Soldiers Court-Martialed for Scrounging Equipment
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.