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SnakebyteXX
12-08-2004, 11:11 AM
Iraq-Bound Troops Confront Rumsfeld Over Lack of Armor

By ERIC SCHMITT

Published: December 8, 2004


CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait, Dec. 8 - In an extraordinary exchange at this remote desert camp, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld found himself on the defensive today, fielding pointed questions from Iraq-bound troops who complained that they were being sent into combat with insufficient protection and aging equipment.

Specialist Thomas Wilson, a scout with a Tennessee National Guard unit scheduled to roll into Iraq this week, said soldiers had to scrounge through local landfills here for pieces of rusty scrap metal and bulletproof glass - what they called "hillbilly armor" - to bolt on to their trucks for protection against roadside bombs in Iraq.

"Why don't we have those resources readily available to us?" Specialist Wilson asked Mr. Rumsfeld, drawing cheers and applause from many of the 2,300 troops assembled in a cavernous hangar here to meet the secretary. Mr. Rumsfeld responded that the military was producing extra armor for Humvees and trucks as fast as possible.

A few minutes later, a soldier from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Armor Cavalry Brigade asked Mr. Rumsfeld what he and the Army were doing "to address shortages and antiquated equipment" National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq were struggling with.

Mr. Rumsfeld seemed taken aback by the question and a murmur began spreading through the ranks before he silenced them. "Now settle down, settle down," he said. "Hell, I'm an old man, it's early in the morning and I'm gathering my thoughts here."

He said all organizations had equipment, materials and spare parts of different vintages, but he expressed confidence that Army leaders were assigning the newest and best equipment to the troops headed for combat who needed it most.

Nonetheless, he warned that equipment shortages would probably continue to bedevil some American forces entering combat zones like Iraq. "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Moreover, he said, adding more armor to trucks and battle equipment did not make them impervious to enemy attack. "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up," he said. "And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up."

It was difficult to gauge the scope and seriousness of the equipment problems cited by the two soldiers and by several others in interviews after Mr. Rumfeld's remarks and the question period. A senior officer in Specialist Wilson's unit, Col. John Zimmerman, said later that 95 percent of the unit's more than 300 trucks had insufficient armor.

Senior Army generals here said they were not aware of widespread shortages and insisted that all vehicles heading north from this staging area 12 miles south of the Iraqi border would have adequate armor. "It's not a matter of money or desire," Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, the commander of Army forces in the Persian Gulf, told the troops after Mr. Rumsfeld asked him to address Specialist Wilson's question. "It's a matter of the logistics of being able to produce it."

But the complaints voiced by the soldiers here are likely to reinvigorate the debate that the Bush administration failed to anticipate the kind of tenacious insurgency now facing troops in Iraq, and that the Pentagon is still struggling to provide enough such basic supplies as body armor and fortified Humvees and other vehicles.

In October, members of an Army Reserve unit disobeyed orders to deliver fuel to a base in Iraq, complaining that their vehicles had not been properly outfitted. Earlier this month, the Army raised its goal for replacing regular Humvee utility vehicles in Iraq with armored versions, to 8,000 vehicles from 4,000.

The soldiers' concerns here may also rekindle deep-held suspicions among many National Guard and Reserve troops that they are receiving equipment inferior to what their active-duty counterparts get, despite assurances from senior Army officials that all Army troops are treated equitably.

Some 10,000 soldiers, many of whom are reservists from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, are here on their way to one-year tours in Iraq or passing through this camp on their way home after serving their stints.

That some soldiers would dare confront Mr. Rumsfeld directly on the readiness and equipment issue in such a public setting was highly unusual. In his town-hall style meetings with troops, Mr. Rumsfeld usually gets general policy questions or very specific complaints about pay or benefits.

But in interviews afterward, the equipment issue resonated with many soldiers and commanders here. Specialist Blaze Crook, 24, from Cleveland, Tenn., said he and other members of his Tennessee National Guard felt shorthanded going into their mission in Iraq. "I don't think we have enough troops going in to do the job," said Specialist Crook, who is a truck driver.

In an interview, Specialist Wilson said the question he asked Mr. Rumsfeld was one that had been on the minds of many men in his unit, the 1st Squadron, 278th Regimental Combat Team. "I'm a soldier and I'll do this on a bicycle if I have to, but we need help," said Specialist Wilson, 31, who served on active duty in the Air Force for six years, including in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, before leaving the military, and then re-enlisting in the National Guard after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Col. John Zimmerman, the staff judge advocate for the 278th combat team, said in an interview that the unit's Humvees were sufficiently armored, but that most of its heavy trucks were not. He said that Army supply officials had given the unit 70 tons of steel plates to attach to their vehicles, but that it was not enough.

Colonel Zimmerman suggested that the Army would not have let this happen to an active-duty unit about to deploy into Iraq. "We've got two Armies," he said. "We've got the active-duty and we've got the National Guard. We're proud to serve. We just want what everyone else has. We're not asking for anything more."

When asked about the soldiers' complaints, General Whitcomb's deputy, Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, acknowledged in an interview that many vehicles would head north from here into Iraq without the bulletproof windshields or the Kevlar flooring that protect against bombs exploding underneath Humvees or trucks. General Speer said many vehicles were not armored because they would be assigned duties inside headquarters compounds where there was virtually no threat of roadside bombs.

General Speer said a special unit here at Camp Buehring removes the extra armor on vehicles that have left Iraq and re-attaches it to vehicles going into the country. "We've got a lot of work to do," he said. "There's a lot of people working around the clock to meet the concerns those soldiers raised."

Colonel Zimmerman said he appreciated the efforts by Army supply officials here, but he and his troops said they could not help but fume at the sight of the fully "up-armored" Humvees and heavy trucks set out on display here for Mr. Rumsfeld's visit.

"What you see out here isn't what we've got going north with us," he said.


Link (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/08/international/middleeast/08cnd-rumsfeld.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=2986b1ecda6b 4645&hp&ex=1102568400&partner=homepage)

Cueless Joey
12-08-2004, 12:34 PM
Great.
I can see a spin on this now.
"We need more money for our military."

Gayle in MD
12-08-2004, 05:00 PM
This is an absolute disgrace, that the so called Commander and Chief, George Bush, has put our guys in this awful situation. After you read this, go and read the approriations bill, money for everything except giving our guys the necessary equipment to fight this stupid war.
It makes me furious.
Gayle in Md.