Commander of unit that refused Iraq resupply mission is relieved of duty
Stars and Stripes October 22, 2004
The commander of the 343rd Quartermaster Company was relieved of duty Thursday, one week after a platoon of her soldiers refused to conduct a resupply mission in Iraq, according to military officials.
The supply commander “asked to be relieved and her request was granted,” said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq. The name of the officer, a captain, was withheld for privacy reasons.
Up to 19 troops in the company, a Reserve unit from Rock Hill, S.C., are under investigation after they failed to report for a convoy muster at a logistics outpost in Tallil on Oct. 13.
“The outgoing commander is not suspected of misconduct and the move has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of anyone involved,” said Boylan.
Boylan declined to confirm or deny reports that senior leaders in the 343rd’s parent command had lost faith in her ability to lead. CNN, quoting unnamed Pentagon officials, said the captain was relieved because of a loss of faith in her ability to lead following the breakdown in discipline among her troops.
“I don’t know if that’s accurate,” said Boylan, “but if that’s the case, it’s between her and the command.”
Boylan said the captain has been reassigned to a new position “commensurate with her rank and experience.” The name of her replacement was not released.
Meanwhile, investigations into the incident are ongoing.
Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commander of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 13th Corps Support Command — the parent headquarters for the quartermaster company — told reporters on Sunday that he had ordered two informal inquiries into the incident.
One will focus on whether criminal prosecution should be pursued, while the other will explore the reason behind the soldiers’ refusal.
“They are at Tallil now collecting interviews and taking statements from the soldiers involved,” said Boylan.
Troops have told family members that they were being sent on a “suicide mission” and complained of old, broken-down equipment. Chambers acknowledged that the platoon’s fleet of big-rig fuel haulers was not equipped with armor plating designed to protect against roadside bombs and ambushes, the favored tactic of insurgents in Iraq.
Chambers’ spokesman, Maj. Richard Spiegel, said it’s unclear when the investigations would be completed, but added that the general has “emphasized quality over speed.”
In Washington, meanwhile, a dozen Democrats hace penned a letter to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., seeking oversight hearings on incidents ranging from the 343rd Quartermaster Company to continued reports of troops insufficiently equipped to operate in Iraq.
“While we understand that the Department of Defense has taken steps to address equipment shortfalls, we are concerned that … there are still shortages of vital, life-saving equipment urgently needed by our men and women in harm’s way,” reads a portion of the letter.
While Hunter deems the issue important, it is unlikely the committee can squeeze in additional hearings during Congress’ brief return to Capitol Hill in November, said Harald Stavenas, Hunter’s press secretary. Much of the members’ time will be spent debating HR 10, the so-called “9/11 bill” of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission to fight terror.
“We have and will continue to conduct robust oversight and hearings to ensure the safety of our troops,” Stavenas said. “Our work is done around the clock and year-round — not just when Congress is in session.” The issue of hearings likely will be taken up when the 109th Congress returns in January.
Pentagon reporter Sandra Jontz E-mail contributed to this report.