Nineteen members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company were arrested last week for refusing a direct order to go on what they characterized as a “suicide mission” or “death sentence” in Iraq. The soldiers are members of a U.S Army Reserve platoon and were stationed at Tallil Air Base south of Nasiriyah. The platoon has troops from Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The soldiers were ordered to operate a fuel supply convoy through 200 miles of extremely hostile areas around Baghdad. They were told to proceed without armed escort or air cover. The convoy tankers they were supposed to operate did not have bullet-resistant armor and their top speed was 40 mph. The trucks were in poor condition and prone to breakdown.

The mission itself was of questionable merit, if not ludicrous. Reports indicate the jet fuel they were supposed to transfer was unusable due to contamination with diesel fuel and had already been rejected by another site.

Democracy Now reports that when the reservists refused the orders, “the U.S. Army placed the men and women of the platoon under arrest. They were corralled in a tent and detained at gunpoint for nearly two days. During this time, some of them managed to phone their relatives back home. In Alabama, Teresa Hill woke up to hear a recorded message on her answering machine from her daughter, Spc. Amber McClenny. On the tape McClenny says, ‘I need you now, Mom. I need you so bad … please help me. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners.’”

According to a report by Citizen Soldier, Spc. Joseph Dobbs, of Vandiver, Ala., told his mother Beverly: “We refused to go because our vehicles were in awful shape. The place they wanted to send us was dangerous. We had to go without guns. All of us refused to go; we’re not risking our lives like that.”

The British socialist daily Morning Star points out that by refusing the mission, the reservists saved lives since the contaminated fuel would have resulted in airplanes crashing. The paper reports, “Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said that he had filed a congressional inquiry on Friday and had been told by a military liaison officer that the soldiers had been detained but not arrested.” The paper reports some soldiers have already been demoted.

The soldiers could face disciplinary action which might include a courts-martial or general discharge. Some reports suggest commanding officers could be disciplined as well. The military now plans to “study protective measures for supply vehicles and add steel plating if necessary,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Jeffrey McCausland, a retired Army colonel who directs the Leadership and Conflict Initiative at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, told the Houston Chronicle, “It suggests continuing problems in Iraq and our inability to secure even our major supply routes.”

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