Army says complaints groundless

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 22, 2004

Training conditions at Camp Shelby and administrativeshortcomings were among issues soldiers say prompted a platoon torefuse training orders earlier this month.

Army officials, however, say the platoon’s claims are eithergroundless or based on incorrect assumptions.

Two noncommissioned officers and a private first class assignedto the Army National Guard’s 155th Infantry Battalion were arrestedOct. 6 after refusing orders and demanding to meet with thebattalion commander, soldiers and military officials said.

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The platoon protest was led by its noncommissioned officers andsupported by the enlisted men, said the soldiers, who spoke to TheDAILY LEADER on condition of anonymity.

Soldiers cited training conditions, administrative problems anda breakdown in the chain of command as their reasons for refusingorders until they were promised a meeting with the battalioncommander.

“I’ve spent several years in the active military, and the onlytime I’ve been treated this way was in boot camp,” a soldiersaid.

Soldiers cited several instances of what they claimed wereinappropriate restrictions or severe conditions during trainingexercises.

For instance, a soldier said, the unit’s family readiness groupgave the soldiers a package of sporting goods to provide them withsome recreation when they were not in the field training. Unitofficers have not allowed them to throw the football, let aloneplay a game, or play basketball on the court next to theirbarracks, he said.

Michel denied the battalion has refused the soldiersrecreational opportunities but did admit there was concern oflosing soldiers from training because of frivolous injuries.

“We just want commanders to monitor that activity so we don’tlose soldiers to injuries,” he said. “Maintaining unit strength hasbeen an issue since day one. (Denying recreation to the soldiers)is certainly not the policy from the battalion. It’s possible thatgot misconstrued (by company commanders).”

But those issues are trivial, another soldier said, whencompared with the level of intensity of the training exercises andthe condition of the equipment, including weapons and vehicles,they are expected to deploy with.

“It’s changed (recently), but there have been a lot of injuriesand if you could move in the morning you were sent back in thefield for more training,” he said.

He estimated about one-third of the platoon has minor to seriousinjuries or illnesses ranging from pulled groins or backs tobronchitis, which he claims soldiers contracted from lying in themud during rain.

“They’re angry we have so many injuries, but they’re not thingswe can help,” a soldier said. “The training has been prettyintense.”

Michel said the scout platoon has not suffered disproportionateinjuries or illnesses and was highly skeptical of the soldier’sestimate that one-third of the platoon’s soldiers were injured orill.

“I would not agree with that,” he said, adding that soldiers arenot sent for training indiscriminately. “Most of the problems andinjuries we’re getting out here are not severe enough that thesoldier can’t go to the field on limited duty for limited training.He can at least observe, so he won’t lose out on that training.That’s for the benefit of the soldier.”

One soldier said he felt officers were intensifying the trainingto prepare them for deployment to Iraq and that the officersapparently did not believe the troops, as guardsmen, were properlyprepared for active duty.

“The last couple of months has been hard and stressful with thetransition from National Guard to regular Army,” he said. “Iunderstand they have to get us ready, but this is a bit much.”

Michel agreed the training was intense.

“All of the training here is intense. It’s designed to stressthe soldier and simulate, as near as possible, a combat situation.The environment they will be operating in, very soon, will be muchmore stressful than where they are now,” he said, alluding to thebrigade’s expected deployment to Iraq near the end of the year.

A soldier also claimed some of the unit’s equipment was notready for active service. He said 50 percent of the unit’s heavymachine guns and 90 percent of the M-203 grenade launchers were”deadlined,” or inoperable for service.

“On one hand we’ve got some really gee-whiz high-tech toys, buton the other hand our basic equipment needs service,” he said.

Vehicles also have been deadlined but remain in service, thesoldier said.

Michel agreed that some of the platoon’s weapons, equipment andvehicles were inoperable but denied the damages were as extensiveas the soldiers claim.

“That’s not true,” he said. “There are some crew-served weaponson work order. … They will be fully operational when wedeploy.”

Another soldier said the unit was not prepared administrativelyfor deployment and cited several incidents he said resulted frominefficiency or neglect.

Michel acknowledged there were administrative problems but saidmany of those problems were beyond the battalion’s control andresulted from complications in making the transition to activeArmy.

“There’s been some problems with pay across the board,” he said.”I have a pay problem also. It’s systemic. A lot of these problemsare beyond our realm of control. This battalion has done everythingit can to address those issues.”