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Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:31 A.M.

Troops refuse to go on mission in Iraq, citing unsafe equipment

By John J. Lumpkin
The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — The Army is investigating up to 19 members of a supply platoon in Iraq who refused to go on a convoy mission, the military said yesterday. Relatives of the soldiers said the troops considered the mission too dangerous, in part because their vehicles were in poor shape.

Some of the troops' concerns were being addressed, military officials said. But a coalition spokesman in Baghdad noted that "a small number of the soldiers involved chose to express their concerns in an inappropriate manner, causing a temporary breakdown in discipline."

The reservists are from a fuel platoon that is part of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rock Hill, S.C. The unit delivers food, water and fuel on trucks in combat zones.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier assigned to Task Force Olympia died of wounds suffered in a car-bomb attack in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said today.

A statement by the U.S. command said the blast occurred yesterday in the east-central area of Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad. No other details were provided.

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— The Associated Press

Teresa Hill of Dothan, Ala., who said her daughter, Amber McClenny, was in the platoon, received a phone message from her early yesterday morning saying they had been detained by U.S. military authorities.

"This is a real, real, big emergency," McClenny said in her message. "I need you to contact someone. I mean, raise pure hell."

McClenny said in her message that her platoon had refused to go on a convoy to Taji, located north of Baghdad. "We had broken-down trucks, nonarmored vehicles and, um, we were carrying contaminated fuel. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners," she said.

However, military officials say that none of the soldiers involved was arrested or confined.

Hill said that after hearing her daughter's message, she was contacted by Spc. Tammy Reese in Iraq, who was calling families of the reservists.

"She told me [Amber] was being held in a tent with armed guards," said Hill, who spoke with her daughter yesterday afternoon after her release. Her daughter said the reservists are facing punishment ranging from a reprimand to a charge of mutiny.

The incident was first reported yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss. Family members told the newspaper that several platoon members had been confined.

Patricia McCook of Jackson, Miss., said her husband, Staff Sgt. Larry McCook, was one of those involved. She told The Clarion-Ledger that he said the soldiers were removed from their trailers, arrested and read their rights.

"Nobody is being detained"

However, Lt. Col. Steve Boylon, a spokesman in Baghdad, told the Los Angeles Times, "They are not under arrest. Nobody is being detained. Nobody is under guard or under restriction."

He said some of the soldiers were moved from their barracks in order to separate witnesses during the investigation, but were not under arrest.

A commanding general has ordered the unit to undergo a "safety-maintenance stand down," during which it will conduct no further missions as the unit's vehicles undergo inspections, the military said.

On Wednesday, 19 members of the platoon did not show up for a scheduled 7 a.m. meeting in Tallil, in southeastern Iraq, to prepare for the fuel convoy's departure a few hours later, a military statement said.

"An initial report indicated that some of the 19 soldiers [not all] refused to participate in the convoy as directed," it said.

The mission ultimately was carried out by other soldiers from the 343rd, which has at least 120 soldiers, the military said.

Convoys in Iraq are frequently subject to ambushes and roadside bombings.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Stokes, 37, a chemical engineer from Charlotte, N.C., went to Iraq with the 343rd but had to come home because of an injury. He said reservists were given inferior equipment and tensions in the company had been building since they were deployed in February.

"It wasn't really safe," he said. "The vehicles are not all that up to par anyway. The armor that they have is homemade. It's not really armor. It's like little steel rails."

Incident called "isolated"

The military statement called the incident "isolated" and called the 343rd an experienced unit that performed honorable service in nine months in Iraq.

"Preliminary findings indicate that there were several contributing factors that led to the late convoy incident and alleged refusal to participate by some soldiers," the military said. "It would be inappropriate to discuss those factors while the investigation continues."

Separately, the commander of the 300th Area Support Group, listed on a military Web site as Col. Pamela Adams, has ordered a criminal inquiry to determine if any soldiers committed crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and, if so, whether disciplinary measures are warranted.

Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Terry Everett, both Alabama Republicans, have requested more information from the Defense Department, their offices said.

The platoon has troops from Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina, Hill said.

McCook said her husband did not feel comfortable taking his soldiers on another trip.

"He told me that three of the vehicles they were to use were 'deadlines' ... not safe to go in a hotbed like that," she said, The Clarion-Ledger reported.

Hill, Amber McClenny's mother, told the newspaper that her daughter said her unit had 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.

Associated Press writer Samira Jafari in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.

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