Camp Shelby soldiers refuse training orders

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 22, 2004

Three soldiers of the Army National Guard’s 155th InfantryBattalion, training at Camp Shelby, were detained and theleadership of their platoon dispersed among other platoons in thebattalion following an Oct. 6 incident in which noncommissionedofficers of the platoon refused to conduct training, soldierssay.

Two NCOs and a private first class of a scout platoon, based inNatchez, were detained overnight for their alleged roles in whatseveral members of the platoon say was a protest of trainingconditions at Camp Shelby.

The platoon’s noncommissioned officers rebelled with the supportof the enlisted men and demanded a meeting with the battalioncommander about their grievances, said fellow soldiers from theplatoon.

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The soldiers spoke to The DAILY LEADER on condition ofanonymity, fearing reprisal from the military command. All of thesoldiers involved in the incident had been warned not to discuss itwith the media.

Maj. Greg Michel, executive officer of the 155th, on Wednesdayacknowledged the incident but did not give specific details.

“The NCOs of that platoon disobeyed a direct order from anofficer – their platoon leader – to conduct training,” Michel said.”It was a lawful order. There’s no excuse for that. Ever.”

Col. Leon Collins, brigade commander of the 155th Brigade CombatTeam, also confirmed the incident without going into specifics,citing an ongoing investigation by the 155th Infantry Battalioncommander, Lt. Col. John Rhodes.

“It would be premature for me to say anything at all about thatsituation,” Collins said. “It’s also a privacy issue for thesoldiers. I don’t want to give any information out on them thatmight embarrass them later.”

Collins did, however, confirm that three soldiers were detainedfollowing the incident and that they have returned to the battalionto continue their training. He did not say if they had returned totheir platoon or were reassigned.

Michel on Wednesday told The DAILY LEADER that the NCOs stillhad not rejoined their platoon.

“The NCOs were separated pending the results of theinvestigation,” Michel said. Following the probe, “a decision willbe made whether or not to return those individuals to thatplatoon.”

Regarding the detention of the three soldiers, Collins said thatwas the battalion commander’s call.

“They were detained because the battalion commander felt thatthe situation warranted it,” he said. “Once the situation wascontained, they were brought back to the post.”

Although Collins and other military officials would not disclosewhere the soldiers were detained, Forrest County Deputy MitchellSmith, told The DAILY LEADER the three were confined overnight atthe Forrest County Jail.

The three soldiers were brought in by the Army on the morning ofOct. 6 and housed overnight, said Smith, who is a jailer at thefacility. Jail records did not indicate what they were chargedwith, citing only that they were there by court order, he said.

Several soldiers who spoke with The DAILY LEADER said some ofthe NCOs have been told they will be prosecuted under the UniformCode of Military Justice, or military law, but they were not awareof the charges.

Collins would not say if any of the platoon had been chargedwith a crime but indicated later there were charges, saying “thepreliminary actions are already under way, so we expect a judgmentsoon.”

According to soldiers of the scout platoon, the Army has failedto understand the motivation behind the soldiers’ refusal to followorders after they were not given a hot meal that they say they hadbeen promised.

“It wasn’t about the hot chow,” one of the soldiers said. “Thatwas just the final straw in a continuing chain of circumstances.They just decided then that enough was enough.”

Pay problems, rank and promotion issues and other matters wereamong the many frustrations faced by members of the platoon, asoldier said. And when the platoon returned from nearly a week inthe field to receive their expected hot meal, it was denied, thesoldier said.

The noncommissioned officers, soldiers said, were simplystanding up for their troops. They told their immediate superiorsthat the chain of command had broken down and demanded to see thebattalion commander to voice their concerns.

When they were ordered to continue their training, the soldierssaid, the platoon refused until they were promised their demandswould be met.

“The methodology was wrong, but the intent was correct,” asoldier said. “Was it a mutiny? No. There were grievances they weretrying to reconcile.”

The same soldier admitted he stood with the platoon’s NCOsdespite believing their approach was wrong.

“Initially, all but one (enlisted man) stood behind the NCOs,”he said. “But when (command) issued the ultimatum, two otherscrossed over. I stood behind them even though I didn’t agree withthe way they were going about it.”

He stayed, he said, because the grievances were real and thosewere the men he would be standing next to in combat when the unitis deployed to Iraq in coming months.

“I couldn’t betray them,” he said. “If I betrayed them now, whatwould they think I would do in a combat situation with our lives onthe line?”

There are approximately 27 soldiers in the scout platoon.

Another soldier gave a similar description of events.

“The chain of command had completely broken down,” the secondsoldier said. “We wanted someone from command to hear ourcomplaints. Once we were assured that would happen, we went on withour training.”

His reasons for supporting the NCOs were the same as others inthe platoon, he said, and he thought the matter was resolvedthen.

“Everything went back to normal, but later that afternoon thesergeant major called us to formation and then called the NCOs outby name for reassignment.”

All but two of the platoon’s NCOs were reassigned to otherplatoons, he said. The platoon leader, a lieutenant, was alsoreassigned despite not participating in the protest, he said. Thesoldier said the lieutenant was reassigned for allowing thesituation to develop.

Afterwards, he said, the sergeant major made every soldier inthe platoon write a sworn statement of the incident.

“Even if the methodology may not have been right,” he said, “Idon’t think you should blame NCOs who are standing up for theirtroops. Isn’t that what they want them to do?”

In the meantime, the soldiers said, the Army has assigned to thescout platoon NCOs with no experience in scouting operations.

“They’re bringing in fillers, NCOs from other units, but they’renot MOS qualified,” a soldier said. MOS, or Military OccupationalSpecialty, numbers are used to denote a soldier’s chosen orassigned job in a military branch of service.

Despite that, they said, “it’s training as usual to adegree.”

But Michel, the executive officer of the 155th, countered theclaims that the NCOs brought in to fill the vacant positions werenot MOS qualified.

The fill-ins were qualified as NCOs, he said, adding that thenew platoon sergeant was scout trained and two others were trainedfor the type of mission the platoon would be conducting in Iraq,which will differ somewhat from what is typically considered ascout mission.

The soldiers who spoke to The DAILY LEADER said the enlisted menwere not held officially accountable for the incident.

“There hasn’t been any repercussions so far, but we’ve beenblacklisted,” a soldier said.

Soldiers in the platoon have been subjected to stares from othersoldiers training at Camp Shelby, some who spoke to The DAILYLEADER said. They said they believe the incident will continue tofollow them during their careers.