Less than ten minutes before I met Private First Class Justin Watt, military attorneys privately pulled him aside to remind him not to talk about the case that put his name in headlines. That gesture suggested how important Watt has become to the Army's investigation and prosecution of five soldiers who are suspected in a disturbingly violent crime in Iraq.
The incident happened earlier this year where Watt's company of the 101st Airborne patrolled and manned checkpoints in the Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. In a place where violent acts are commonplace, this crime was particularly brutal and disturbing. An Iraqi family had been murdered in their own home, the 14 year old daughter was raped, shot in the head and her body was burned. Watt was horrified to learn the killers could have been some of his own brothers in arms.
Reporting the soldiers was not easy to do. Watt, like his fellow soldiers lived and died by an unwritten code of loyalty and trust. His father Rick told me that Justin was so committed to his "brothers" that he turned down a chance at a holiday leave and once refused to come home for his grandfather's funeral. At a military hearing last month Watt said he came forward after hearing stories about what had happened from members of his platoon. He testified 'If you have the power to make something right, you should do it.'
After his testimony Watt reported back to the 101st. He and his parents were concerned about retaliation from within the ranks. Watt had put himself in the uneasy position of wondering if the soldier he was trusting to watch his back might harbor some resentment or feelings of betrayal. Already serving in some of the most arduous conditions in Iraq, this kind of problem could easily get him killed.
My crew and I were just a few feet away Wednesday morning when Watt came home with hundreds of other weary soldiers who have completed their tours in Iraq, to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and into the arms of his parents.
Tonight on 360 you'll see the love and support Justin is getting from his family, and their relief that he is safe at home, while they wait and wonder what the two years he has left in the army might bring.