BAGHDAD, Iraq – The company commander of a U.S. Army Reserve unit whose soldiers refused to deliver fuel along a dangerous route in Iraq (search) has been relieved of her duties, the U.S. military said Thursday.
The decision to relieve the commander of the 343rd Quartermaster Company (search) came at her request and is effective immediately, according to a statement from the 13th Corps Support Command. It was authorized by Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers.
"The outgoing commander is not suspected of misconduct and this move has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of anyone involved," the statement said.
The commander, whose name is being withheld by the military to protect her privacy, will be reassigned to another position commensurate with her rank and experience, the U.S. military said.
Eighteen soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rock Hill, S.C., are under investigation for refusing to drive a fuel convoy from Tallil air base near Nasiriyah to Taji north of Baghdad.
The mission was later carried out by other soldiers from the unit, which has at least 120 soldiers, the military said.
The soldiers have told their families that they balked at the mission last week because the vehicles were unarmored and in poor condition. They said complaints to their commander about concerns went unheeded.
Military convoys are often the target of insurgent attacks in Iraq. The unit delivers food, water and fuel on trucks in combat zones.
Chambers said on Sunday that an investigation is underway but maintains that it is "too early" to determine if any of the soldiers will undergo disciplinary action. The soldiers have since returned to duty.
The U.S. military has downplayed the incident, calling it an isolated incident not indicative of wider U.S. Army morale or maintenance problems.
However, Chambers has called for the 343rd to undergo a two-week "safety maintenance stand-down," during which it will conduct no further missions as the unit's vehicles are inspected. Chambers also said the Army is adding steel armor plating on unarmed vehicles and upgrading maintenance.
The father of one of the soldiers involved said the reservists refused to carry out the operation only after another military outpost rejected the fuel they were to deliver.
The soldiers had just returned from a 3 1/2-day journey to deliver the fuel to a city north of Baghdad, but military officials there found that the supplies were contaminated, said John Coates, who said he spoke to his son Thursday.
When the soldiers returned to their base with the fuel still in the tankers, their commander ordered the platoon to prepare for another transport mission, this time to a hotspot of guerrilla activity, Coates said.
"I guess he wanted somebody to take it," said Coates, whose son is 26-year-old Spc. Major Coates.
Families of several of the soldiers have said the men would not have taken such drastic action without compelling reasons.
Another member of the unit, Spc. Reeves Williams, 19, of Maiden, N.C., told his mother, Genia White, that he helped carry out the delivery with eight other soldiers after initially refusing to do so.
"My son has strong convictions," White told the Hickory Daily Record for a story in Wednesday's editions. "For him to say no, there is something definitely, definitely wrong."