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Sunday, October 17

Soldiers face discharge for allegedly refusing Iraq order

By The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

Five members of an Iraqi-based platoon who refused a convoy order earlier this week were told they would be punished with a general discharge, the father of one of the soldiers said Saturday.

``My son said they are getting ready to be discharged and would be home in three or four weeks,'' said Ricky Scott of Quinton, Ala., father of Spc. Scott Shealey. ``It's just a boot ... some way to put some type of close to this while using them as scapegoats.''

Shealey, 29, and four other members of the 343rd Army Reserve Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were reassigned to other units after 17 members of their platoon refused an order Wednesday to take part in a fuel convoy because of what soldiers termed ``deadlined'' or unsafe vehicles, officials said.

Sgt. Larry McCook and Sgt. Michael Butler, both of Jackson, are among the five reassigned, said Patricia McCook, wife of Sgt. McCook.

The Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad would neither confirm nor deny Scott's statement.

A general discharge can be given by a military administrative discharge board without a hearing, said military law expert Mark Stevens of Rocky Mount, N.C. ``It is not necessarily a bad thing,'' Stevens said. ``It's certainly better than being charged with a crime. It is sort of a wimp's way to get it done and get rid of this thing.''

Refusal of orders during wartime, which by law can be punishable by death if charges were filed, most likely would be punished by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years' confinement, Stevens said. But now, that might not be an issue.

Soldiers can be discharged honorably, other than honorably, or generally by an administrative discharge board, Stevens said. They can be discharged for bad conduct or get a dishonorable discharge through a court hearing, he said.

A soldier's benefits usually remain intact following a general discharge, minus some education allowances, Stevens said.

Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Bolton Democrat, said he has not been told the soldiers will be discharged. He requested a congressional inquiry on Friday as the commanding general of the 13th Corps Support Command began its investigation into the platoon's refusal of orders.

Thompson said he reviewed a faxed plea from Patricia McCook to his office after a Clarion-Ledger reporter called it to his attention.

Thompson said that in response to his inquiry request, he was told to expect the first written report of the investigation on Monday.

``Because so much attention has been paid to this issue and the question of whether our soldiers are adequately equipped, I do not expect formal charges to be filed,'' he said. ``A discharge is another thing altogether, though.''

The unit remained on a safety and maintenance stand-down Saturday after a preliminary investigation revealed the soldiers had ``valid concerns,'' said Dov Schwartz, an Army spokesman.

Jackie Butler, Sgt. Butler's wife, said her husband told her ``a lot of stuff is going on, and he's just taking it day-to-day'' right now. She said Butler on Saturday did not mention a discharge when they talked at about 1:30 a.m.

``I would be happy with that if it is true,'' she said. ``At least I would have him and wouldn't have to worry about him being over there.''

Scott said his son told him some members of the 343rd, a supply unit whose general mission is to deliver fuel and water, left their station at Tallil Air Force Base for Taji, Iraq, days before the ultimate refusal of orders. The fuel was denied in Taji because it was contaminated and could not be used for aviation purposes, he said. The soldiers, who were not being escorted by armed personnel, were fired upon during their return trip by about 50 insurgents but were able to make it back without casualties.

There have been 1,089 U.S. deaths in Iraq, according to CNN.com. Many of them took place during attacks on U.S. convoys.

The trip took five days, Scott said, and the soldiers were ordered to deliver the same fuel to another base about two days later with what Shealey termed ``civilian vehicles'' with speeds no higher than 40 mph, Scott said. ``That is when they said they had enough,'' he said.

The mission was later carried out by other soldiers, officials said, but those who refused the mission were ordered to write statements on why they refused, Scott said his son told him. ``After they reviewed those statements, they separated him and the four others and put them in different units,'' Scott said.

Patricia McCook said her husband told her on Saturday he has started working with a new company.

``He said it was only thanks to the media that they got some work done on their vehicles,'' McCook said.

She and Jackie Butler are scheduled to be on ABC's Good Morning America in Jackson Sunday morning.

Nancy Wessin of Boston, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, said it takes courage for soldiers' relatives to speak out.

``People say you are disloyal or unsupportive when you speak out, but we feel the best way to support the troops is to really let people know what is going on by sharing your story,'' Wessin said.