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Reservists Who Refused Orders Had Raised Concerns Earlier

By Neela Banerjee and John Kifner

The New York Times -- JACKSON, Miss.

Members of the Army Reserve platoon in Iraq that disobeyed orders to deliver fuel to another base last week had tried to persuade their superiors for hours against the mission, relatives of the soldiers said Monday.

The fact that defying an order had become an option for 18 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company seemed to signal a worsening of the low morale that had plagued the unit.

The 13th Corps Support Command, to which the 343rd belongs, and its commander, Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, have been singled out for repeated criticism on the Web site and column of David H. Hackworth, a retired Army colonel and decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam. The Web site, www.hackworth.com, serves as a channel for complaints against military leadership, and Hackworth calls himself “the voice of the grunt.”

Morale in the command “is lower than clam dung,” Hackworth wrote on Sept. 13.

The soldiers who refused their mission had complained to relatives in months past about the poor quality of their trucks and equipment, though they never indicated they would do anything other than pursue changes through the chain of command, the relatives said.

But Kathy Harris said she received an e-mail message from her son, Spc. Aaron Gordon, in which he asked about possible repercussions of disobeying orders. According to the time on the e-mail message, Harris said it was probably sent between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Oct. 13, Iraq time.

The platoon had returned from a fuel-delivery mission that lasted four to five days, according to accounts of relatives who spoke to the soldiers. The cargo of jet fuel was rejected because it was contaminated with diesel, relatives said. The military has denied that the fuel was unusable.

Some of the trucks, which were due for repairs, broke down on the journey, said Stephanie Parks, the fiancee of Johnny Coates, father of Spc. Major Coates of Charlotte, N.C., a member of the platoon.