Guardsmen Accused of Taking California Wildfire Donations

A military police company from the California National Guard has been sequestered pending an investigation into whether troops took donations intended for Southern California wildfire victims, Guard officials said.

Some soldiers who were offered a shower and a snack by volunteers ended up taking away cartons of snacks and diapers, according to an official close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record.

Thirty-six soldiers from the 330th Military Police Company were being bused from the National City Armory near San Diego to their home base in Ontario, east of Los Angeles. National Guard officials said they were expected to be released Monday night.

One Guardsman had already been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation. Guard officials said they had not decided whether to seek any punishment.

The Guard launched the investigation last week after volunteers called the San Diego County Sheriff's Department to report Guardsmen taking supplies intended for displaced fire victims near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Jon Siepmann confirmed that the Guard was investigating complaints that soldiers "were in possession of relief supplies beyond those they were authorized to use as part of their mission."

All the supplies have been identified and returned to the relief agency, Siepmann said in a statement.

"The California National Guard takes all allegations of improper conduct seriously and will take action, to include disciplinary measures, against any soldiers who may have acted inappropriately," Siepmann said.

The unit had been providing security in Potrero, about 40 miles east of San Diego.

The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the troops had been sleeping in tents near a fire station being used by the American Red Cross, and that volunteers at the fire station thought some of the soldiers took more than an acceptable amount of supplies.

Peyton Roberts, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said no one from her organization reported contacting the sheriff's office. The relief effort at the fire station was coordinated by a local group, she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deployed 1,500 members of the California National Guard on Oct. 21. In all, 2,500 Guardsmen assisted in disaster relief.