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Platoon defies orders in Iraq to undertake "suicide mission"

Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi)
October 15, 2004

Platoon defies orders in Iraq Miss. soldier calls home, cites safety concerns
By Jeremy Hudson
 jehudson@clarionledger.com

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.

The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq — north of Baghdad — because their vehicles were considered "deadlined" or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook.

Sgt. McCook, a deputy at the Hinds County Detention Center, 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 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 Mount, N.C.

No military officials were able to confirm or deny the detainment of the platoon Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said he plans to submit a congressional inquiry today 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had similar complaints from military families about vehicles that weren't armor-plated, or bullet-proof vests that are outdated.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 said.

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 something major."

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 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 trip.

"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 seven days.

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."

homepage: homepage: http://

followup 01.Nov.2004 06:32

q-tip

For some reason that site won't let me into the full writeups of the followup stories, even though I have javascript enabled on my browser.. but at:

 http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?s_site=clarionledger&f_site=clarionledger&f_sitename=Clarion-Ledger+%28Jackson%2C+MS%29&p_theme=gannett&p_product=JCLB&p_action=search&p_field_base-0=&p_text_base-0=platoon+suicide+mission&Search=Search&p_perpage=10&p_maxdocs=200&p_queryname=700&s_search_type=keyword&p_sort=_rank_%3AD&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date%3AB%2CE&p_text_date-0=


The following summaries are posted:

1. Top officer relieved of duties amid convoy probe
October 22, 2004 •• 549 words •• ID: jak2004102210159729
·Commander to be reassigned, no misconduct suspected, Army says By Jeremy Hudson  jehudson@clarionledger.com The commander of an Army Reserve unit whose soldiers refused a fuel convoy order in Iraq last week has been relieved of her duties on her own request, the military confirmed Thursday. Citing privacy laws, the military will not name the commander. But relatives of the soldiers told The Clarion-Ledger the commander is Capt. Nancy Daniels of Birmingham who they say ordered

2. Platoon defies orders in Iraq
October 15, 2004 •• 1033 words •• ID: jak2004101511128794
Miss. soldier calls home, cites safety concerns By Jeremy Hudson  jehudson@clarionledger.com 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. The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq - north of Baghdad - because their vehicles were considered "deadlined" or extremely unsafe, said

3. PROFILES OF DETERMINATION
October 20, 2004 •• 1140 words •• ID: jak2004102014209427
Wives speaking for soldiers who said no to convoy By Jeremy Hudson  jehudson@clarionledger.com Patricia McCook and Jackie Butler have accepted a mission created when their husbands refused a fuel convoy order in Iraq last week. "He can't speak because he has to live that life in the military right now," Patricia McCook said of her husband. "I'm his voice on the outside, and there is nothing the military can do about it." "It's our job

4. Eric Stringfellow
October 19, 2004 •• 680 words •• ID: jak2004102009439356
Disobedience to ensure troops safer in long run Sgt. Michael Butler and Sgt. Larry McCook probably will not receive any medals for military duty in Iraq. In fact, the Jackson soldiers might be jailed for disobeying orders. Their military careers and benefits also are at stake. But regardless of the outcome of an Army probe or how the Army chooses to punish Butler, McCook and others, soldiers in Iraq are safer because of their gutsy challenge of what they considered a "suicide

