The Soldiers Who Said No

A pair of Mississippi women challenge the army brass on behalf of their soldier-husbands in Iraq

"What they wanted was bulletproof armor for the trucks," said Pat McCook. "At least it gives them a fighting chance."

McCook and Butler weren't the only ones sending up alarms about the incarceration of the platoon members. Relatives of other soldiers in the 343rd also called the media. Some offered a different explanation for the platoon's refusal to take the convoy to Taji. Rick Shealey of Quinton, Alabama, said his son Scott, 29, told him by phone that the fuel the platoon was ordered to deliver to Taji had been contaminated by diesel fuel and had been rejected as unusable when they had tried to deliver it to another army location.

"They had just got back from that trip when they got woken at 4 a.m. and told to take it to Taji," Shealey said. "The soldiers sat there for three hours arguing with the commander, saying it didn't make sense. They were saying, 'Now what if that bad fuel got into a helicopter?' " said Shealey. "I asked my son, 'Wasn't you all tired?' He said, 'Daddy, we do that every day. Tiredness doesn't matter. We are used to it. The point was that the fuel was contaminated. That's the whole reason.' "

Iraqi pipeline: Patricia McCook (left) and Jackie Butler on the home front
photo: Jaro Vacek
Iraqi pipeline: Patricia McCook (left) and Jackie Butler on the home front

Jackie Butler and Pat McCook said that their husbands never raised the fuel issue in their initial conversations, and since then, both women say, their husbands have been guarded in their conversations with them about the incident. "We try not to talk about stuff like that over the phone now," said Butler.

Whatever the army's reasons—either the mini-maelstrom kicked up by the media, or its own second thoughts—the platoon members were freed after being held for about a day, according to relatives. Five members of the platoon, however, including Butler, McCook, and Shealey, were sent to other units. "They saw them as the ringleaders," said Jackie Butler. Pat McCook said her husband told her he is back driving a fuel truck again, this time one in good condition and equipped with armor. "He said it's like going from driving a Yugo to driving a Cadillac," she said.

The army has sent other signals that it recognized that the soldiers had legitimate gripes. Last week, the military confirmed that the commander of the 343rd had been relieved of her duties. Although the army refused to name her, The Clarion-Ledger reported that it was Captain Nancy Daniels, the commander whom sergeants McCook and Butler had complained about. There have also been reports that the army will seek to have the leaders of the revolt released under a general discharge rather than bring courts-martial against them.

"What I would like is to have the army admit that this is why these soldiers did this—to save lives of other soldiers," said Jackie Butler. "They should fix the problem, finish the mission, and get our husbands home—"

"Alive and whole," interjected Pat McCook, beside her on the couch.

"The same way they left," added Butler.

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