircraft, lies in the hands of the person that gave the orders.” Here’s what the Minister of National Security Michael Peyrefitte said at the press conference on Tuesday.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security [File: March 10th, 2020]

“At around 2:12 a.m., Major General Ortega and asked him if the mission is a go. At 2:18 a.m., General Ortega calls JIOC to get a briefing on the mission and repeats his conditional approval as he explains to JIOC that it would be up to Major Ramirez to finally determine if they can fly the helicopter based on the weather and other factors.   At 2:22 a.m., General Ortega calls Major Ramirez and tells him that the mission is a go, provided that he Major Ramirez is satisfied that the proper conditions exist in order to safely fly and that in his, General Ortega’s view; the weather will not clear up until about five a.m.  At around 3:17 a.m., Major Ramirez texted General Ortega and said, “Sir, wedda hold up. We’ll depart. Major Ramirez had total discretion to refuse the mission if he believed that weather conditions were not favourable and WhatsApp messages couldn’t be communicated. At any time, it is universally accepted within the military and especially when it comes to flights from the air wing, that even if he needed to communicate but couldn’t communicate, he could turn back and abort the mission.”


We note, that the Ministry of National Security has said that there is an ongoing internal investigation into the fatal helicopter accident.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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