more followup 01.Nov.2004 08:04

99th monkey

url:  http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/oct2004/iraq-o21.shtml
from the World Socialist web site:
The New York Times and the reservists in Iraq who said "No"
By Rick Kelly and Jerry White
21 October 2004
With its lead editorial Tuesday, "When Soldiers Say No," the New York Times has signaled its approval, in advance, for the punishment of 18 US army reservists in Iraq who last week refused to carry out what one described as a "suicide mission."
On October 13, the soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in South Carolina, rejected an order to drive seven unarmored fuel tankers through southern and central Iraq, where resistance fighters have repeatedly attacked US convoys.
Family members reported that the reservists were arrested and detained, though the military claims they are no longer in custody. All of those involved could face severe disciplinary measures, including loss of rank, discharge from the army—with the attendant denial of veterans' benefits—and possible imprisonment for up to five years.
"Soldiers in combat cannot pick and choose their missions, no matter how grave the risks they are asked to face," the Times editorial declared. "Legal direct orders must be obeyed."
The Times acknowledged that reserve troops, including the rebellious supply unit, had been sent into "counterinsurgency combat" without sufficient training or armor. It further noted that the soldiers' repeated appeals to commanding officers had fallen on deaf ears.
Nevertheless, the newspaper concluded: "None of these points lessen the seriousness of uniformed soldiers' refusal to carry out legal orders. An Army where discipline breaks down can neither accomplish its mission nor protect its own troops. Once the facts have been established, the men and women who refused the mission can expect to be held accountable."
For precisely what "mission" are these men and women supposed to sacrifice life and limb? The Times chooses not to say. But by charging soldiers who disobey with undermining the "mission," and demanding that they be punished, the newspaper reveals once again that, whatever its criticisms of Bush's conduct of the war, it supports the imperialist enterprise in Iraq.
The bulk of the editorial is a recitation of what the newspaper terms "catastrophic" missteps and failures by the White House and the Pentagon. While these criticisms are issued under the guise of sympathy and concern for the troops, the clear implication is that the drive to crush the Iraqi resistance must be intensified—with more US troops, and more deaths and mutilations of both Americans and Iraqis.
What the Times will not say is that the war itself is a flagrant violation of international law and the democratic rights of the American people. It is a crime, and those who planned and launched it are criminals—not those who resist orders that evince indifference and contempt for the lives of ordinary soldiers.
Every rationale given to the troops, and to the American people as a whole, for the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been exposed as a lie. So too was the claim that the invaders would be greeted as heroes and liberators by the Iraqi masses. When that fairy tale exploded, a new lie was rolled out—that those opposing the US occupation were a small group of Baathist "dead-enders," Al Qaeda terrorists, and common criminals. This fiction was combined with a new ex-post-facto pretext for the ongoing slaughter—the US was bringing democracy to the people of Iraq and the entire Middle East.
The reality is that the resistance has massive popular support, and that the US-installed interim government is despised by Iraqis—Sunni and Shia alike. Far from "liberating" the country, the invasion has caused a catastrophic decline in the living conditions of ordinary Iraqis and subjected them to a new authoritarian regime, backed by American tanks, war planes and bullets.
There is a growing awareness in the ranks of the US army of the gulf that separates the reality of their daily experiences and the propaganda emanating from Washington. Thousands of troops sense that they have been lied to, and the suspicion is growing that the authors of the war have ulterior motives that have nothing to do with democracy, peace, or the safety of the American people.
Moreover, the Bush administration's recklessness and criminality in Iraq and Afghanistan have serious and immediate implications for the safety of the soldiers. Many are undoubtedly aware that the government's flouting of the Geneva Conventions, and its use of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and other military prisons, have exposed them to similarly brutal treatment should they be taken prisoner.
Throughout history, it has often been the case that the opening stages of large-scale breakdowns in military discipline were marked by soldiers questioning their superiors' competency and capacity to prosecute the war. When troops lose confidence in their commanders' leadership ability, broader issues concerning the very nature of the conflict invariably follow.
The reservists' defiance foreshadows a deeper radicalization in the ranks. Future protests will inevitably occur on a larger scale, and on a more explicitly political basis. The ruling elite—and the Times' editors—are acutely aware of this, which is why the case of the reservists is being treated with such nervousness and apprehension.
The Times' expressions of sympathy for the plight of US soldiers in Iraq are utterly hypocritical. As of this writing, more than 1,100 have been killed in combat and thousands more have been wounded, many of them maimed and crippled for life. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and thousands more will die in the coming assaults on Fallujah and other centers of Iraqi resistance.
There is only one way to take the US soldiers out of harm's way and stop the American slaughter of Iraqis: to immediately and unconditionally withdraw all US and foreign forces and allow the Iraqi people to settle their own affairs.
The Times, which speaks for the so-called "liberal" sections of the American political and corporate establishment, stands opposed to such a course. On the question of Iraq, as well as the more general goal of establishing US global hegemony, the differences within the US ruling elite, and between its two major parties—no matter how sharp or bitter—are over tactics and means, not over principles or ends.
That is why the Times comes down on the side of the military brass and against those soldiers who dare to resist and say "No."

