Sunday, December 12, 2004

Reservists court-martialled for midnight requestions 

Way to support the troops, guys. It would be nice to see Radio Boy step in with an exective order granting these guys clemency. When weasels fly out of my butt!

The shameful story:

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 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.

Theft of military equipment is legendary among American war veterans, and the act has its own lexicon. In past wars some called it "scrounging," while others called it "midnight requisitions" and "liberating supplies," said writer and Vietnam War veteran Robert Vaughan.

The problems for the 656th started days before the company was to move into Iraq. The company had only two cargo trucks to haul six containers filled with tools, spare parts, ammunition, biological-chemical protective wear and other supplies.

In the first several months of the Iraq war, the supply line moved at a glacial pace. Obtaining even basic parts to repair vehicles took as long as six weeks, said Robert Chalmers, who had been a sergeant with the 656th. He received a court-martial for stripping the cargo truck for spare parts and disposing of its frame.

Sitting in his kitchen in Greenville, Ohio, Chalmers recalled the rocket attacks, bomb explosions and small-arms fire his company faced on the road between Tikrit and Balad.

The situation has left Chalmers in debt and bitter. His wife, Tina, said she had to borrow against her retirement savings to pay his $20,000 in legal fees.

"We were sent to Iraq without what we needed," said Chalmers, who has spent 15 years on active or reserve duty.. "If they don't make that decision to get the vehicles we needed, we are worse off and can't do our mission. If we don't do our mission, those tanks at the front stand still."

For Birt and Kaus, the court-martial and confinements are a devastating end to long and successful military careers. Both are holding onto a thin thread of hope that they will be granted clemency by Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, so their benefits will be reinstated and they will have a chance to continue their military careers.

Birt and Kaus were dishonorably discharged, and unless they receive clemency, they lose all military benefits, including the right to have the U.S. flag draped on their coffins.

This month, Birt received a certified letter from the trucking company he worked for as a shop foreman, telling him that it could no longer employ him because of his felony conviction. Kaus said her employer, sporting goods manufacturer Huffy Corp., has informed her that it is unlikely she will be allowed to come back to work because of her conviction.

(via Chicago Tribune)

So, aWol is honorably discharged, while not doing his job, and these guys are courtmartialled, for doing their jobs—in a war of choice that aWol set in motion, but didn't give these guys the tools for.

Life's little ironies, eh?

NOTE Thanks to alert reader Nancy.

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