Soldiers question U.S. Defense Secretary on issues during Kuwait visit

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Camp Buehring, Kuwait — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, after a speech to U.S. soldiers at an American military base in Kuwait, was confronted by Iraq-bound soldiers raising their concerns over a variety of issues.

During a question-and-answer session of unscreened questions following his speech at Camp Buehring, Rumsfeld replied to soldier's concerns over aging equipment and a lack of armor for military vehicles. One soldier, Spc. Thomas Wilson, received applause from the gathered troops after asking the defense secretary, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" [1] Rumsfeld hesitated, then replied, "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." Rumsfeld further clarified that the Pentagon was making all possible effort to provide the materials required as quickly as possible, but that it has been difficult to keep up with demand.

"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" [2].

However, a recent claim by a company producing such armor for the Pentagon has contradicted this assertion. "We've been telling the Pentagon for months that we have the capacity to double our production," [3] said Matt Salmon, a consultant for ArmorWorks of Tempe, AZ. ArmorWorks, which has a $30 million contract with the Pentagon to supply armor kits to be fitted on Humvee vehicles, claims to be operating at only half-capacity, with little to no interest shown by the Pentagon in increasing their output.

Rumsfeld also addressed an expressed concern regarding aging equipment by asserting that, although all units have equipment of various vintage, troops headed into a combat situation in Iraq are equipped with the newest and best equipment the military can provide [4].

Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Kuwait, stated that every vehicle deploying to Iraq from Kuwait has at least "Level 3" armor protection. According to Speer, this means the vehicle has locally fabricated armor for its side panels, but not bulletproof windows or reinforced floorboards. He was not aware of soldiers retrieving used bulletproof glass or scrap metal from landfills.

It is difficult to estimate the seriousness of the problems cited by the soldiers, and the Army claims to be unaware of widespread shortages in necessary equipment. However, enough soldiers have expressed concern ([5][6][7]) since the start of combat in Iraq to have provoked a reevalution within the military on the amount and type of protection U.S. forces require in Iraq [8].

Rumsfeld also faced questions from the soldiers regarding the army's 'stop-loss' policy and dismissed concerns over the allegation that Army troops receive better equipment than National Guard troops. "No way I can prove it, but I'm told that the army is breaking its neck to see that there is not a differentiation" in the quality of equipment[9].

Shortly after the speech, Rumsfeld continued on his way to Kabul to watch President Karzai be sworn in.

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