NOT THE N.Y. TIMES ARTICLE MENTIONED ABOVE BUT A MORE REALISTIC ONE THAT SIMPLY AMAZED ME!! WHO WOULD HAVE BELIEVED THAT THIS WAS PRINTED THERE?
url:  http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/18/national/18guard.html
October 18, 2004
THE G.I.'S
Soldiers Saw Refusing Order as Their Last Stand
By NEELA BANERJEE and ARIEL HART

THIS IS THE BEST OF ALL: AN INTERVIEW OF 2 OF THE WIVES WHO ARE THE ONES THAT FIRST RAISED THE CALL TO ACTION OVER THE LIES.

url:  http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0443/robbins.php

A pair of Mississippi women challenge the army brass on behalf of their soldier-husbands in Iraq
The Soldiers Who Said No
by Tom Robbins
October 26th, 2004 10:10 AM
JACKSON, Miss., Oct. 17 - What does it take for a man like Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year veteran of the Army and the Reserve who was a soldier in the first Persian Gulf war and a reserve called up to fight in the current war in Iraq, to risk everything by disobeying a direct order in wartime?
On the morning of Oct. 13, the military says, Sergeant Butler and most of his platoon, some 18 men and women from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil Air Base near Nasiriya, Iraq, to another base much farther north.
The Army has begun an inquiry, and the soldiers could face disciplinary measures, including possible courts-martial. But Jackie Butler, Sergeant Butler's wife, and her family in Jackson say he would not have jeopardized his career and his freedom for something impulsive or unimportant.
The soldiers, many of whom have called home this weekend, said their trucks were unsafe and lacked a proper armed escort, problems that have plagued them since they went to Iraq nine months ago, their relatives said. The time had come for them, for her husband, to act, Ms. Butler said.
"I'm proud that he said 'no,' " Ms. Butler said. "They had complained and complained for months to the chain of command about the equipment and trucks. But nothing was done, so I think he felt he had to take a stand."
Other soldiers completed the mission the platoon turned down, the military kept functioning, and the Army has cast the incident as isolated.
But as the soldiers involved in the refusal in Tallil and others begin to speak out, it is growing more apparent that the military has yet to solve the lack of training, parts and equipment that has riddled the military operation in Iraq from the outset, especially among National Guard and Reserve units.
Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commander of the 13th Corps Support Command, which the 343rd reports to, said at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday that he had ordered two investigations into the incident and the concerns expressed by the 18 soldiers "regarding maintenance and safety.''
General Chambers said preliminary findings showed that the unit's trucks were not yet armored and were among the last in his command to get such protection, because they usually functioned in less dangerous parts of Iraq. None of the trucks in his command were armored when they arrived in Iraq, General Chambers said. He told reporters that he had ordered a safety and maintenance review of all trucks in the 343rd.
"Based on results of this investigation other actions may be necessary,'' the general said, but he added, "It's too early in the investigation to speculate on charges or other disciplinary actions.''
General Chambers described the episode as "a single event that is confined to a small group of individuals.''
A number of Army officers contacted in recent days said such an apparent act of insubordination was very unusual, particularly among such a large number of soldiers in a single unit and especially since the military is all volunteer.
The incident has prompted widespread interest among military families who have complained in months past of inadequate equipment and protection for their soldiers.
Nancy Lessin, a leader of Military Families Speak Out, which opposes the war, said she had been flooded with calls and e-mail from families with a simple message: What had happened to the reservists echoed the conditions their own soldiers experienced in Iraq: a shortage of armored vehicles, especially for part-time soldiers' units; convoy missions through dangerous stretches without adequate firepower; and constant breakdowns among old vehicles owned, especially, by National Guard and reservist units.
"This is absolutely striking a nerve," Ms. Lessin said. "People are saying, 'This is the same thing that happened to my son,' and if the Army tries to spin this as 'just a few bad apples,' people need to know that these are common problems and what these soldiers did required a tremendous amount of courage."
