Soldiers say driving unarmored vehicles is dangerous, but so is disobeying an order
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — Some soldiers serving in Iraq sympathize with the 343rd Quartermaster Company platoon soldiers who last week refused to disembark their fuel convoy from Tallil for Taji because they feared their vehicles were unsafe.
Wary of roadside bombs or snipers, the troops with the 343rd reportedly believed that driving their unarmored trucks, which they complained were riddled with mechanical problems, would have equaled a suicide mission.
Other troops on desert duty said they, too, distrust unarmored vehicles, and certainly wouldn’t want to drive one in need of repairs.
However, they were mixed on whether the platoon should have openly disobeyed an order to roll out.
“The military knows about these roadside bombs, and the military should have had enough time to prepare,” said Sgt. Casey Roby of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment. “The fact that they refused the mission? No, I don’t have sympathy with that. All in all, they had a valid point, but they went about it the wrong way.”
Roby said those in power who decide not to pay for armored vehicles need to spend more time in the field.
“I’ve been out in sector when a Humvee is blown up by a roadside bomb,” he said. “I can see what happens to a vehicle without armor. Soldiers who witness their friends and leaders hurt or killed by a roadside bomb, of course they don’t want to go out without protection.”
Roby said his unit once had an armored truck to make supply runs, but lost it when a rocket slammed into it and bent the frame. Now they have only a soft truck.
“We firsthand understand what these guys are going through,” Roby said. He and his fellow soldiers want another armored truck, though he said that all of them swore to follow orders to obey, and always would.
“We’re going to do our part here,” Roby said. “The military should do its part.”
Sgt. Shaun Johns, also of the 1/5, said no troops should be forced to drive long distances in faulty vehicles without armor, oath or not.
“That’s like saying your life ain’t worth nothing. … When I signed my contract, I didn’t sign up to be an idiot,” Johns said. “I personally feel these 19 soldiers were the voices of thousands.”
The soldiers said that the military’s practice of having armored Humvees escort fuel convoys isn’t enough protection — an M-16 can’t defend against a hidden explosive that’s already gone off.
“I could understand the reason they would not want to go out there if they had 19 fuel trucks and two Humvees,” said Staff Sgt. Ronald Leuma, also of the 1/5.
He said it shouldn’t take the rebellion of an entire platoon and national exposure to force the Army to buy armored vehicles that run well.
“That’s the sad part,” he said. “You have to go through all this to make this happen.”
Staff Sgt. Chris Garcia and Sgt. Brian Homer drive tanks and armored personnel carriers for the 1st Cav’s 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, and have often tracked on the flanks of convoys to provide security.
“We kind of ride alongside in kind of a Mad Max dodge,” Homer said.
Garcia said the unit’s complaints did not surprise him, but their refusal of an order did.
“It’s their mission to resupply,” he said. “And it was the whole platoon.”
Capt. Joseph James, spokesman for the 2-12, said commanders encourage soldiers to tell them whether a mission is safe and whether their equipment suffers from any malfunctions. He said commanders want their soldiers to be safe.
“If we are out on patrols and I say, ‘Hey, sir, I have a bad feeling about this … can we take a different route?’ And he’ll say, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”
But were things really unsafe and equipment faulty, Homer said that he, too, might refuse an order to roll.
“If the vehicles aren’t armored and have serious mechanical problems, I’d probably do the same thing,” he said. “I’d say I’d rather take another vehicle, or wait until it’s fixed.”
James said that the only time a soldier can refuse an order is when that order is illegal, though he left the nuances of that to military lawyers.
On Friday, the Army announced it is investigating the incident that occurred two days before, and will weigh whether the 343rd soldiers disobeyed military law. U.S. newspapers have reported that the troops have been arrested, but the Army has denied this, saying that, so far, none of the soldiers in the platoon has been detained or disciplined.
The unit itself is inspecting the vehicles to determine whether they are, in fact, unsafe.