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Local Guard cleared in response to attack
Driver claims he was abandoned during Iraqi insurgents' fire
Friday, September 29, 2006
RICHMOND - A Virginia National Guard unit from Martinsville and Rocky Mount came under scrutiny after a video seemed to show troops abandoning a civilian truck convoy during an attack by Iraqi insurgents, resulting in the executions of three unarmed drivers.
However, the military investigated the incident and found the military personnel responded properly. Investigators recommended awards for one soldier and one civilian in the incident.
The video, obtained by ABC News, shows a military personnel carrier racing away after insurgents open fire and disable four Halliburton trucks last September near Balad, Iraq.
"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.
Wheeler said almost 40 minutes passed before U.S. troops returned.
Military officials said Thursday that there was an immediate investigation, which found that no personnel had abandoned the convoy and they responded properly.
"They fought back bravely while waiting for reinforcements and attending to the casualties," Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
In fact, Martin-Hing said, investigators recommended that one soldier and one civilian be nominated for awards for the actions during the Sept. 20, 2005, incident.
Virginia Guard officials confirmed Thursday that its 1173rd Transportation Company was on active federal status at the time. The hometowns of the 1173rd are Martinsville and Rocky Mount, according to the Guard Web site.
Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Chester Carter III referred all questions to the Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command, home of key command centers in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Wheeler said that while the troops were absent, he crouched down in his truck and watched two truck drivers being shot at point-blank range.
"They just killed 'em. They just killed him. Oh my God," Wheeler said in the video.
Wheeler can be heard on the tape pleading for help on his radio: "Please help me ... I'm fixin' to get killed. I have no gun back here. I am by myself!"�
Those killed in the attack were Keven Dagit, 42, of Jefferson, Iowa; Sascha Grenner-Case, age unavailable, of Sierra Vista, Ariz.; and Christopher Lem, 40, of Lyndon Station, Wis., said Cathy Mann, a Halliburton spokeswoman. They were killed while delivering the mail, according to a news release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a dedication of a facility in Iraq.
The military investigation found that "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," Martin-Hing wrote.
"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," she wrote.
The troops then set up security, called for support and medical evacuations and directed the movements of other gun trucks farther back in the convoy, she said.
In a news release, KBR, Halliburton's engineering and construction subsidiary, did not address the details of the incident but said the military has "command and control" over its convoys in Iraq and is "required to provide security."