Nothing seems to separate the men and women who defied their command in Tallil from the tens of thousands of others now in Iraq, their families say. The 343rd was drawn mainly from Southern states like the Carolinas, Alabama and Mississippi, and the military said Friday that the 343rd had performed honorably during its tour in Iraq.
The soldiers in the platoon are described as devoted to the military and unabashedly patriotic. A wall of Sergeant Butler's living room is covered with certificates and citations from the Army. Another member of the 343rd, Specialist Joe Dobbs, 19, of Vandiver, Ala., had his bedroom painted the dark blue of the American flag. And another soldier in the unit, Sgt. Justin Rogers of Louisville, Ky., liked to walk around town in his uniform when he was home on leave, said Chris Helm, a 14-year-old high school student and his first cousin.
When Sergeant Rogers went home for a two-week leave in July, his brother Derrick asked whether the war and all the deaths were worth it. "His answer was simple," Derrick Rogers said. "He said, 'If I didn't feel like it was worth it, I wouldn't be there.' ''
Ms. Butler did not want to speak for her husband on his feelings about the war. Better he should do that when he is finally home, she said, which is scheduled to be sometime next year. But Sergeant Butler knew he would be called up, once the war against Iraq was begun in March 2003. Late last year, he reported to Rock Hill, and quickly, his confidence was shaken, his wife said. He saw that the equipment to be shipped with his unit was "not very good," Ms. Butler said.
Once the unit arrived in Iraq, the inadequacy of the platoon's equipment and preparedness was thrown into sharp relief against the dangers the country posed. Although the unit is based near Nasiriya in the Shiite-controlled south, which is not as volatile as Sunni-dominated areas, the whole country has been convulsed by battles and uprisings during most of the 343rd's tour of duty. "This is not the first time that there has been a problem with these charges and stuff, with them not having armor, not having radios," said Beverly Dobbs, mother of Specialist Dobbs. "My son told me two months ago - he called me, he said, 'Mom I got the scare of my life.'
"'I said what's wrong?'" Ms. Dobbs said. "He said, 'They sent us out, we come under fire, our own people was shooting and we didn't even have radios to let them know.' They're sending them out without the equipment they need. I don't care what the Army says."
Families that spoke to the soldiers this weekend received slightly differing accounts of what happened the morning of Oct. 13. They all said, however, that fuel the soldiers had to deliver was unusable because it had been contaminated with a second liquid. They all said the soldiers were under armed guard. General Chambers denied both assertions. Relatives say that Sergeant Butler, Sgt. Larry McCook of Jackson and Specialist Scott Shealey of Graysville, Ala., have been identified as three of five "ringleaders" of the incident and reassigned to other units on the air base. Specialist Shealey's parents said their son said in a telephone call that he was going to be discharged.
"He'll be home in three to four weeks, that's what he's being told," said Ricky Shealey, Specialist Shealey's father, a retired Postal Service supervisor and former sergeant in the Army. "He's depressed," Mr. Shealey said. "He just can't believe it's happening."
Ms. Butler said her husband did not know what he might be facing and had heard nothing about a discharge. Other families said the military had yet to contact them to explain the situation. The families have not hired lawyers yet, in large part because they are uncertain what charges might be brought against their relatives.
Some families are reaching out to one another through e-mail and phone calls, offering help and discussing strategy. They have contacted their members of Congressmen. Others, like Ms. Dobbs and her family, are glued to television news, awaiting some clarification of the incident.
Ms. Butler has her big family to lean on, and on this Sunday, the day after the phone call from her husband, they went to church and turned to their neighbors, friends and faith. Ms. Butler went to the altar rail of Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist Church and told the congregation: "My husband has been in the Army more than 20 years, but refused to take those men in that convoy. He said it would be suicidal.''
"So, I'm going to ask you to pray for me," she said, "because he is not going to take no other men's children into the land of death."
She bowed her head, and so did everyone else. "Lord, Sister Butler needs you," the Rev. Daniel Watkins said, shutting his eyes tight. "Her husband, he needs you. All the soldiers in Iraq, they need you."
Monica Davey contributed reporting from Chicago for this article, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Dexter Filkins from Baghdad.


