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Wednesday, October 20

Wives speaking for soldiers who refused convoy mission in Iraq

By The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. - Patricia McCook and Jackie Butler have accepted a mission created when their husbands refused an order to transport fuel in Iraq last week.

"He can't speak because he has to live that life in the military right now," Patricia McCook said of her husband. "I'm his voice on the outside, and there is nothing the military can do about it."

"It's our job now," Jackie Butler said. "It's our duty."

Their husbands - Sgts. Larry McCook and Michael Butler, both of Jackson, Miss. - and 16 other members of the Rock Hill, S.C.-based 343rd Army Reserve Quartermaster Company refused an order to deliver fuel citing "deadlined" vehicles that were not armored, poor leadership and contaminated fuel, their relatives said.

Brought together by their husbands' decision, the women have become soldiers on the home front. They've been bombarded with interview requests from news agencies around the world since the story of the platoon's refusal of orders first appeared in The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger on Friday.

The two wives, who had not met before Saturday, said they want the world to know their husbands would not have refused an order unless it was what they called a "suicide mission."

The women expected their husbands to face the threat of attacks from Iraqi insurgents when the Army reservists were deployed in February. But they never imagined a scenario that would have their own military holding their husbands under armed guard, or, according to the soldiers, sending them on missions with ill-equipped vehicles.

"He's fighting a double battle," Butler said of her husband. "That's what hurts the most."

The Army has denied the soldiers were ever held under armed guard.

Five members of the Army Reserve platoon were reassigned to different units, including Butler, 44, and McCook, 41, as the military investigates the refusal and the safety of the soldiers' equipment.

The military has conceded the vehicles were not equipped with armor, something officials say is being addressed.

Larry McCook has been in the Army Reserves "off and on" for about 10 years, his wife said. Michael Butler is a 24-year reservist. Both men knew the severity of refusing orders and were not afraid to travel down dangerous routes, their wives said.

Aside from having a crew from The New York Times follow Jackie Butler to church or Patricia McCook's talking with a reporter from NBC's "Dateline" while taking her children to the dentist, the women are trying to carry on routinely with their lives.

"I didn't think it would make the national news," Patricia McCook said. "I sure didn't think it was going to take on a life of its own like it has."

Troops and their relatives have a right to speak their minds, said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, director of the Combined Press Information Center in Iraq.

"But from what we are hearing in the media, there has been a lot of speculation and people speaking factually when they don't know the facts," Boylan said.

Patricia McCook and Jackie Butler said their husbands are fearful of speaking with reporters while the investigation is under way because their phone calls or e-mails might be monitored.

"I know how the military can cover things up," said Patricia McCook, a former Army reservist. "They are trying to say our husbands and the others were never arrested or detained. That's a lie. But this is something we are not going to let them sweep under the rug."