Sunday, October 17, 2004

BAGHDAD (AP) — U.S. Army Reserve soldiers who refused orders to drive a dangerous route were members of one of only a few supply units whose trucks are still unarmored, their commanding general said yesterday.

The soldiers, who are under investigation, previously had focused on local missions in safer parts of southern Iraq and had never driven a convoy north along the attack-prone roads passing through Baghdad.

“Not all of their trucks are completely armored. In their case, they haven’t had the chance to get armored,” said Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commanding general of 13th Corps Support Command, which sends about 250 convoys ferrying Army fuel, food and ammunition across Iraq each day.

Gen. Chambers, speaking in Baghdad, said the 18 soldiers involved in the incident had returned to duty and that it was “too early” to determine whether any will face disciplinary action.

He said a pair of investigations are examining the soldiers’ disobedience as well as their complaints that the trucks were unfit for the hazardous journey.

Gen. Chambers said 80 percent of the 13th Corps Support Command’s 4,000 trucks have been fitted with custom steel plate, but some of those in the unit that balked, the 343rd Quartermaster Company, were among the last left unarmored, because the unit’s mission normally confines it to a less dangerous part of Iraq.

None of the 13th’s trucks arrived in Iraq with armor. Since February, the unit’s engineers and private contractors have been working in impromptu maintenance yards to weld heavy metal “boxes” over truck cabs.

Gen. Chambers said the 18 soldiers who refused the mission on Wednesday morning — driving seven fuel tankers from Tallil air base near Nasariyah to Taji north of Baghdad — also appeared to have balked at their mission because of the trucks’ bad condition.

“They were concerned about the maintenance,” Gen. Chambers said. “If there is a maintenance issue, we’ll clear it up.”

Gen. Chambers said the disobedience was not indicative of wider U.S. Army morale or maintenance problems. The 18 soldiers were “moved to a separate location” for questioning and have since returned to duty, he said.

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