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Thursday, April 24

Texas lawmaker calls for probe of attack on convoy

By Diana Washington Valdez | El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas - It may take congressional hearings to determine what happened during the deadly attack on March 23 in which nine members of the 507th Maintenance Company were killed, six were taken prisoner and four were wounded in southern Iraq, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes said Thursday.

Reyes, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he plans to follow up on the military's investigation into the ambush four days after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The 507th of Fort Bliss was traveling with a supply convoy when they encountered Fedayeen fighters.

``I think we're going to have some hearings on lessons learned from the war in Iraq,'' Reyes said. ``We have some questions to answer. For example, did we overestimate our abilities and underestimate the Iraqis, in that we expected them to give up and surrender in massive numbers? Did we not take into account that they would attack our supply lines?'' At the Pentagon, officials said the events that took place near Nasiriyah will be investigated in detail.

``The investigation into the ambush will be thorough and take all information into account,'' said Lt. Daniel D. Hetlage, spokesman for the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. ``It will therefore be some time before (it) is complete.''

Military officials have not given an official accounting of what happened when the 507th came under attack. But some of the released prisoners of war have told reporters that the attack ``wasn't a little ambush'' and that the firefight was fierce.

Officials at first said the 507th had taken a wrong turn and were ambushed.

Later, Reyes said the 507th had fallen behind after fixing stalled vehicles and were catching up to a huge convoy heading north to Baghdad when they were attacked.

The ambush made international news when five members of the 507th were shown on Arab television. Several bodies also were shown. Immediately after the ambush, an investigation was launched by the Department of Defense to determine if some of the soldiers had been executed.

Those killed were Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, 22, of Roswell, Ga.; Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.; Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland; Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso; Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Comfort, Texas; Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, Tuba City, Ariz.; Pvt. Brandon Ulysses Sloan, 19, of Bedford, Ohio; Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of Pecos, Texas and Sgt. Donald Ralph Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.

Six members of the 507th were taken prisoner. Five were held captive for 21 days before being released on April 13 near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit. The sixth, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was rescued April 1.

The soldiers captured were Spc. Shoshana N. Johnson, 30, of El Paso; Spc. Edgar A. Hernandez, 21, of Alton, Texas; Pfc. Patrick W. Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; Sgt. James J. Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.; Spc. Joseph N. Hudson of Alamogordo, N.M.; and Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W. Va. Lynch was held separately by the Iraqis.

Reyes said he met briefly with the five ex-POWs on Wednesday at Beaumont Army Medical Center before they were released to their families.

``I said hello, and talked to them for five to 10 minutes, and told them how this whole community had banded together behind them,'' Reyes said.

For former POW Hudson, Thursday was a day to spend with his wife and daughter in El Paso.

``I know they were having pizza in the afternoon,'' said Phyllis Hudman, the Alamogordo soldier's mother-in-law. ``Everything is going pretty well. He had some loose ends to tie up at Fort Bliss, but for the most part, he just wants some family without all the hullabaloo. I think (all the POWs) want that ... In a very short time, they went from being kids, to being prisoners of war, to being heroes.''

But the quiet won't last long. Hudson, his wife, Natalie, and daughter, Cameron, will be the grand marshals for a parade May 3 in Alamogordo to honor him and the airmen at Holloman Air Force Base who served in the war.The ex-POWs were released to their families Wednesday after completing medical checkups at the military hospital. They will report for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas once their leave is up, Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said.