Soldiers Court-Martialed for Scrounging Equipment

Six Army reservists court-martialed for scrounging equipment in Iraq (CBS 2 – AP)

At a time when some U.S. troops in Iraq are complaining they have to scrounge for equipment, six Ohio-based reservists were court-martialed for taking Army vehicles abandoned in Kuwait by other units so they could carry out their own unit’s mission to Iraq. The soldiers say they needed the vehicles, and parts stripped from one, to deliver fuel to Iraq, but their former battalion commander said Sunday the troops should at least have returned the vehicles to their original units.

Members of the 656th Transportation Company based in Springfield, west of Columbus, said they needed the equipment to deliver fuel that was needed by U.S. forces in Iraq for everything from helicopters to tanks. The reservists took two tractor-trailers and stripped parts from a five-ton truck that had been abandoned in Kuwait by other units that had already moved into Iraq, one of the reservists, Darrell Birt of Columbus, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Birt, a former chief warrant officer, and the others were charged with theft, destruction of Army property and conspiracy to cover up their crimes. Birt said he and two others pleaded guilty and the other three were convicted. All received six-month sentences. “Nobody ever reported these trucks stolen. The deal was, when you are moving, if it was going to take more than 30 minutes to fix it, you left it,” said Birt, who was released in November. “I’m a Christian man and I can’t ignore what we did, but it was justified to get us in the fight and to sustain the fight.”

Scrounging is a time-honored military tradition, dating at least back to Hannibal’s crossing the Alps. In more recent times, the U.S. military has tried to crack down on it for rather obvious reasons: it’s inefficient, hides flaws in the supply system, and encourages poor planning. Not to mention the fine line between “I found it on the tank trail” and stealing. We certainly don’t want to give incentive to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Indeed, at least when I was in, the Army placed very tight restrictions even on cannibalizing spare parts from a disabled vehicle in order to fix others in the same unit.

Birt and company were in a bad situation. While they should have probably handled it differently–at least letting the chain of command know what they did rather than trying to cover it up–the punishment strikes me as rather severe (if all the facts are contained in the story). It’s really bizarre, though, in light of this:

Last week, the military said it would not court-martial any of 23 other Army reservists who refused a mission transporting fuel along a dangerous road in Iraq, complaining that their vehicles in poor condition and did not have armor.

Huh? Disobedience to a direct order and cowardice in a combat zone carries no punishment but being a little overzealous in accomplishing a dangerous mission lands you in jail?! So, the military is saying to Birt that, rather than scrounging abandoned vehicles, they should have just refused to go to war without the proper equipment? Not a good message.

(via email tip from Jim Henley)

Update: John Little concurs and has link to video coverge of the story.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Meanwhile Rumsfeld is off to lunch in his (armored) limo…

  2. anjin-san says:

    A few more words about Mr. Rumsfeld:

    On Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer Sunday, Chuck Hagel stated he has completely lost confidence in Donald Rumsfeld over his remark to the soldier that “they have to fight with the army they’ve got.”

    Hagel stated that he has talked with many returning soldiers and national guardsmen who returned from the war, and they have all told him that they need body and vehicle armor to protect themselves from bullets. He also questioned the honesty of administration officials who were “going around the country reassuring the American people our troops have everything they need.”

    Hagel characterized Rumsfeld’s performance as “incompetent”.

  3. Scott_T says:

    I think what got them in trouble was that they attempted to just remove all evidence of which units the equipment belonged to originally and dump it off.

    The Army didn’t care that they did it, but took no actions to try to give it back to the units that it belonged to originally AND tried to hide the fact that they did it.

    Can’t find the link now, and no time to search.

  4. Scott_T says:
  5. LJD says:


    THere is no place for the truth in the mindset of the left. Just wave your hands and talk about something unrelated…

  6. Maria Lubrano says:

    These soldiers showed initiative in making use of items already abandoned and complete their mission. This is war! Soldiers do what they have to and I, for one, applaud their efforts and feel strongly that they should be fully reinstated with none of this on their records.
    What would the charges have been if they did not complete their mission and sat there with inoperable equipment? Think about it!