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Commander reassigned after unit refused duty

The commander of a U.S. Army Reserve unit whose soldiers refused to deliver fuel along a dangerous route has been relieved of duty, the American military said on Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The company commander of a U.S. Army Reserve unit whose soldiers refused to deliver fuel along a dangerous route in Iraq has been relieved of her duties, the U.S. military said Thursday.

The decision to relieve the commander of the 343rd Quartermaster Company 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 to protect her privacy, will be reassigned to another position commensurate with her rank and experience, the U.S. military said.

Concerns over protection
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.

Investigation under way
Chambers said on Sunday that an investigation is under way 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 platoon has troops from Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina.