Refusing Reservists Face Charges

The 343rd Quartermasters Company, a reserve unit of 120 soldiers which deployed from its home base in Rock Hill, S.C drives fuel supply trucks like this one. CBS

The Army is recommending punishment for about two dozen soldiers from an Army Reserve unit in Iraq that refused orders to drive a fuel convoy because they believed it was too dangerous, officials said Tuesday.

No final decisions have been made, and none of the soldiers has been charged with a crime, the officials said, but preliminary findings of an Army investigation faulted about 24 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, which is based at Rock Hill, S.C.

About 18 of the 24 were held for nearly two days after balking at orders to drive a fuel convoy from Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq to a base north of Baghdad. Another six also have been faulted.

Most of the accused face administrative actions such as fines or reduction in rank, although officials said it was possible that some could face courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Their alleged refusal to obey orders was deemed to be detrimental to good order and discipline.

Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commanding general of 13th Corps Support Command, which manages the provision of fuel, food and ammunition across Iraq, ordered two investigations. One examined the soldiers' refusal of their orders and the other focused on allegations that the unit's trucks were unfit for hazardous duty.

U.S. officers say the refusal to carry out the mission on Oct. 13 was an isolated incident and not an indication of a broader breakdown in discipline. Still, it's no secret that convoy duty is one of the most perilous jobs in Iraq.

The soldiers balked at driving a convoy of fuel trucks because they said the vehicles were in poor condition without any armor to protect them from the ever-present threat of ambushes, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reported last month. The general in charge of re-supply missions in Iraq has ordered the unit to stand down until all the vehicles can be inspected and repaired.

"Not all of their trucks are completely armored. In their case, they haven't had the chance to get armored," said Chambers, who is in charge of sending some 250 convoys ferrying Army fuel, food and ammunition across Iraq each day.

Chambers said 80 percent of the 13th Coscom's 4,000 trucks have been fitted with custom steel plate, but some of those in the unit that balked, the 343rd Quartermaster Company, were among the last left unarmored, because the unit's mission normally confines it to a less dangerous part of Iraq.

"We will also assess armor protection for each of their vehicles and provide additional steel plating if it's required. I estimate this process will take 10 to 14 days," he added at a press conference in Baghdad.

None of the 13th Coscom's trucks arrived in Iraq with armor. Since February, the unit's engineers and private contractors have been working in impromptu maintenance yards to weld heavy metal "boxes" over truck cabs.

The congressman who represents the unit's home district in South Carolina says the Army has as many questions to answer about the condition of the trucks as the soldiers have to answer about their alleged mutiny.

"Indeed there were equipment deficiencies and an unusual number of breakdowns on these convoys," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C. "It's fair to ask the Army, 'What were you doing to address these problems before sending the troops out on this route?'"

In addition to the trucks, some of the soldiers have told their families the fuel they were ordered to deliver was contaminated with water and could have caused helicopters to crash if it had been delivered and used. The wife of one sergeant says something must have been wrong.

"Something had to be mighty bad for him to go against an order — that's not him at all," she said.

One of those soldiers was Scott Shealey, said his father Ricky, and it wasn't the danger that, but that the soldiers knew the fuel was bad.

"Because if you put contaminated fuel in a helicopter, then you're going to probably end up crashing a helicopter or cause major problems," Ricky Shealey told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith last month.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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