September 29, 2006

Virginia Guard leader disputes ABC report on convoy in Iraq

Says it was wrong to report Va. unit fled as civilians were attacked

By Peter Bacque
Courtesy of Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia National Guard's commander yesterday criticized as incomplete and misleading a television report alleging Virginia National Guard soldiers abandoned a civilian convoy under attack in Iraq.

"They owe the Virginia Army National Guard an apology," Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman Jr. said of the ABC story Wednesday that included a video made by one of the civilian truck drivers.

A monthlong Army investigation of the attack, during which three civilians died, showed the Virginia soldiers reacted properly, the Army said.

"At no time did any individuals abandon the convoy," Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, an Army spokeswoman in Iraq, said in a statement.

"They fought back bravely while waiting for reinforcements and attending to the casualties," Martin-Hing said.

The Army awarded 16 military decorations to the Virginia soldiers for their response to the attack more than a year ago near Balad, Iraq, Newman said.

Those decorations included 10 for valor under fire and one Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, the state's adjutant general said.

The Virginia soldiers were from the state Guard's 1173rd Transportation Company.

"My soldiers performed bravely and with valor. The reporting provided by ABC is far from the mark," Newman said. "My guys did it right," he added. "Man, I'm proud of these guys."

ABC posted the Army's statement about the attack on its Web site yesterday, but it did not comment. A network spokesperson could not immediately be reached last night.

About 165 soldiers of the 1173rd went on federal active duty Oct. 23, 2004. They served at Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Iraq and were released from active duty in December 2005.

The unit was based in Martinsville and Rocky Mount.

A video obtained by ABC News showed a military personnel carrier racing away after insurgents opened fire and disabled four Halliburton trucks last September.

"I do not know who the driver was of that Humvee, but he abandoned us," civilian driver Preston Wheeler of Mena, Ark., who taped the footage, told ABC News.

Martin-Hing defended the Virginia Guard soldiers, saying, "The individuals at the front of the convoy reacted as they were taught by pushing forward and getting out of the kill zone of the ambush."

"What is not visible in the video being shown is that they collected the casualties they could reach and laid down suppressive fire with their weapons to help get those vehicles that could move from the front of the convoy out of the kill zone," the Army spokeswoman said.

The Virginians got the wounded civilians from their vehicles while under heavy enemy fire, from rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and hand grenades, Martin-Hing said.

Once the Virginia soldiers were out of the kill zone, she said, they set up security and called for a backup unit, air support and medevac for the wounded. They also directed the movements of other gun trucks farther back in the convoy.

The Army's convoy-leader training handbook says that in an ambush, "If possible, vehicles will proceed through contact zone, increasing speed and interval and taking caution not to bunch up."

According to an Army presentation on convoy security at the Anaconda logistics base, the bottom line for convoys is to keep moving.

KBR, Halliburton's engineering and construction subsidiary, did not provide details of the incident in a news release but said the military has control over its convoys and is required to provide security.

The original version of this story can be found at the Richmond Times-Dispatch website by clicking HERE.


Click HERE to return to the top of the page ~ Click HERE to return to the news directory