o matter how the military ultimately decides to deal with Staff Sergeant Michael Butler for disobeying orders, once the war in Iraq is through with him, he'll be welcomed home by an adoring family and the big yellow ribbon that is pinned to the tall long-leaf pine tree outside his one-story brick house in Jackson, Mississippi.

"I am very, very proud of him. He is a definite leader, someone who is capable of doing many things," said Butler's wife, Jackie, as she sat in her living room facing a wall of awards earned by her husband during his 24 years of duty in both the regular army and the reserves. There are a half-dozen Army Achievement Medals and a plaque for "1997 NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] of the Year." Four short words of high military praise are inscribed on it: "Can do. Damn good."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


It was that same type of leadership that Butler, 44, was exhibiting this month, his wife insisted, when he and 17 others in his army reserve platoon did the militarily unthinkable by refusing direct orders to drive a convoy of fuel trucks from their post at the Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq to Taji, north of Baghdad. Butler told his wife that their breakdown-prone trucks—and the lack of steel-plated armor on the vehicles—made them sitting ducks for hostile fire along the 200-mile route. According to Jackie Butler and family members of others in the unit, commanders of the 343rd Quartermaster Company reacted by arresting the soldiers at gunpoint, reading them their rights, and holding them in a tent under guard for 24 hours—actions denied by army spokesmen.

A day later, after Jackie Butler and others spread the alarm, the incident was worldwide news, providing sharp focus to charges that many troops in Iraq lack adequate equipment, criticism that dogged the Bush administration even before Democrat John Kerry made it a stock element of his stump speech. It has also rekindled memories of the last days of the Vietnam War, when there were incidents of demoralized U.S. troops refusing orders they believed would accomplish little other than placing themselves in peril.

Jackie Butler said she was less concerned with the big-picture implications of her husband's actions than the fact that he was in trouble and needed her help. That news had come in an alarming call in the early morning of October 14 from a stranger who said he was a lieutenant in the army in Iraq and friendly with her husband. "He said, 'Your husband snuck this note to me to call you, that you should call your sister-in-law and she should call the lawyers she knows, because he needs their help.' I asked him what was going on, and he said, 'Your husband has been charged with disobeying orders.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Yes, your husband has been falsely accused. He is being held under guard right now. I have to go.' Then he hung up."

Butler said she immediately began calling family members. She also left a message at the local daily paper, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

A couple of miles away, Patricia McCook, whose husband, Sergeant Larry McCook, 41, was also serving in the 343rd, was awoken at 5:12 that same morning when he called from Iraq.

"He was saying, 'Baby, baby, wake up, wake up please. Get a paper, take this down.' He sounded panicky. He said they were trying to make them go to a place called Taji—I can't even pronounce it. He said the trucks didn't have protection, that it was a suicide mission. He said, 'They've arrested us. They've got military police armed with guns guarding us; they read us our rights.' He said, 'Write these names down, these are the others in trouble with me.' "

Among the names her husband gave her was that of Michael Butler. The two wives had never met, but within a few days, Jackie Butler and Pat McCook were granting joint interviews to media from around the country, holding court in Butler's living room, so much in tune with each other's concerns that they noddingly finished each other's sentences.

