Monday, October 18, 2004

The NYTimes > National > The G.I.'s: Soldiers Saw Refusing Order as Their Last Stand

The New York Times > National > The G.I.'s: Soldiers Saw Refusing Order as Their Last Stand:
"What does it take for a man like Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year veteran of the Army and the Reserve who was a soldier in the first Persian Gulf war and a reserve called up to fight in the current war in Iraq, to risk everything by disobeying a direct order in wartime?

On the morning of Oct. 13, the military says, Sergeant Butler and most of his platoon, some 18 men and women from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil Air Base near Nasiriya, Iraq, to another base much farther north.

The Army has begun an inquiry, and the soldiers could face disciplinary measures, including possible courts-martial. But Jackie Butler, Sergeant Butler's wife, and her family in Jackson say he would not have jeopardized his career and his freedom for something impulsive or unimportant.

The soldiers, many of whom have called home this weekend, said their trucks were unsafe and lacked a proper armed escort, problems that have plagued them since they went to Iraq nine months ago, their relatives said. The time had come for them, for her husband, to act, Ms. Butler said."

… Other soldiers completed the mission the platoon turned down, the military kept functioning, and the Army has cast the incident as isolated.

But as the soldiers involved in the refusal in Tallil and others begin to speak out, it is growing more apparent that the military has yet to solve the lack of training, parts and equipment that has riddled the military operation in Iraq from the outset, especially among National Guard and Reserve units.

Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commander of the 13th Corps Support Command, which the 343rd reports to, said at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday that he had ordered two investigations into the incident and the concerns expressed by the 18 soldiers "regarding maintenance and safety.''

General Chambers said preliminary findings showed that the unit's trucks were not yet armored and were among the last in his command to get such protection, because they usually functioned in less dangerous parts of Iraq. None of the trucks in his command were armored when they arrived in Iraq, General Chambers said. He told reporters that he had ordered a safety and maintenance review of all trucks in the 343rd.

"Based on results of this investigation other actions may be necessary,'' the general said, but he added, "It's too early in the investigation to speculate on charges or other disciplinary actions.''

General Chambers described the episode as "a single event that is confined to a small group of individuals.''

A number of Army officers contacted in recent days said such an apparent act of insubordination was very unusual, particularly among such a large number of soldiers in a single unit and especially since the military is all volunteer.

The incident has prompted widespread interest among military families who have complained in months past of inadequate equipment and protection for their soldiers.

The soldiers in the platoon are described as devoted to the military and unabashedly patriotic. A wall of Sergeant Butler's living room is covered with certificates and citations from the Army. Another member of the 343rd, Specialist Joe Dobbs, 19, of Vandiver, Ala., had his bedroom painted the dark blue of the American flag. And another soldier in the unit, Sgt. Justin Rogers of Louisville, Ky., liked to walk around town in his uniform when he was home on leave, said Chris Helm, a 14-year-old high school student and his first cousin.

When Sergeant Rogers went home for a two-week leave in July, his brother Derrick asked whether the war and all the deaths were worth it. "His answer was simple," Derrick Rogers said. "He said, 'If I didn't feel like it was worth it, I wouldn't be there.' ''

Ms. Butler did not want to speak for her husband on his feelings about the war. Better he should do that when he is finally home, she said, which is scheduled to be sometime next year. But Sergeant Butler knew he would be called up, once the war against Iraq was begun in March 2003. Late last year, he reported to Rock Hill, and quickly, his confidence was shaken, his wife said. He saw that the equipment to be shipped with his unit was "not very good," Ms. Butler said.

Once the unit arrived in Iraq, the inadequacy of the platoon's equipment and preparedness was thrown into sharp relief against the dangers the country posed. Although the unit is based near Nasiriya in the Shiite-controlled south, which is not as volatile as Sunni-dominated areas, the whole country has been convulsed by battles and uprisings during most of the 343rd's tour of duty. "This is not the first time that there has been a problem with these charges and stuff, with them not having armor, not having radios," said Beverly Dobbs, mother of Specialist Dobbs. "My son told me two months ago - he called me, he said, 'Mom I got the scare of my life.'

"'I said what's wrong?'" Ms. Dobbs said. "He said, 'They sent us out, we come under fire, our own people was shooting and we didn't even have radios to let them know.' They're sending them out without the equipment they need. I don't care what the Army says."

Something is really wrong here, and I doubt that it's the soldiers. The only thing that will clear this up is to demand accountability. We must hold to account, the military, the media, and above all, the Bush Administration. It's time to scream bloody murder


http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/18/national/18guard.html?pagewanted=all&position=
con·cept: The NYTimes > National > The G.I.'s: Soldiers Saw Refusing Order as Their Last Stand