Reservists Who Refused Order Tried to Persuade
By NEELA BANERJEE and JOHN KIFNER
Published: October 19, 2004
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JACKSON, Miss., Oct. 18 - Members of the Army Reserve platoon in Iraq
that disobeyed orders to deliver fuel to another base last week had
tried to persuade their superiors for hours to cancel the mission,
relatives of the soldiers said Monday.
That defying an order had become an option for 18 members of the 343rd
Quartermaster Company seemed to signal a worsening of the low morale
that had plagued the unit.
The 13th Corps Support Command, which the 343rd belongs to, and its
commander, Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, have been singled out for
repeated criticism by soldiers on the Web site and column of David H.
Hackworth, a retired Army colonel and decorated veteran of the Korea and
Vietnam wars. The Web site, www.hackworth.com, serves as a channel for
complaints against military leadership, and Colonel Hackworth calls
himself "the voice of the grunt." Mr. Hackworth wrote on Sept. 13 of low
morale in the command.
The soldiers who refused their mission had complained to relatives in
months past about the poor quality of their trucks and equipment, though
they never indicated they would do anything other than pursue changes
through the chain of command, the relatives said.
But Kathy Harris said she received an e-mail message from her son,
Specialist Aaron Gordon, in which he asked about possible repercussions
for disobeying orders. According to the time on the e-mail message, Ms.
Harris said it was probably sent between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Oct. 13,
The platoon had returned from a fuel-delivery mission that lasted four
to five days, according to accounts of relatives who spoke to the
soldiers. The cargo of jet fuel was rejected because it was contaminated
with diesel, relatives said. The military has denied that the fuel was
Some of the trucks, which were due for repairs, broke down on the
journey, said Stephanie Parks, the fiancée of Johnny Coates, father of
Specialist Major Coates of Charlotte, N.C., a member of the platoon. The
platoon returned late on the evening of Oct. 12. At 4 a.m. the next day,
they were roused to take the fuel from their base in Tallil to Taji,
much farther north, family members said.
"That's when everything went haywire," said Ricky Shealey, father of
Specialist Scott Shealey. "My son says they argued for three hours
trying to get some sense into them people. They utilized their chain of
command. They even had a civilian out there. He said it was
The soldiers also feared for their safety, saying their trucks lacked
armor and the convoy lacked a proper armed escort, relatives have said.
Soldiers have complained bitterly on Colonel Hackworth's Web site about
low morale at the 13th Corps Support Command, and about General Chambers
himself. General Chambers said on Sunday in Baghdad that he had ordered
a safety review of the 343rd's equipment and trucks. He also said an
inquiry had begun into the actions of the soldiers.
Pentagon officials indicated efforts were under way to defuse the
situation. For example, the Army is considering returning all but five
of the unit's members to duty, one senior official said. But two who may
face discipline have past instances of wrongdoing in Iraq, in particular
of substance abuse, the official said. He did not give names and the
accusations could not be confirmed.
The accusations have incensed relatives of the soldiers. "They have to
make them look bad," said Stacy Shealey, Specialist Shealey's sister.
"It's just another reason to mess with them."
Ariel Hart contributed reporting from Atlanta for this article, and Thom
Shanker from Washington.