Slow Truck Veterans for Truth?
October 15, 2004 12:13 PM   Subscribe

"They are holding us against our will," McClenny said. "We are now prisoners." A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with troops from Jackson and around the Southeast deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a "suicide mission" to deliver fuel, the troops' relatives said Thursday. via Daily Kos.
posted by stonerose (35 comments total)
I'm afraid I have to think that this falls into the "This sucks, but..." category: Yes, it's bad that they were being asked to do a tough mission with bad equipment. But the failure of discipline over there can have a very severe impact on the safety of soldiers in-country. So, yeah, if they refuse, they need to be prosecuted. Unfortunate, but true.

However, that doesn't let the Army and their upstream drivers off the hook for not supplying them properly. Every time the military has to do a unit prosecution like this, it indicates a failure of logistics, at least, and probably leadership as well. And you know where they say shit trickles from...
posted by lodurr at 12:38 PM on October 15, 2004

But why can't regular soldiers do this kind of stuff? This is proving that the Army's treating the reserves as cannon fodder, and it's wrong. It's bad enough that so many reserves are there, and having their tours extended--why add this kind of asinine mission, without even giving them what they need to do it and come back alive?
posted by amberglow at 12:44 PM on October 15, 2004

Good for them!
posted by Peter H at 12:46 PM on October 15, 2004

The AP story on this, with more feedback from the military than in the original hometown Mississippi paper's story.

Lodurr, I don't think that anyone was, or is going to, suggest that the response to these soldiers' action by the Army is inappropriate--if you refuse an order, you get garrisonned until a court-martial can be convened, and I think all the soldiers who agreed to refuse the order accepted that as a consequence of their act.

However, it's a fascinating development, to say the least.

I am going to commit a bit of copyright infringement here by quoting the Siegfried Sassoon poem of which I was reminded by this story, in its entirety:

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

posted by Sidhedevil at 12:59 PM on October 15, 2004

C'mon, troops! Haven't you seen Gallipoli?

In other news, oy.
posted by solistrato at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2004

You wouldn't find Cheney or Bush sticking out their necks. I hope this does become a campaign issue.

You can't have an army without discipline, but you really can't have discipline when you are treating soldiers like cannon fodder, making their jobs impossible because of poorly executed, politicized planning.

My guess is that this platoon must have been absolutely desperate and disillusioned to take such an extreme stand.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 1:07 PM on October 15, 2004

Here's another bit of apropos lyricism, courtesy Steve Earle:

When I pulled out of Basra they all wished me luck
Just like they always did before
With a bulletproof screen on the hood of my truck
And a Bradley on my back door
And I wound her up and shifted her down
And I offered this prayer to my lord
I said “God get me back home to Houston alive
and I won’t drive a truck anymore”

posted by stonerose at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2004

Theirs is not to question why, theirs is but to do and die.

Of course, it is the responsibility of the rest of the US to stop wasting the lives of our troops. If we're a democracy, then we're responsible for what our country does. If we're not a democracy, well, then...
posted by hattifattener at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2004

sidhdevil, no, I didn't think most people would argue they shouldn't be garrissoned, but I thought some people might lost sight of that perspective. It wasn't clear to me from teh article that this was a case of using the NG as cannon-fodder any more than anyone else, with the exception that yes, "elite" units probably get good equipment faster.

It's all shameful, that we send them over without what they need to do the job we ask them to do. It's a strained system, vulnerable to cascade-failures. And eventually the ties of loyalty, discipline and tradition that hold it together, and that the military has been working for 30 years to rebuild, will degrade and decay and fail. They're clearly starting to do that now. And it's offensive to me.

And the radical pay differentials between the Guard and private contractors can't be having a salutory effect on discipline, either. I know I wouldn't sign up to drive for even the hot money those guys get, but still, what a KBR truck driver gets has got to hurt when looked at by a Guard truck driver.
posted by lodurr at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2004

I'm pretty sure that they signed a piece of paper agreeing to do whatever they're told no matter how ludicrous the assignment, and they've received pay and benefits contingent on that agreement.

If they were drafted, they'd have all my sympathies. But they volunteered to kill for US economic interests, so they best get to it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:43 PM on October 15, 2004

While I'm tromping all over the intellectual property rights of the Sassoon estate:


The Bishop tells us: ‘When the boys come back
‘They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought
‘In a just cause: they lead the last attack
‘On Anti-Christ; their comrades’ blood has bought
‘New right to breed an honourable race,
‘They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.’

