Soldiers who refused convoy mission won't be required to face court-martial
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — None of the soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company who refused to go on a convoy mission in October will face a court-martial, unless an individual soldier requests one.
Instead, the 23 soldiers from the Rock Hill, S.C., Army Reserve unit will face Article 15 nonjudicial punishments or other administrative actions, said Maj. Richard Spiegel, a spokesman for the 13th Corps Support Command, the parent headquarters of the 343rd.
The final five cases were decided last week after the conclusion of an investigation into the Oct. 13 incident to determine if the soldiers’ actions violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The other 18 involved all chose to receive nonjudicial punishment and the military is not required to release what punishments were meted out.
“After consulting with a lawyer, the soldiers can proceed with the Article 15 or demand a court-martial,” said Spiegel.
At the time, the soldiers refused to drive fuel and water trucks from Tallil Air Base, their home in southern Iraq, to Taji, a base north of Baghdad. After the incident, an Army statement said the soldiers “raised some valid concerns.”
Soldiers refused the orders because not all of the vehicles were armored, some vehicles were in poor condition and the route, known as Main Supply Route Tampa, was rife with ambushes, roadside bombs or both, according to military and news reports in October.
Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commander of 13th COSCOM, immediately ordered a stand-down of the unit for a safety and maintenance check. He also asked for two investigations: One to determine if the UCMJ had been violated, and one to determine if there was a systemic problem.
The result of the second investigation, done by 13th COSCOM officials, could not be released until the other legal process had been completed, said Spiegel, citing the Privacy Act for soldiers involved.
The unit’s company commander, whose name has not been released, was relieved of duty following the incident “at her request,” Spiegel said. None of the soldiers who refused the order have been identified as well.
Under an Article 15, a solder faces a possible combination of penalties, including: A reduction to the lowest rank for specialists and below or reduction by one rank for sergeants and staff sergeants; extra duty for up to 45 days; and forfeiture of a half-month’s pay for two months.
Spiegel declined to speculate on why none of the soldiers will face a court-martial.
Refusing an order during war time could have been considered mutiny and is punishable by death or prison, according to the UCMJ.
“There was a full, complete investigation into what happened,” he said. “Based on that investigation, the commander of the 300th ASG (Col. Pamela Adams) took the action she felt was appropriate. She has seen all the facts. This is what she felt was appropriate.”
The group received an outpouring of support from family in the States and from some stationed in Iraq and Kuwait.
“There are troops who support you and believe you did the right thing,” one soldier in Kuwait in had said in Stars and Stripes. “You took a stand, not just for yourselves, but for every member of the military.”
Others said they understood why the soldiers refused the order, but, at the time, questioned their methods.
Others who perform the same duty as those in the 343rd thought the punishment should have been harsher.
“I feel that’s quite unfortunate,” said Sgt. Hans Ressdorf of the 655th Transportation Company, also a reserve unit, when told the soldiers would not face courts-martial. “Mission first. [Their actions] were totally un-military. You’re given a mission, you’ve got to do the mission.”
His colleague in the unit based at Camp Cedar in Iraq and from Memphis, Tenn., agreed.
“We have a job to do,” said Sgt. Alex Buchschacher. “Saying, ‘No, we’re not going to do that mission’ should be more than an Article 15.”
He said his company has driven that same route many times without armored vehicles.
“It’s still one mission, one fight,” he said.
The process now is in the hands of the soldiers who must decide if they will accept the nonjudicial punishment or take it to a court-martial, Spiegel said.
If they face the Article 15 hearing, Spiegel said, soldiers will be allowed to present witnesses on their behalf and plead their case.
The unit went back to work Nov. 11 and all the soldiers are back on the job, Spiegel said.
“All the soldiers are back to full duty,” he said. “Some of them were moved to other units in the battalion. That was done to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
The unit, he said, is back to performing its mission of delivering fuel and water.
“They’ve been doing an exemplary job, no issues,” Spiegel said.