I watched Al Hunt on CNN say that Reservists were refusing to fight in Iraq. He's wrong. Some Reservists are refusing to transport fuel in Iraq. There's a difference.
Over the weekend, I've received over thirty emails asking for an opinion about the Reservists refusing to transport fuel in Iraq - they called it a "suicide mission".
On October 13th, eighteen (out of 100) soldiers of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, a reserve unit from Rock Hill, S.C., failed to show up Wednesday for the fuel convoy's departure for a 150-mile trip to Taji, north of Baghdad. The 343rd has been in Iraq since February. The soldiers refused to drive the transports due to many reasons (reported by the media):
- (1) lack of armored vehicles - according to preliminary findings, the 343rd did not have up-armored vehicles upon arriving in Iraq and did not receive upgrades while in Iraq.
(2) lack of vehicles that were not deadlined (meaning safe or able to operate correctly) - for example, a broken fuel injector could keep a vehicle from operating.
(3) lack of convoy security in the form of MP humvees or helicopter gunship support - this is in dispute right now.
(4) the fuel they were supposed to transport was alledgely contaminated - this is in dispute right now.
(5) the trip from Talil to Taji is one of the most dangerous in Iraq.
Other soldiers from the same company completed the mission for the eighteen who refused it. BTW, the route from Talil to Taji IS one of the most dangerous routes in Iraq.
The small unit leadership of the unit (lieutenants and captains) was lacking - that's an understatement - in order for this to occur. I don't mean that some future General Patton is going to kick things into gear, but somebody was supposed to keep the vehicles maintained, the fuel pure, and the unit protected on it's missions. How far would you go to get your vehicles armored? Would you find the steel to ensure your soldiers are taken care of...? Apparently, the unit's soldiers complained about the lack of armor to their chain of command.
The military gives a three part rule to disobey an order: Is the order illegal, immoral, or unethical? This doesn't even come close to passing the rule for disobedience.
To me, it boils down to extremely poor leadership. My opinion is that the leadership's mind set was to accept their situation, and it looks to me like they did nothing to improve it. It seems that the 343rd had a cushy mission for the most part of their tour and didn't continue to focus on a combat mind-set. Most soldiers will tell you that you never stop training. There is no finale, no finish-line. Always keep improving and testing. It's not easy or fun, but any other focus will get you and your men and women killed.
There isn't any indication at this point that the (Officer) leadership of the company tried to do everything in their power to increase the survival of their unit - either by training their soldiers in combat skills or by getting their soldiers the equipment they needed to perform their mission. And sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands. Whether that's getting steel for armor on the Iraqi black market or bribing people to get your vehicles armored and protected by escorts or by initiating a Congressional or Inspector General Inquiry, that's what you have to do.
That's what I think as of today. There might be more details forthcoming but don't count on it. This is about the fine line between doing everything to protect your troops and getting every mission accomplished. It's a very delicate matter for all of the troops in Iraq. The command has to send the right signal to the rest of the soldiers who continue to accept their dangerous missions (the missions are dangerous but not "suicidal").
While the disobeyers might get General Discharges, the command structure in Iraq probably won't convene a court-martial. The 343rd will probably get new leadership and the command will retrain them and equip them properly. And they'll probably serve with distinction.
Sometimes to you have to break something in order to fix it properly.
Update 10-19-04: I have received tons of email about this issue. Many want to know why I am not being tougher on the "mutineers". I appreciate all of your opinions and ideas and criticisms. Thank you.
The soldiers refusing to complete any mission should be punished and will be punished...probably with Article 15s and a select few may get worse. That's what I think will happen, not what I would do in that situation.
The main point is that the soldiers may have had some legitimate concerns with their mission, leadership, and equipment. HOWEVER, they used the wrong means to fix the problem. So, the unit needs to get fixed - leadership and equipment - AND the soldiers need to be punished. Those still kept in service will need to be retrained as well. I believe that I was clear about that.
The junior leadership of the unit is still the main problem. This would never have happened with a unit that was led by mediocre officers and sergeants...let alone good ones.