Platoon Refuses 'Suicide Orders' in Iraq

NY Times & Jackson Miss. Clarion-Ledger, 10/17/2004

The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
October 15, 2004

Platoon defies orders in Iraq
Miss. soldier calls home, cites safety concern

By Jeremy Hudson

A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with troops from Jackson, Miss., and around the Southeast deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a "suicide mission" to deliver fuel, the troops relatives said Thursday.

The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq - north of Baghdad - because their vehicles were considered "deadlined" or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook.

Sgt. McCook, a deputy at the Hinds County, Miss., Detention Center, and the 16 other members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were read their rights and moved from the military barracks into tents, Patricia McCook said her husband told her during a panicked phone call about 5 a.m. Thursday.

The platoon could be charged with the willful disobeying of orders, punishable by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years confinement, said military law expert Mark Stevens, an associate professor of justice studies at Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, N.C.

On Friday, the Army confirmed that the units actions were under scrutiny.

"The commanding general of the 13th Corps Support Command has appointed the Deputy Commander to lead an investigation into allegations that members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company refused to participate in their assigned convoy mission October 13," said Lt. Col Steven A. Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. Army and multinational forces in Iraq.

"The investigating team is currently in Tallil taking statements and

interviewing those involved. This is an isolated incident and it is far too early in the investigation to speculate as to what happened, why it happened or any action that might be taken," Boylan said.

"It is important to note that the mission in question was carried out using other soldiers from the unit," Boylan said.

Boylan also confirmed that the unit is stationed in Tallil, a logistical

support air base south of Nasiriyah.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he plans to submit a congressional inquiry today on behalf of the Mississippi soldiers to launch an investigation into whether they are being treated improperly.

"I would not want any member of the military to be put in a dangerous situation ill-equipped," said Thompson, who was contacted by families. "I have had similar complaints from military families about vehicles that werent armor-plated, or bullet-proof vests that are outdated. It concerns me because we made over $150 billion in funds available to equip our forces in Iraq.

"President Bush takes the position that the troops are well-armed, but if this situation is true, it calls into question how honest he has been with the country," Thompson said.

The 343rd is a supply unit whose general mission is to deliver fuel and water. The unit includes three women and 14 men and those with ranking up to sergeant first class.

"I got a call from an officer in another unit early (Thursday) morning who

told me that my husband and his platoon had been arrested on a bogus charge

because they refused to go on a suicide mission," said Jackie Butler of

Jackson, wife of Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year reservist. "When my husband

refuses to follow an order, it has to be something major."

The platoon being held has troops from Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina,

Mississippi and South Carolina, said Teresa Hill of Dothan, Ala., whose

daughter Amber McClenny is among those being detained.

McClenny, 21, pleaded for help in a message left on her mothers answering

machine early Thursday morning.

"They are holding us against our will," McClenny said. "We are now prisoners."

McClenny told her mother her unit tried to deliver fuel to another base in Iraq Wednesday, but was sent back because the fuel had been contaminated with water. The platoon returned to its base, where it was told to take the fuel to another base, McClenny told her mother.

The platoon is normally escorted by armed Humvees and helicopters, but did not have that support Wednesday, McClenny told her mother.

The convoy trucks the platoon was driving had experienced problems in the past and were not being properly maintained, Hill said her daughter told her.

The situation mirrors other tales of troops being sent on missions without proper equipment.

Aviation regiments have complained of being forced to fly dangerous missions over Iraq with outdated night-vision goggles and old missile-avoidance systems. Stories of troops families purchasing body armor because the military didnt provide them with adequate equipment have been included in recent presidential debates.

Patricia McCook said her husband, a staff sergeant, understands well the severity of disobeying orders. But he did not feel comfortable taking his soldiers on another trip.

"He told me that three of the vehicles they were to use were deadlines ... not safe to go in a hotbed like that," Patricia McCook said.

Hill said the trucks her daughters unit was driving could not top 40 mph.

"They knew there was a 99 percent chance they were going to get ambushed or fired at," Hill said her daughter told her. "They would have had no way to fight back."

Kathy Harris of Vicksburg, Miss., is the mother of Aaron Gordon, 20, who is among those being detained. Her primary concern is that she has been told the soldiers have not been provided access to a judge advocate general.

Stevens said if the soldiers are being confined, law requires them to have a hearing before a magistrate within seven days.

Harris said conditions for the platoon have been difficult of late. Her son e-mailed her earlier this week to ask what the penalty would be if he became physical with a commanding officer, she said.

But Nadine Stratford of Rock Hill, S.C., said her godson Colin Durham, 20, has been happy with his time in Iraq. She has not heard from him since the platoon was detained.

"When I talked to him about a month ago, he was fine," Stratford said. "He said it was like being at home."

The New York Time

October 16, 2004

The incident, which was first reported in The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., where several of the soldiers live, apparently began after the company tried to deliver a shipment of fuel to a base, but was turned away because the fuel was unusable, according to family members.

"We were carrying contaminated fuel." After the soldiers were released, Specialist McClenny called her mother again and explained that the jet fuel the convoy had to carry had been contaminated with diesel, and that because it had been rejected by one base, it would likely be rejected by the Taji base. Taji is in the volatile Sunni-dominated swath of Iraq, and Ms. Hill said her daughter felt "that if you go there, it's a 99 percent chance you will be ambushed or fired upon. "They had not slept, the trucks had not been maintained, they were going without armed guards, it was just a bad deal," Ms. Hill said. "And that's when the whole unit said no." She said their defense is "cease action on an unsafe order."

Relatives said that prior to the incident, soldiers had complained to them that their equipment was shoddy and put them in greater danger. The relatives said they did not know if such complaints were made to the unit's command.

"The paradigm shift that's happening is that a truck driver is just as likely to see combat as soldiers in infantry unit," he said. "There's better training now of support units now as they go out. They've gotten better about equipping support units, but those moves have still been incremental moves. There hasn't been a wholesale push to change the Army to face the kind of the threat it faces in Iraq today. There are no rear units in Iraq any more."

And from the NY Daily News front page article:

Nadine Stratford, of Rock Hill, whose godson Colin Durham is in the 343rd, said the soldiers balked at being sent on a potentially deadly missions in unarmored fuel trucks - and were now being treated like captured Iraqi insurgents. "They had them in a trailer, and then they moved them to a tent," she told the Daily News. "They won't let them go to sleep - and this is American soldiers that are holding them."

But Teresa Hill, of Jackson, Miss., played a desperate message from her daughter Amber McClenny in which McClenny asked her to contact her congressman and "raise pure hell."

"They are holding us against our will," McClenny, 21, said. "We are now prisoners ... I'm not even supposed to be using the phone." McClenny said they were being asked to risk their lives in "broken-down trucks" and without much of an armed military escort. She added that it was a pointless mission because the fuel was contaminated - and military brass knew it.

"They knew there was a 99% chance that they were going to get ambushed or fired at," Hill said. "They would have had no way to fight back."

"It was like a suicide mission and they said it was unsafe for them to go over there," Stratford added. "I don't know why they would do this, why they would send them kids over there and put them in that kind of situation."

"When my husband refuses to follow an order, it has to be something major," Butler told the Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper.