U.S. Army Reservists Escape Court-Martial

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Twenty-three Army reservists who refused a dangerous mission to transport fuel in Iraq will face punishments such as extra duties or reduction in rank but won't be court-martialed, the military said Monday.

All the reservists from the 343rd Quartermaster Company are being disciplined for failing to follow orders under Article 15, which means no court proceedings will be held and the identities of the soldiers involved will not be released publicly, military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said.

The soldiers failed to report on Oct. 13 for a mission to transport supplies from Tallil air base near Nasiriyah to Taji north of Baghdad. They said they balked at the mission because the vehicles were not armored and in poor condition. They also said complaints to their commander about their concerns went unheeded.

"They felt they didn't have the proper equipment to do the mission they were ordered to do and are being disciplined for failing to follow orders," Boylan said.

Boylan said 18 of the soldiers had been punished and the other five would face reprimand this week.

While most had been expected to face administrative punishment, officials had said earlier that courts-martial were possible for some of the reservists. Refusal of orders during a time of war can be punished by death, discharge, forfeiture of pay and benefits or confinement, among other things.

Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commanding general of the 13th Corps Support Command, which manages the provision of fuel, food and ammunition across Iraq, decided to deal with the reservists under Article 15 proceedings rather than by courts-martial based on "evidence and recommendations" presented to him, Boylan said.

Boylan declined to comment on the quality of the evidence.

Military investigators found that some of the complaints raised by the soldiers, including concerns over vehicle maintenance and protection, were credible and actions were taken to address the issues.

U.S. convoys, particularly larger ones that include trucks carrying oil and other military supplies, are regular targets for insurgents in Iraq, who have used roadside bombs and ambushes to deadly effect on the country's roads and highways to try derail American-led reconstruction efforts.

"But the area where they (the 343 Quartermaster Company) drive is no less dangerous than any other location in Iraq, and their unit has not taken any casualties in the 10 months they have been here," Boylan said.

Boylan said the soldiers were expected to remain in Iraq until their 12-month tour of duty ends in March and that most were continuing to perform the same duties, but some have been assigned to other units.

One of the reservists, Spc. Major Coates, has said he was properly trained to deploy to Iraq, but acknowledged that when he arrived in March, officials "did not tell us we were infantry now."

In October, Coates said he and his fellow soldiers had not banded together to refuse to perform their duties, but had chosen individually to do so.

If soldiers act as a group in what the military considers a mutiny, they could receive a more severe punishment than if they acted individually.

Meanwhile, Spc. Brent May, 22, of Salem, Ohio, faced a military court Monday charged with murdering an Iraqi man in Baghdad's Sadr City, an impoverished Shiite Muslim quarter that saw fierce clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents this year.

May is attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, from Fort Riley, Kan. He was charged in September on three counts of premeditated murder. But at Monday's hearing, conducted on a U.S. military base, officials ordered May to face just one charge. It was not immediately clear why the number of charges were reduced.

May did not enter a plea during the Article 32 case, the military equivalent of a civilian preliminary hearing, and was not called to testify. But five members of his unit who witnessed the alleged killing gave evidence to military defense and prosecution lawyers.

The Army has charged six Fort Riley soldiers with murder in recent months — two for killings in Kansas and four, including May, for deaths in Iraq.

The case was to continue Tuesday.