US soldier captured as two car bombs explode in Mosul (Al Bawaba, 11/02/2004)

U.S. soldiers listen to a briefing before going on mission in Ramadi, west of Baghdad October 25. Photo: AFP

WASHINGTON ( – The ghosts of poor equipment and logistical support haunting National Guard members and reservists literally for months in dangerous combat zones in Iraq made themselves known to U.S. military commanders again recently.

On Oct. 13, an entire 18-member platoon from the 343rd Quartermaster Company refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil Air Base near Nasiriya to Taji, another base north of Baghdad. The region is among the most hostile in Iraq.


“This is unprecedented in this war, and it is extremely important because, while we’ve seen individual acts of refusal and resistance, folks like Abdullah Webster, Stephen Funk and other folks who have individually stood up against the war, this was an entire platoon, as one unit who refused orders,” Dustin Langley, of the International Action Center, told The Final Call.

“That’s just a whole different level of anger, or resentment, or dissatisfaction, or whatever you want to call it. It means that the sentiment among GIs is really turning against the situation there,” said Mr. Langley, who organized a demonstration Oct. 23 in support of the rebellious troops in front of the main Army recruiting offi ce in New York’s Times Square.

Family members of the soldiers involved complained in published reports that platoon members–now nicknamed the “Jackson 17” because many of its members are from that city in Mississippi–told them that they had been complaining for months that their trucks were unsafe, in bad repair, and lacked a proper armed escort.

In addition, they said that the diesel fuel the platoon was to deliver was contaminated by jet fuel not purged from the tanks from a previous delivery. That same fuel had actually been refused when the soldiers attempted to deliver it to Camp Duke, near Najaf, south of Baghdad just days before.

The platoon’s soldiers told their commander that the trucks they were assigned broke down four times during their previous torturous three-and-a-half-day mission, Johnny Coates of Mount Holly, N.C., the father of platoon member, Spc. Major Coates told a reporter according to Mercury

The tanker trucks may have dated back to the mid-1960s, Mr. Coates was told by his son, they regularly overheated, and could not reach a top speed beyond 35 mph. The soldiers even urged their commander to ride on the new mission through hostile territory to see how faulty the trucks were and the offi cer refused.

“That’s when they banded together,” Mr. Coates said. “They were wore out.” Soldiers with drawn weapons took the disobedient troops into custody, many family members said, although U.S. military offi cials denied that any of the soldiers were arrested and that the fuel to be delivered was contaminated.

The Army is now adding steel armor plating on the unarmored vehicles and is upgrading their maintenance, according to Brig. Gen. James Chambers, commander of the 13th Corps Support Command. “It’s too early in the investigation to speculate on charges or other disciplinary actions,” Gen. Chambers told a press conference in Baghdad Oct. 17. He described the episode as “a single event that is confi ned to a small group of individuals.”

Families of military members in Iraq told a different story, however.

“This is absolutely striking a nerve,” said Nancy Lessin, a leader of Military Families Speak Out, according to a published report. “People are saying, ‘This is the same thing that happened to my son,’ and if the Army tries to spin this as ‘just a few bad apples,’ people need to know that these are common problems and what these soldiers did required a tremendous amount of courage.”

The leaders among the group of dissenting soldiers are decorated veterans with decades of military service, and are praised by friends and family as devoted to the military and unabashedly patriotic and unlikely to risk everything by disobeying a direct order during wartime.

Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, for example, is 44 years old and a 24-year veteran of the Army and Reserve, who was a soldier in the fi rst Persian Gulf war and a reserve called up to fi ght in the current campaign. Sgt. Larry McCook is 41 years old and has been in the Army Reserves “off and on” for about 10 years. Both men live in Jackson, Miss.

“My husband is a God fearing man,” Sgt. McCook’s wife Patricia told WLBT-TV. “My husband is not a whiner. He’s proud to be a soldier. He just wants to stand up for his rights and what he believes in. He just wants to get back to me, as well. That’s all he wants, is to get back home alive.”

Spc. Coates is “not a complainer. He never whined about anything,” his father Johnny Coates told Knight-Ridder Newspapers. “This is the first time he’s complained.”Spc. Reeves Williams is also a member of the unit. He eventually helped carry out the delivery with eight other soldiers after initially refusing to do so.

“My son has strong convictions,” Spc. Williams’s mother, Genia White said in a published report. “For him to say no, there is something definitely, definitely wrong.

”Ironically, however, Gen. Chambers has been accused of “non-leadership” even before this latest incident. In August, he rescheduled a memorial service for a dead soldier, originally set for Aug. 13, reportedly because he was superstitious and did not want “to incur bad luck by flying on (Friday) the 13th,” according to retired Army Col. David Hackworth.

“Morale is lower than clam dung,” Col. Hackworth wrote in his column “The Voice of the Grunt” in the Sept. 13, 2004 edition of Defense Watch. “I’ve previously blistered (Gen.) Chambers’ command in this column for proposing to charge soldiers three bucks a head to see movies at the newly rebuilt base theater and nine uxorious bucks for pizza, while meanwhile failing to ensure that truckers had sufficient armor on their vehicles to protect them from guerilla attacks.”

The International Action Center agrees. “The U.S. government, the Pentagon, the brass, the officer corps, has really displayed a contempt for human rights, both in the way they treat the Iraqis, but even the way they treat their so-called own soldiers, who again, are drawn from poor and oppressed communities, largely,” Mr. Langley said in an interview. “They see both the Iraqis and their own troops as expendable in the larger scheme of things. And this is the attitude that has to be condemned, and that’s why we stand with these young people.

“The U.S. government has engendered a sense of hatred throughout the Arab and Muslim world, because of its policies, because of its actions,” Mr. Langley said. “Whether we’re talking about the invasion of Iraq itself, the brutal occupation of Palestine, the torture chambers Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan, and in Guantanomo, whether we’re talking about bombing civilians in Fallujah and throughout Iraq, the U.S. government has put these young people at risk.”

At the group’s Oct. 23 rally, Kim Rosario from New York City, the mother of a soldier currently deployed in Iraq, read a solidarity statement, according to Mr. Langley. “Without reservation, we support and applaud the actions of these young people,” the statement said. “The fact that these young people are in danger is a direct result of U.S. government policy, and that’s where–if there is blame to be placed in the situation–that’s where the blame squarely belongs, because it’s the U.S. government that has put these people in harm’s way.”