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Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk


Home of the Barking Moonbat


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

How the Radical Right Honors Our Soldiers

Their true values --- what they are about:

Decorated Army officer accused of thefts seeks clemency
First the Army gave Chief Warrant Officer Darrell E. Birt a medal.

Then they handed the former Hempfield Township man six months behind bars.

Birt said the Bronze Star and prison sentence he received while serving in Iraq were his reward -- and punishment -- for plugging holes in a faulty supply network that even the military has painted as flawed.

"The supply system was broke," Birt said. "From the time we left Kuwait until the time we got into Iraq, it took two months to get the computer codes loaded for supply. So for two months, we couldn't get new supplies."

Short of vehicles and spare parts critical to his unit's ability to haul fuel to infantrymen and helicopter pilots, Birt said he and other high-ranking soldiers agreed to procure the needed equipment improperly.

They took tractor-trailers that belonged to other units, and they scavenged repair parts off abandoned vehicles.

Birt's Bronze Star citation commends the officer for demonstrating "initiative and courage" during the first four months of the war. His actions, according to the citation, "proved vital to successful combat operations in Iraq."

But the medal was authorized before a sergeant in Birt's unit reported the thefts, initiating an investigation that ended with the Army filing criminal charges against Birt and five others, including his company commander, Maj. Catherine Kaus.

Birt's 23-year military career was about to end: If found guilty, he said, he faced 80 years in prison.

Birt, 45, joined the U.S. Marines in 1978, a year after graduating from Hempfield Area High School. He served 12 years on active duty before leaving the Corps in 1990 to spend more time with his wife, Janet, also a Hempfield Area grad, and their son, Jacob, then 9 months old.

Birt enlisted in the Army Reserve before moving to Springfield, Ohio, with his wife and child. He took a civilian mechanic's job and was reassigned to the 656th Transportation Company, a fuel-support reserve unit based in Springfield.

Birt was called to war in January 2003, when he and the 656th were ordered to prepare to deploy to Iraq. Just two months later, the unit was at Camp New York, in Kuwait, awaiting the go-ahead to haul its initial load of 300,000 gallons of fuel to Tikrit, Iraq.

The 656th was eager to proceed, Birt said, but supply problems were immediately evident: For starters, he said, the unit was missing eight ring mounts needed to attach machine guns and grenade launchers to 10 of its 70 vehicles.

Then, just days before they were to make the "jump" into Iraq, higher-ups told the soldiers they would have to go without most of their tools, spare parts, machine guns, chemical protective gear, night-vision goggles, tents, computers and personal belongings.

The reason: None of the vehicles belonging to the unit were capable of towing shipping containers that held their gear.

"So you have a dilemma," Birt said, during a recent visit with his parents and in-laws in Hempfield Township.

"You have to make a choice," he said. "You either go forward without your stuff and not be able to support yourself, or you refuse to go until you get support. The third is to find something to move your stuff."

Birt said equipment the reservists needed was readily available at the camp. Trucks belonging to active duty units that had already pushed into Iraq sat idle, but the 656th lacked authorization to use them.

With the unit poised to move into Iraq, Birt said, he and the others took possession of four unclaimed vehicles and loaded them with their gear.

Birt said he wasn't entirely comfortable with his actions, but with orders in hand to enter the fight, he felt he had no other choice.

"I don't know how else we would have moved all those night-vision goggles and crew-served weapons," Birt said, referring to the machine guns. "It all belonged to the Army. As far as borrowing, we didn't like it, but we figured when we were done we would bring it back and drop it off."

The Army, in paperwork supporting criminal charges of conspiracy, larceny and destruction and abandonment of government property, laid out a far more incriminating scenario.

According to a stipulation-of-fact document introduced at Birt's court-martial, Birt admitted to conspiring with Kaus and other high-ranking members of his unit to acquire trucks and equipment by any means.

When another warrant officer told Kaus he knew where to obtain vehicles, Kaus, according to the document, allegedly replied, "Do what you've got to do to make it happen. I don't want to know about it."

According to the document, Birt took Kaus' comment "to mean that if he or anyone else at this meeting had to steal a vehicle/transportation to facilitate the move, then he should do it."

Kaus, who was court-martialed and sentenced to six to nine months in prison and dismissal from the Army, could not be reached for comment.

In all, according to a criminal charge sheet, Birt and the others stole two tractors, two trailers, a five-ton truck and a parts van. The soldiers kept some of the vehicles for nearly a year, despite repeated admonitions from a "nervous" Kaus to "get rid of these vehicles/equipment."

Most of the vehicles eventually were abandoned at military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. On some, bumper numbers used to identify the units owning the vehicles had been sanded off and repainted.

The frame of another -- stripped bare for its parts -- was buried.

Birt doesn't deny any wrongdoing.

"I did what they said," he said. "I'm not denying that. "But it wasn't for me to have my own truck. It was not for personal gain.

"It was to put us in the fight, to complete the mission at all costs."

On the advice of his military attorney, Capt. John A. Heath, Birt said he pleaded guilty to the charges. In exchange, he said, the maximum amount of time he faced in jail was reduced to 16 months.

"I didn't want to," Birt said. "But (the attorney) insinuated that they had a lot of evidence on me, and that they would convict me. At that point, it was damage control. It was, how best can I support my family?"

Birt said he also felt he stood little chance of proving his innocence at trial, because many of the soldiers he believed would testify on his behalf had been returned stateside.

Birt was sentenced to six months of confinement and forfeiture of all pay and allowances, including retirement benefits. He also was dismissed from the service.

When asked for comment on the case from the Army, Maj. Richard W. Spiegel, a public affairs officer, said he could speak only on behalf of the 13th Corps Support Command, a combat-support unit in Balad, Iraq. He pointed out that Birt entered a guilty plea at his court-martial and signed a document acknowledging he violated several provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Army released Birt from a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., on Oct. 17. He had served portions of his sentence in Kuwait and in Mannheim, Germany, and was released one month early for good behavior.

His time served, he now is awaiting word from the Army on a request for clemency.

Birt said he feels clemency is warranted because his actions were a direct result of the Army's faulty supply channels. He helped to take the trucks, he said, only because he wanted to ensure that everyone in his unit had the weapons and tools they needed to survive.

A 500-page study of the war commissioned by the Army, "On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom," lends credence to Birt's assertions. The report, on several occasions, notes delays in delivery of equipment to soldiers in the field.

"More than enough parts reached the theater and were duly processed, but almost none reached the intended customers during the fighting," the report states. "Forward, the troops made do by cannibalizing broken-down equipment and towing what they could not repair."

If his clemency request is granted, Birt said, his career still will be over, but his retirement benefits will be reinstated.

If not, he said, "They won't bury me. I won't get a flag. I won't get VA benefits."

But the veterans benefits, Janet Birt said, aren't her husband's greatest loss.

"It's a shame, all the years he was in the service," she said. "That's the worst part. He gave up his life for the service."


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