By The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON, Miss. - A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with
troops from Jackson and around the Southeast deployed to
Iraq has been placed under investigation for allegedly
refusing a "suicide mission'' to deliver fuel, a military
spokesman said Friday.
Sgt. Salju Thomas, spokesman for the joint military
operation in Baghdad, Iraq, said Friday that there is an
investigation of the unit.
"The Commander General of the 13 Corps Support Group has
appointed a deputy commissioner to lead an investigation
into allegations that members of the 343 Quartermaster
Company refused to participate in their assigned convoy
mission Oct. 13.
"The investigation team is currently in Tallil taking
statements and interviewing those involved," Thomas said.
The soldiers refused an order Wednesday to go to Tallil -
north of Baghdad - because their vehicles were considered "deadlined''
or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife
of Sgt. Larry O. McCook, a member of the unit.
Sgt. McCook and the 16 other members of the 343rd
Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were read their
rights and moved from the military barracks into tents,
Patricia McCook said her husband told her during a panicked
phone call about 5 a.m. Thursday.
The platoon was arrested and could be charged with the
willful disobeying of orders, punishable by dishonorable
discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years
confinement, said military law expert Mark Stevens, an
associate professor of justice studies at Wesleyan College
in Rocky Mountain, N.C.
No military officials were able to confirm or deny the
detainment of the platoon Thursday.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he planned to submit
a congressional inquiry Friday on behalf of the Mississippi
soldiers to launch an investigation into whether they are
being treated improperly.
"I would not want any member of the military to be put in
a dangerous situation ill-equipped,'' said Thompson, who was
contacted by families. "I have had similar complaints from
military families about vehicles that weren't armor-plated,
or bullet-proof vests that are outdated. It concerns me
because we made over $150 billion in funds available to
equip our forces in Iraq.
"President Bush takes the position that the troops are
well-armed, but if this situation is true, it calls into
question how honest he has been with the country,'' Thompson
The 343rd is a supply unit whose general mission is to
deliver fuel and water. The unit includes three women and 14
men and those with ranking up to sergeant first class.
"I got a call from an officer in another unit early
(Thursday) morning who told me that my husband and his
platoon had been arrested on a bogus charge because they
refused to go on a suicide mission,'' said Jackie Butler of
Jackson, wife of Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year reservist.
"When my husband refuses to follow an order, it has to be
The platoon being held has troops from Alabama, Kentucky,
North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina, said Teresa
Hill of Dothan, Ala., whose daughter Amber McClenny is among
those being detained.
McClenny, 21, pleaded for help in a message left on her
mother's answering machine early Thursday morning.
"They are holding us against our will,'' McClenny said.
"We are now prisoners.''
McClenny told her mother her unit tried to deliver fuel
to another base in Iraq on Wednesday, but was sent back
because the fuel had been contaminated with water. The
platoon returned to its base, where it was told to take the
fuel to another base, McClenny told her mother.
The platoon is normally escorted by armed Humvees and
helicopters, but did not have that support Wednesday,
McClenny told her mother.
The convoy trucks the platoon was driving had experienced
problems in the past and were not being properly maintained,
Hill said her daughter told her.
The situation mirrors other tales of troops being sent on
missions without proper equipment.
Aviation regiments have complained of being forced to fly
dangerous missions over Iraq with outdated night-vision
goggles and old missile-avoidance systems. Stories of
troops' families purchasing body armor because the military
didn't provide them with adequate equipment have been
included in recent presidential debates.
Patricia McCook said her husband, a staff sergeant,
understands well the severity of disobeying orders. But he
did not feel comfortable taking his soldiers on another
"He told me that three of the vehicles they were to use
were deadlines ... not safe to go in a hotbed like that,''
Patricia McCook said.
Hill said the trucks her daughter's unit was driving
could not top 40 mph.
"They knew there was a 99 percent chance they were going
to get ambushed or fired at,'' Hill said her daughter told
her. "They would have had no way to fight back.''
Kathy Harris of Vicksburg is the mother of Aaron Gordon,
20, who is among those being detained. Her primary concern
is that she has been told the soldiers have not been
provided access to a judge advocate general.
Stevens said if the soldiers are being confined, law
requires them to have a hearing before a magistrate within
Harris said conditions for the platoon have been
difficult of late. Her son e-mailed her earlier this week to
ask what the penalty would be if he became physical with a
commanding officer, she said.
But Nadine Stratford of Rock Hill, S.C., said her godson
Colin Durham, 20, has been happy with his time in Iraq. She
has not heard from him since the platoon was detained.
"When I talked to him about a month ago, he was fine,''
Stratford said. "He said it was like being at home.''
(Contributing: Ana Radelat, Gannett News Service.)