‘We’re none of us the same!’ the boys reply.
‘For George lost both his legs; and Bill’s stone blind;
‘Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs and like to die;
‘And Bert’s gone syphilitic: you’ll not find
‘A chap who’s served that hasn’t found some change.’
And the Bishop said: ‘The ways of God are strange!’

posted by Sidhedevil at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2004

I've often wondered what I would do if I were put in a situation like the one these guys were placed in. I can't say as I blame them but then, that is one of the main reasons I never signed up in the first place.

I hated the thought of giving someone else the authority to basically send me to my death.

Strangely timely too since I just saw an ancient Kirk Douglas movie where he defends some soldiers who refused to go to battle.
posted by fenriq at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2004

But why can't regular soldiers do this kind of stuff?

This is a quartermaster company. They drive trucks to deliver supplies. They are not part of combat arms. There are regular army units that do the same sort of work.

I wonder what a veteran of the Red Ball Express would think.
posted by joaquim at 2:37 PM on October 15, 2004

This is bad news for the Presidential ambitions of all 17 of them.
posted by psmealey at 2:37 PM on October 15, 2004

Not that I blame any of them for a second, but I guess it's probably best to wait for more of the facts of the case to surface. From what I know of supply personnel, even in non-politically controversial conflicts they are frequenly put in harm's way even though they only have the minimum of combat training. Tough stuff for sure.

About the only irony I find in all of this is that Bush campaigned on restoring military morale in 2000. I wonder, has it ever been lower? My info is through friends and siblings of friends in the service, and not just through the blogs, but I'm not hearing much of anything positive.
posted by psmealey at 2:42 PM on October 15, 2004

How many other soldiers died without that fuel? ;-(
posted by mischief at 2:56 PM on October 15, 2004

Yup... there's that too.
posted by psmealey at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2004

posted by fenriq:
Strangely timely too since I just saw an ancient Kirk Douglas movie where he defends some soldiers who refused to go to battle.

Fenriq, you are referring to the early Stanley Kubrick gem Paths of Glory. The portrayed situation is not *exactly* analagous to the one at hand, but there is more than enough similarity to be really thought provoking.

Sigh. I miss Stanley.
posted by John Smallberries at 3:03 PM on October 15, 2004

How many other soldiers died without that fuel? ;-(

If the information below is true, I don't know that this fuel would have been good for anyone.
McClenny told her mother her unit tried to deliver fuel to another base in Iraq 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.
posted by eckeric at 3:44 PM on October 15, 2004

Wait a minute, wait a minute. These soldiers refused to bleed for oil? I thought that's what they were doing over there in the first place.

posted by neckro23 at 4:52 PM on October 15, 2004

Delivering fuel? Aren't we supposed to be overpaying Halliburton for that?
posted by kirkaracha at 7:01 PM on October 15, 2004

How many other soldiers died without that fuel? ;-(

More importantly, how many of your country-men have died because of Bush's incompetance and Haliburton's greed?

Who's the real problem here?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:51 PM on October 15, 2004

It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the sabre and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes I even killed my brother
And so many others
And I ain't marchin' anymore

— Phil Ochs
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:23 PM on October 15, 2004

jumping on the bandwagon...

Oh I've just come
From the land of the sun
From a war that must be won
In the name of truth

With our soldiers so brave
your freedom we will save
With our rifles and grenades
And some help from God

I want to see my family
My wife and child waiting for me
I've got to go home
I've been so alone, you see

--New Order, Love Vigilantes
posted by amberglow at 9:32 PM on October 15, 2004

>But they volunteered to kill for US economic interests, so they best get to it.

Oh come on now. They signed up to serve their country, get money for school, etc. They didn't fail us, the administration did.

There have been many cases like this in wartime in which soldiers sensing they are being sent on a suicide mission refuse to serve. Ist one thing to be a soldier and another to be sacrificed because of bad planning or political pressures. They are choosing court-martial over death and that's their right as soldiers.
posted by skallas at 3:49 AM on October 16, 2004

This is playing on public radio this morning as a prominent story.
posted by troutfishing at 7:14 AM on October 16, 2004

Whatever their intentions, I can only say that this will play out poorly for them. They may "win the battle" but they will "lose the war."
When you do stuff like this, you make officers look bad, and since they make all the rules to suit them, retribution is coming.

