6 Court-Martialed for Scrounging
COLUMBUS, Ohio – At a time when some U.S. troops in Iraq are
complaining they have to scrounge for equipment, six 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.
NewsMax.com Wires; Dec. 13, 2004
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."
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. And on Wednesday, U.S. soldiers
complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Kuwait that they
have to scrounge in landfills for scrap metal and discarded
bullet-resistant glass to provide armor for their vehicles.
The reservists in the 656th Transportation Company had to move
their equipment along with the fuel and likely did not have enough
vehicles to do so in one trip, their former battalion commander, Lt.
Col. Christopher Wicker, said in a telephone interview Sunday.
"That would have required multiple trips back. They do not have
many cargo trucks. They are fuel haulers," he told The Associated Press.
But once the reservists were done with the assignment, they
should have sought out the units the vehicles belonged to, he said.
"Instead of taking the trucks back to their rightful owners, the
first thing was erasing the identity marks and dumping them off at
bases," Wicker said. "They destroyed it. They did the enemy's job. ...
Those trucks could be used for other units."
Wicker ordered the investigation of the thefts, which occurred
before he assumed the battalion post.
"Taking the trucks in my mind was not the worst thing they did,"
Wicker said from Fort Hood, Texas, where he is now with the Army's 13th
Corps Support Command.
The 656th's former company commander, Maj. Cathy Kaus, told the
Chicago Tribune in Sunday's editions that although she knew the
equipment had been stolen, she could not determine its owners. The
Tribune said the vehicles were never reported stolen, according to
Kaus is serving a six-month sentence. She and Birt have applied
for clemency, which could restore their military benefits and change
their dishonorable discharges. Birt said Sunday that his clemency had
been denied and he is appealing.
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