Sunday, December 12, 2004


This is hard to believe - soldiers punished for scrounging armor

Every time you think Bush & Rumsfeld just can't possibly get any worse, they outdo themselves.
'Scrounging' for Iraq War Puts GIs in Jail

Reservists court-martialed for theft; they say they did what they had to do.

By Aamer Madhani
The Chicago Tribune

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Six reservists, including two veteran officers who had received Bronze Stars, were court-martialed for what soldiers have been doing as long as there have been wars - scrounging to get what their outfit needed to do its job in Iraq. Darrell Birt, one of those court-martialed for theft, destruction of Army property and conspiracy to cover up the crimes, had been decorated for his "initiative and courage" for leading his unit's delivery of fuel over the perilous roads of Iraq in the war's first months. Now, Birt, 45, who was a chief warrant officer with 656th Transportation Company, based in Springfield, Ohio, and his commanding officer find themselves felons, dishonorably discharged and stripped of all military benefits.

The 656th played a crucial role in maintaining the gasoline supply that fueled everything from Black Hawk helicopters to Bradley Fighting Vehicles between Balad Airfield and Tikrit. The reservists in the company proudly boast that their fuel was in the vehicles driven by the 4th Infantry Division soldiers who found Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole last year. But when Birt's unit was ordered to head into Iraq in the heat of battle in April 2003 from its base in Kuwait, Birt said the company didn't have enough vehicles to haul the equipment it would need to do the job. So, Birt explained, he and other reservists grabbed two tractors and two trailers left in Kuwait by other U.S. units that had already moved into Iraq.

Several weeks later, Birt and other reservists scrounged a third vehicle, an abandoned 5-ton cargo truck, and stripped it for parts they needed for repair of their trucks. "We could have gone with what we had, but we would not have been able to complete our mission," said Birt, who was released from the brig on Oct. 17 and is petitioning for clemency in hope that he can return to the reserves. "I admit that what we did was technically against the rules, but it wasn't for our own personal gain. It was so we could do our jobs."

The thefts mirror countless stories of shifty appropriation that has been memorialized in books and films as a wartime skill. Birt and other reservists in the unit said that what the prosecutors called theft was simply resourcefulness, a quality they say is abundant among soldiers in Iraq.

While in confinement, Birt had a chat with a military police officer who was puzzled by why Birt was in the brig. The MP, a guard, told Birt that his unit had "acquired" a Humvee in a similar fashion. Equipment shortages have become a concern, and soldiers are expressing growing frustration about them. On Monday, the military announced it would not court-martial the 23 reservists who balked at transporting fuel in Iraq because their vehicles were in poor condition and lacked armor, and on Wednesday, soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armor for vehicles.

In addition to the six in the 656th who were court-martialed, eight others in the unit were given non-judicial punishment, including fines, pay reduction and loss in rank. The commanding officer of the company, Maj. Cathy Kaus, 46, was sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined $5,000 for her part in the thefts. She is scheduled to be released from the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego on Christmas Day after serving most of her sentence. Kaus and Birt chose to be tried by a military judge rather than a panel that would have included fellow soldiers, and they waived the formal investigation.

An Army spokeswoman said Friday that the Army does not comment on specific cases. But she noted that the military's judicial process allows those who are court-martialed to apply for clemency.

The severity of the punishments was surprising to many members of the company, who regularly saw off-the-books trading and thefts of military property in Iraq by troops in other units. Even Lt. Col. Christopher Wicker, the former commanding officer of the battalion overseeing the 656th who ordered the investigation of the thefts, said he was shocked by the hefty penalties. "Circumstances at [the] time, however, made these acts less serious than if done in a peacetime garrison environment," Wicker said in a letter supporting clemency for Birt. "The sentences . . . are too harsh given the situation during the initial drive north of Baghdad in April 2003, and the limited flow of repair parts that existed April-September 2003."
I'd like to force Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Limbaugh, Coulter, and anyone who prosecuted these soldiers to march along the road from Baghdad to the airport without armor of any kind. Fucking bastards.
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