The soldiers were told if one of their own was about to get in trouble with the law, to get that soldier back on base. Knock him out, drag him. Do whatever it takes to get that soldier home.
And on the night he died, Luke Brown looked like he was about to get in a whole lot of trouble.
It was July 20, and Brown was at the Ugly Stick Saloon in Fayetteville, N.C., with a bunch of his friends from the 82nd Airborne Division — including one Tampa Bay guy: Spc. Charles Brad DeLong, 24, from Dade City.
They all worked in military intelligence at Fort Bragg. The 82nd Airborne Division is hard-core with a storied history. These are soldiers who willingly jump out of planes.
Brown, 27 and from Virginia, was hammered — his blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit — and in a foul mood. He argued with another soldier, grabbed the man's beer and drank it. Brown ran out of the bar and lost the group. They went looking for him and found him in the woods. Brown — a big guy at more than 6 feet and 250 pounds — was still in a fighting mood and throwing punches.
So his friends choked him, punched him and tied him up so they could carry him back to their car and get the heck out of town. They wanted him to pass out.
The soldiers carried Brown to their sport utility vehicle and got him inside. He was pale. "You've got to breathe, Brown," one soldier said.
They began CPR. Soon, an ambulance and military police arrived on scene.
But it was too late. Brown was dead. A pathologist said the cause of death was asphyxia.
His friends — including DeLong — are now charged with involuntary manslaughter. Other than DeLong, they are: Sgt. Christopher Mignocchi, 22, of Hollywood, Fla.; Sgt. Kyle G. Saltz, 25, of Richland, Wash.; Sgt. Justin A. Boyle, 28, of Rocky Point, N.Y.; Spc. Ryan Sullivan, 23, of Mount Laurel, N.J.; Spc. Joseph A. Misuraca, 22, of Harper Woods, Mich.; and Pfc. Andrey Udalov, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
It is still relatively early in the military judicial process. Five of the soldiers, including DeLong, went through an Article 32 last week, which is like a civilian grand jury — and where details of Brown's death have come to light through witness testimony and evidence.
The last two soldiers — Sullivan and Misuraca — are scheduled to appear on Feb. 27. No decisions of guilt or innocence come at this point, said Master Sgt. Tom Clementson, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division.
After hearing all the evidence, the division commander will make a decision whether to forward the cases to a formal trial (court martial). He also could dismiss or modify the charges. Involuntary manslaughter charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Clementson said all of the soldiers are still working on base, though not in their usual jobs.
"They're not in lockdown or anything like that," he said.
Todd Conormon, the attorney representing DeLong, said in court that what happened was a tragedy — but that the soldiers were trying to help a friend.
"I'm hoping this doesn't go to court," he said. "I don't think it should."
Chief Warrant Officer James Lyonais — who was called as a character witness — testified about guidance he received on safely getting a drunk person home.
He said he was told "it doesn't matter how you get them home. You knock them out, you bring them home, and we'll deal with it later."
Pat Reedy, principal at Pasco High School, knows DeLong and his family — who couldn't be reached. He said that, as a student, DeLong was a pleasant young man and active in things like showing hogs competitively. He said DeLong still stops by the school when he's home, to say hello to Reedy and teachers.
"He's a good young man," Reedy said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird and the Associated Press contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.