It was a sudden and unexpected thrust into the national spotlight, putting them at the crossroads of a volatile issue at the heart of the presidential election.

In many ways, they are an unlikely pair to be taking on a mighty military establishment. Both are devout churchgoers: Butler at Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist, McCook at the Jones Chapel Church in nearby Flora, Mississippi, where her husband is a deacon. McCook is raising a pair of teenagers; Butler, a hairstylist, is stepmother to two children, ages 10 and 14. The trunk of Pat McCook's sedan bears a "Support Our Troops" yellow-ribbon sticker. Another urges people to find guidance through prayer. McCook was born in Flora and raised in Jackson; Butler has lived here all her life. Her modest but comfortable home is on a street of well-groomed lawns and spreading magnolias, a quiet neighborhood located in the city's northeast, where the only discordant note is the protective metal bars that cover most windows. It is about a mile and a half from another pleasant neighborhood of single-family homes, where Jackson civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot dead in his driveway in 1963 by a virulent racist.

Despite the unexpectedness of the crisis, both women quickly rose to the challenge posed by the emergency messages from the other side of the world. Armed with a mutual bedrock belief in their husbands' integrity, they enlisted friends, relatives, and local politicians in a campaign to expose what they called "a terrible cover-up" by the army.

"It's a leadership problem," said McCook. "They knew those vehicles were unsafe. Why in the world would you send soldiers out unprotected like that?"

Probably their most effective calls were those to The Clarion-Ledger, where reporter Jeremy Hudson got the military to acknowledge the incident and wrote the initial account. National and international coverage followed. "I thought, Well, The Clarion-Ledger has it, that'll be it, just a local story," said McCook. "We're surprised at all the national attention."

They share the same analysis, however, of what's driving the news. "It's because it's election time," said McCook.

Both women declined to discuss their own political preferences. "I don't deal with politics," said Butler. "I vote for the best person."

They both said, however, that they believed President Bush to be badly misinformed in his assurances to the public that troops in Iraq have all necessary equipment. "He should go to the 343rd," said McCook.

"I don't know how he says these soldiers are all so enthusiastic," said Butler. "He is getting some bad information from someone."

The issue of shortages isn't new, they said.

"It's not as though this hasn't come up before," said McCook. "Even General [Ricardo] Sanchez [former commander of coalition forces in Iraq] wrote a letter to the Pentagon about the equipment problem."

"From what I was told there have been many direct orders disobeyed before this," said Butler. "But it was just one person. This was so many, all at the same moment."

"They all stood together, they made a united front, that's what makes the difference," added McCook. "It's like a fist, it makes a mighty blow. I know you don't have any clout when you stand alone."

Pat McCook has a first-person understanding of how the military works. She spent three years on active duty, serving as an army administrative specialist in 1983 in Fort Polk, Louisiana, where she met her husband. "I loved everything about him," she said. Larry McCook followed her home to Jackson and, about 10 years ago, joined the army reserves. He was working for the Hinds County Sheriff's Office as a detention officer when he was called up last year. In February, he was shipped to Iraq from Rock Hill, South Carolina, where the 343rd is based.

Iraq is Michael Butler's second round of combat in the Middle East. He served in the 1990-91 Gulf War and came home to Jackson, maintaining his enlistment in the reserves. He married Jackie three years ago. When he was summoned for active duty last fall he was working as a carpenter for the Jackson public school system. "I asked him why he was in the army," said Jackie Butler. "He said, 'Baby, I volunteered. I was looking to serve my country, and I wanted to go to school.' He did, too. He got himself licensed as a mechanic and learned carpentry skills. He did well by the army."

