Eighteen soldiers of the 343rd Quartermaster Company based in Rock Hill, S.C. allegedly refused an order to deliver fuel in Iraq, but U.S. Army officials tells NBC News that investigators are focusing on just five individuals — three non-commissioned officers and two enlisted soldiers. Investigators will be looking into a possible breakdown in discipline or command leadership.
Keeping supplies rolling has been critical in Iraq — every day, the Army sends out some 3,000 trucks and 7,000 soldiers — 90 percent from the Reserves or National Guard — sometimes driving through ambushes, roadside and suicide bombs.
"It's not a question of if, but when they will be attacked," says Brig. Gen. James Chambers of the 13th Corps Support Command.
From Kuwait to Turkey, 250 truck convoys a day carry 110,000 bottles of water, more than 200,000 meals, and more than one million gallons of fuel.
Front line commander Col. Dave Abrams calls his truckers an inspiration.
"They are on the road every single day and have put more miles on their trucks than anyone else," says Col. Abrams.
The latest incident may be an isolated case, but it highlights what soldiers call increasingly difficult conditions: trucks in disrepair, without steel plating to protect against bombs, or without proper escorts.
The Army claims that maintenance and protective armor issues are being fixed, and that all convoys have armed escorts.
If found guilty, the soldiers could face demotion, discharge, or even prison, although in this case, the Army may exercise discretion.
"If it turns out that the safety concerns were well founded, a commander would want to take that into account," says Brig. Gen. Chambers.
Army officials say it's likely the unit's company commander will face suspension. For now, the reservists are back with their unit as the U.S. mission's lifeline grinds out another dangerous day.