TERENCE SMITH: Last week, a U.S. military unit in Iraq reportedly refused an order to join what the soldiers called a "suicide mission" to deliver fuel from their base near Nasiriyah to another base near Taji further north. The soldiers were reservists in a Quartermaster Company. The army says it is reviewing the case. For more now we go to the reporter who broke the story, Jeremy Hudson of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
Jeremy Hudson, welcome. Tell us what you learned about this incident and where it stands now, as you understand it.
JEREMY HUDSON: Where it stands now it's initially five of the reservists have been reassigned to different units from... away from the 343rd because of the refusal. We initially learned of this through the wife of one of the reservists, Sgt. Larry McCook. His wife, Patricia McCook, basically went to us sort of as a plea for help, just as a way to get the word out that this had happened to her husband, and she wanted basically everyone to know, and we were there to address it events leading up to this point
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, back up a little and tell us what happened, what the convoy was supposed to be, and what happened.
JEREMY HUDSON: Sure. The convoy was supposed to leave Wednesday about 9:30 a.m. They were supposed to deliver fuel. And they had had some concerns previously about delivering the fuel because of, as they termed it, ill-equipped vehicles mainly lacking the proper armor, and even maintenance problems with the vehicles. They had expressed this, from what I have been told, to their commanders, and basically it fell on deaf ears.
TERENCE SMITH: And so, when it came time to do it, what did they do?
JEREMY HUDSON: Well, they got together and talked to their commanders, from what I'm told was for sometime, and basically got nowhere. So they decided together to not go. And once that occurred, they were told to... and there is some question about whether they were actually detained, or what exactly happened there.
Relatives have said that their soldiers were in fact detained; the military has denied that they were detained. In either case, statements were taken from the reservists, and from there they were able to determine the reassignments and five of the reservists were reassigned because of, as one relative told us, they were labeled as the instigators of the refusal.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, that's five out of a group of eighteen. And did they actually refuse a direct order to conduct this convoy?
JEREMY HUDSON: From what I've been told, yes, they did. They were told to report at, I believe, 7:00 a.m. Wednesday to prepare for a 9:30 convoy. From what I've been told, none showed up. And the investigation really began from there.
TERENCE SMITH: And after they either were or were not detained, they contacted their families. Were they directly seeking help, legal or otherwise, for their situation?
JEREMY HUDSON: I think so. From what I've been told, what happened was a soldier or reservist from another unit heard of what happened, went to the area where these reservists from were being held, gathered telephone numbers and names, contact names of the soldiers, and was able to go by and individually let the family members know what was going on. And in turn, some of that information was relayed to us, and it has sort of gone from there.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell us who these reservists are, and whether they had been complaining in the past about their service in Iraq, or not.
JEREMY HUDSON: I've heard some relatives say that they had complained about some things in the past, but I really have no firsthand knowledge of that, I'm not certain. But two of the folks from Jackson, from our area, one works in the Jackson public school system as a carpenter during his civilian life, and the other-- and that's Sgt. Butler. The other gentleman is Sgt. McCook. He works as a jailer at our county jail here. And I'm not certain about how long either has been employed, but Sgt. Butler has been a member of the reserves for, I believe the number is 24 years.
TERENCE SMITH: And the army says that there are two investigations, in fact, going on into this right now. What are you hearing through the families as to how those investigations are going, and what they may or may not know about what is going to happen to them?
JEREMY HUDSON: At this point the scary thing is for the families is they don't know what's going to happen to them. We've heard everything from general discharge to criminal charges. The army... and I think it's way too early to speculate on any of those things right now, but... and that's what the military is actually saying, is that it's way too early to speculate. But the families are obviously very concerned about what's going to happen to their soldier. And there's really... only time will tell as the investigation bears out the facts.
TERENCE SMITH: And I understand that the local congressman, Benny Thompson, has asked for a congressional inquiry into this. Was he also contacted by the families?
JEREMY HUDSON: Yes, he was. Patricia McCook, Sgt. McCook's wife, sought out help from Congressman Thompson, and he in fact... I believe the day of their contact, he contacted or filed a congressional inquiry into this. And he is expecting a report today from... it's going to be the first written report from the investigation.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, from what you hear from the army, are they doing anything to further protect, armor or otherwise improve the vehicles and equipment that they're using there in Iraq?
JEREMY HUDSON: That's exactly what I've heard from some of the family members. They've told me at least even if their soldier gets some sort of discipline from this, they're hoping that other lives are going to be saved because they've heard accounts of some of the vehicles being equipped or fitted with the armor that they feel they should have been fitted with initially.
TERENCE SMITH: And I gather that these units, they have been under fire in previous convoys so they know what the dangers are.
JEREMY HUDSON: Yes, sir. Some of the... one gentleman from Alabama told us that prior to this refusal, or this apparent refusal, the convoy with the same folks had come under fire during a previous five-day convoy that immediately led up to this. And I'm certain that played some role in the decision.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Jeremy Hudson, thank you very much for bringing us up to date. We'll obviously have to stay tuned.
JEREMY HUDSON: Thanks for having me.