Jackie Butler gave her husband a pre-paid telephone calling card when he left. When he was able, they managed to speak two or three times a week. Not all of the calls were reassuring. "I've been talking to him on the phone when I hear the bombs coming in. You hear that sound, 'Ssssss,' and the explosion, and then my husband says, 'Got to go, baby.' "

Michael Butler was home for a two-week leave at the end of August. "He was fine. We didn't go out much; we had the family over, had a lot of fun, eating and laughing. At night, though, me and him would sit together and talk. He talked about the problems he was having over there, the trouble with the equipment. He told these stories. I said, 'Just go to him, your commander.' He said, 'She's a female, and I tried that. She's not going to do anything.' "

Pat McCook also noted changes in her husband after he went to war. "Most of all I love his sense of humor; he is just a naturally funny man. People say he even looks like Eddie Murphy so he should be funny. But ever since he went over, I don't hear it as much in him. I can tell he's worried."

Their husbands' complaints kept coming back to the trucks, both women said. "I remember him pulling out of Rock Hill, South Carolina," said Jackie Butler. "They had to drive down to Fort Stewart, Georgia. Even then the trucks were breaking down. He said he could've outrun those trucks, they went so slow. They were just no good."

In Iraq, breakdowns had occurred while the trucks were on their way to deliver fuel and supplies, the men told their wives. "He said they just sleep on top of the trucks when that happens," said Jackie Butler.

"What they wanted was bulletproof armor for the trucks," said Pat McCook. "At least it gives them a fighting chance."

McCook and Butler weren't the only ones sending up alarms about the incarceration of the platoon members. Relatives of other soldiers in the 343rd also called the media. Some offered a different explanation for the platoon's refusal to take the convoy to Taji. Rick Shealey of Quinton, Alabama, said his son Scott, 29, told him by phone that the fuel the platoon was ordered to deliver to Taji had been contaminated by diesel fuel and had been rejected as unusable when they had tried to deliver it to another army location.

"They had just got back from that trip when they got woken at 4 a.m. and told to take it to Taji," Shealey said. "The soldiers sat there for three hours arguing with the commander, saying it didn't make sense. They were saying, 'Now what if that bad fuel got into a helicopter?' " said Shealey. "I asked my son, 'Wasn't you all tired?' He said, 'Daddy, we do that every day. Tiredness doesn't matter. We are used to it. The point was that the fuel was contaminated. That's the whole reason.' "

Jackie Butler and Pat McCook said that their husbands never raised the fuel issue in their initial conversations, and since then, both women say, their husbands have been guarded in their conversations with them about the incident. "We try not to talk about stuff like that over the phone now," said Butler.

Whatever the army's reasons—either the mini-maelstrom kicked up by the media, or its own second thoughts—the platoon members were freed after being held for about a day, according to relatives. Five members of the platoon, however, including Butler, McCook, and Shealey, were sent to other units. "They saw them as the ringleaders," said Jackie Butler. Pat McCook said her husband told her he is back driving a fuel truck again, this time one in good condition and equipped with armor. "He said it's like going from driving a Yugo to driving a Cadillac," she said.

The army has sent other signals that it recognized that the soldiers had legitimate gripes. Last week, the military confirmed that the commander of the 343rd had been relieved of her duties. Although the army refused to name her, The Clarion-Ledger reported that it was Captain Nancy Daniels, the commander whom sergeants McCook and Butler had complained about. There have also been reports that the army will seek to have the leaders of the revolt released under a general discharge rather than bring courts-martial against them.

"What I would like is to have the army admit that this is why these soldiers did this—to save lives of other soldiers," said Jackie Butler. "They should fix the problem, finish the mission, and get our husbands home—"

"Alive and whole," interjected Pat McCook, beside her on the couch.

"The same way they left," added Butler.

This story will reveal more 01.Nov.2004 14:32

Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam

The American military is there in Iraq for the culling of American service men and women. There is a more sinister reason for sending the fuel convoy into certain death after delivery of contanimated fuel for American helicopters. They don't want the story of "insurgents" to be any other than the official storyboard they have designed for public consumption. Pockets of "insurgents" creating chaos in Iraq. Juat bear in mind who is creating this image in your minds and to what purpose.