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‘Not us. We’re not going.’

Soldiers refuse orders in Iraq

Published Jan 6, 2008 10:01 PM

“Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous conditions [exist] among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by ... the collapse of the czarist armies in 1916 and 1917.”

—Armed Forces Journal, June 1971

One of the most underreported stories from the Vietnam War is the role played by the disintegration of military discipline as the war dragged on. While the situation in Iraq has not reached the same point yet, revolutionaries understand that the fact that the bosses are forced to rely on workers in uniform to wage their wars raises the possibility that the troops will say, “No.”

On July 18 last year, members of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, held a meeting and decided collectively that they would refuse to obey an order to go out on patrol in the Adhamiya region of Iraq. They determined, after an IED (improvised explosive device) attack had killed five more members of Charlie Company, that they could “no longer function professionally.”

A recent four-part series in the Army Times tells Charlie Company’s story, which is the basis for this article’s report on the mutiny. The series, without openly questioning the U.S. role as occupier of Iraq, idealizes the strong friendships among the U.S. troops and their willingness to make sacrifices for their buddies.

For revolutionaries reading the Army Times series, it should be obvious that Washington has placed these U.S. troops in an impossible situation: they must carry out an occupation of a hostile country whose population is highly motivated, well-armed and capable of fighting back and winning, just as in Vietnam.

Charlie Company’s verbal response to losing their buddies was that they wanted to massacre Iraqis. Their physical response, however, was to break military discipline, refusing orders to go out on patrol.

Charlie Company hit hard

Charlie Company had been in Iraq for almost a year and during that time had been one of the hardest hit U.S. units in Iraq, losing 14 troops out of approximately 140.

During the day, Charlie Company patrolled constantly. Each soldier went out three or four times a day, with a one-and-a-half-hour break between patrols. They patrolled in full body armor in the 110-degree heat, but could only shower every two or three days. At night, they slept 25 to a room in a run-down and sour-smelling basement.

Sgt. Shawn Ladue, 27, said of their quarters: “I thought it was a dump. Every time it’d rain, we’d get that stagnant-ass water in the basement.”

Spc. Gerry DeNardi and Sgt. Ryan Wood wrote a song titled “Adhamiya Blues.” One line from the song says: “War, it degrades the heart and poisons the mind. And we’re tossed aside by governments’ lies.”

DeNardi joined the Army believing, “I don’t think you can say you’re an American or you’re a patriot without serving.”

But a year of bloodshed changed his mind. After living through daily explosions for 11 months, he said: “I’ve seen enough. I’ve done enough.”

Two weeks before his platoon refused orders, the 20-year-old DeNardi lost five friends, killed together as they rode in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over an IED.

Meanwhile, their tour was extended from 12 months to 15 months. They had been scheduled to go home June 20.

Just prior to the mutiny, First Sergeant McKinney, a well-loved NCO in Charlie Company, was on patrol with his soldiers, when the stress became too much for him. McKinney said, “I can’t take it anymore.” He took his M4, put it under his chin, and he killed himself in front of his men.

The following week, soldiers from Alpha Company, also of the 1st Battalion, were hit by an IED and lost four men.

Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay, 38, 2nd Platoon’s platoon sergeant, said: “I knew after losing those five guys, my platoon had to get out of there. These were the guys they slept with, joked with, worked out with. I don’t think they’d be able to accomplish the mission.”

The battalion gave 2nd Platoon the day to recover. Then they were scheduled to go back out on patrol in Adhamiya on July 18.

But when Capt. Cecil Strickland, Charlie Company’s commander, returned from a mission on June 18, he learned 2nd Platoon had refused his orders.

“They’re not coming,” Strickland said he was told. “So I called the platoon sergeant and talked to him. ‘Remind your guys: These are some of the things that could happen if they refuse to go out.’ I was irritated they were thumbing their noses. I was determined to get them down there.”

Di Nardi said, “We said, ‘No. If you make us go there, we’re going to light up everything. There’s a thousand platoons. Not us. We’re not going.’”

He was not aware that 2nd Platoon had met and determined that they could no longer function and that members of the platoon were afraid that their anger and stress would result in a massacre. They decided as a platoon that they were done; they would refuse the order to go on patrol, despite the knowledge that mutiny can result in court-martial, imprisonment and even execution.

But no court-martial ever came. “Captain Strickland read us our rights,” DeNardi said. “We had 15 yes-or-no questions, and no matter how you answered them, it looked like you disobeyed an order. No one asked what happened. And there’s no record—no article 15. Nothing to show it happened.”

Instead, battalion leaders began breaking up the platoon. Their only punishment was that members of the platoon were flagged, meaning that they could not receive promotions or awards.

As the brutal occupation of Iraq continues, with politicians from both corporate parties committed to Wall Street’s agenda of domination of the oil-rich Middle East, mutinies, refusals, and other acts of resistance in the ranks will continue.

It is the task of all revolutionaries and progressives, and the antiwar movement as a whole, to be visibly supportive of resistance in the ranks, to continue reaching out to the working class in uniform. In addition, it is to provide the political explanation that shows how the U.S. ruling class—and not the Iraqi resistance—is the real enemy of the working-class U.S. troops.

Many organizations are committed to reaching the troops. In response to plans to call up thousands of National Guard in New Jersey, Military Families Speak Out is distributing literature at National Guard armories where soldiers have orders to deploy to Iraq. The Military Project (www.militaryproject.org) organizes regular outreach to military bases and publishes GI Special, a newsletter focusing on GI resistance and the occupation.