As right as you may be (or think you are) the military will not allow an act like this to go unanswered. These folks are probably looking at being reassigned to worse situations. There are always worse situations than the one you are currently in. Always.
What's that? Your MOS says you are a truck driver? You are whatever the army needs you to be. Today that is rifleman on point, get humping.
I fear these troops may have overstepped and screwed themselves.

On another note. Who started the myth that all military vehicles are armored? M998 HMMV"s are not armored vehicles. Neither were the Jeeps they replaced. Not to say that in all conflicts all number of homebrew methods were used to make them safer for troops, but officially, they are light vehicles that are unamored.
I find it perplexing whenever there is a story about the lack of armor for the HMMV's. We never had any on ours at my unit, because it didn't exisit.

All I can say to these troops is good luck. You have chosen to take on the system. And typically, that does not play out well at all.
posted by a3matrix at 9:21 AM on October 16, 2004

How many other soldiers died without that fuel?

how does deisel contaminated fuel keep soldiers alive?
how does mischief stay alive when he cannot read and comprehend?
posted by quonsar at 9:31 AM on October 16, 2004

I wonder what a veteran of the Red Ball Express would think.

There's a good chance that he might bring up the Battle of the Bulge, where everyone from cooks to supply clerks were told to pick up rifles and head to the line. He probably also remembers hearing about how the 101st Airborne walked into Bastogne in 1944 drastically undersupplied knowing that they would be outnumbered and surrounded.

Different times, though.

That being said, sending the convoy back out to deliver known bad fuel is ludicrous.
posted by Cyrano at 10:11 AM on October 16, 2004

Oh come on now. They signed up to serve their country, get money for school, etc. They didn't fail us, the administration did.

The administration certainly did fail us. But there's an undenable correlation between signing up for the military and getting shot at by angry foreigners. But yes, it is their right to chose a court martial so "get to it" was wrong of me. But the folks in question's lack of foresight is a factor in their predicament.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2004

Curley, one of the problems with American military service is that compared to WWII, Korea, Vietnam etc., for the last 25 years or so (other than the Gulf War), the "correlation between signing up for the military and getting shot at by angry foreigners" has been seriously played down by the recruitment marketing. Also, even with the various conflicts, they just haven't been the long-term intensive wars of the past. Gulf War I was a very quick, in-and-out affair compared to 1944-45 in Europe.

So, as mentioned above, a lot of these soldiers joined up for college money and job opportunities, not really considering the angry foreigners with rifles and RPG aspect. Many of them from low-end economic backgrounds had little in the way of attractive life choices.

You may say "caveat emptor" but marketing deception is still pretty heinous.

Anyway, this is a symptom of systemic failure of the invasion and occupation. No way this has any good repercussions for anyone involved.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:59 AM on October 16, 2004

how does deisel contaminated fuel keep soldiers alive?

Some fuel is better than no fuel at all. You'd be surprised how wide a range of fuel these things can run on.
posted by VeGiTo at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2004

VeGito: So if the first unit they tried to deliver this water-contaminated fuel to didn't want it, what makes you think the second one would have?

Sort of like a farmer asking a truck driver to deliver a truckload of half rotten tomatoes to a store, the store saying no way, not useful, and the farmer telling the driver to take it to another store ... in what, hopes that the second place won't be as picky (all of this happening in a war zone with a mostly broken truck)? Are rotten tomatoes better than no tomatoes at all? That's the crux of it. If the first unit they tried to make delivery too determined that the fuel was unusable, why send it to anyone else without dealing with the problem first ... not to mention the condition of the delivery vehicles?

See, that's what I don't get. The fuel was determined to not be good enough by one unit, the unit's delivery vehicles were in worse than bad shape, and yet ... someone thought they should be sent out again with the same fuel and the same trucks. Yes, it's wrong for soldiers to defy orders, but it's also wrong for their superiors to issue stupid orders as well.
posted by Orb at 2:34 PM on October 16, 2004

Soldier mustn't disobey a direct order in wartime - this is one of the oldest principles of martial law. The other issues here aren't relevant at all, including but not limited to whether the order was justified; whether it amounted to a suicide mission; whether the soldiers were volunteers or conscripts; whether the superiors were stupid in issuing the order in the first place.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:54 PM on October 18, 2004

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