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Army Starts Punishing Reservists
Charlotte Observer
November 17, 2004

The Army has begun disciplining some of the 18 soldiers from a Rock Hill-based Reserve unit who refused orders last month in Iraq to take part in a fuel convoy they considered unsafe.

Lt. Col. Steven Boylan said by phone from Baghdad on Tuesday that the actions could range from relatively minor penalties such as an "Article 15" letter of reprimand to a general court-martial with criminal charges involving prison. Although military officials will not identify the soldiers or their individual punishments, citing privacy laws, one Carolinas family has confirmed what happened to their son.

"It's good news about a bad situation," said Genia White of Maiden. "He's not going to be court-martialed. We're thankful; it's fair and we can live with this."

Spc. Reeves Williams' mother said his e-mail Monday was short and sweet: "Good news, mom: All I'm getting is a letter of reprimand, no loss of wages or rank."

Williams, 19, had originally refused to go on the convoy but was the only one of the 18 who later agreed to help deliver the fuel.

Other family members contacted Tuesday said they had not heard from their soldiers about how they're being punished.

The Oct. 13 incident involved the delivery of fuel from Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq to Taji, north of Baghdad. The soldiers complained that their trucks were in poor running condition and didn't have armor plating. The 343rd Quartermaster Company had a two-week "stand-down" while the trucks were reconditioned and fitted with plating. At least five of the 18 were reassigned to other units. The company commander was relieved of her command.

U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., whose district includes Rock Hill, had requested an inquiry into the incident -- believed to be the first time in this Iraqi conflict that U.S. soldiers have refused orders in a combat situation.

Spratt aide Robert Hopkins said Pentagon officials had told their office that six soldiers "who were the least of the 18 offenders" had received letters of reprimand. Hopkins, an Army captain in Vietnam, said there were apparently "four ringleaders and that they would probably be court-martialed."

Johnny Coates of Mount Holly said he hoped his son, Major, would be offered an Article 15.

"He told me last week something was about to go down, but he hasn't heard anything yet," said Coates.

Rock Hill attorney David Guyton is a former Marine Corps lawyer who served in the first Gulf War. He says the Army is in a tough position -- it cannot allow soldiers who refuse orders to go unpunished but there were mitigating circumstances.

"Our entire military system is based on the command structure; you can't operate with soldiers refusing orders," said Guyton. "My sense is the Army is proceeding as they always do in situations like this."

He added: "The courts-martial will be in Iraq -- where the witnesses are. My guess is they'll wrap this up fairly quickly; it's the military way."

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Copyright 2004 Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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