A soldier put it bluntly to Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers at a town-hall meeting in Iraq last week: "The question is, are we going to get up-armored Humvees?" The soldier, who identified himself as a member of a unit operating in "five of the six red zones in the country," noted that the doors on their Humvees "are not as good as the ones on the up-armored Humvees. . . . We lost some soldiers due to them." Another soldier asked, "Do we foresee an increase across the board so we maybe can get more additional armored kits, or armor, hazard pay, weapons, basic health and comfort items for soldiers overseas?"
Gen. Myers's answers were not encouraging. He said there are about 1,400 vehicles that still need armor plating in Iraq, and although production is ramping up, the military can turn out only enough armor kits for about 220 to 225 vehicles a month. At that rate it will take six months to meet the military's combat needs. "It's not a matter of resources; it's a matter of how fast can we build these things and get them over here," he said.
Myers made it sound like the military was building them itself and he purposefully misled on the numbers. Instead of 1,400 underarmored vehicles, the real number was a lot closer to 12,000. From April 2004, a month before the Myers statement, on msnbc.com
When Hart died in a small-arms ambush in mid-October, the Army had no official plan to "retrofit" most of the 12,000-odd Humvees in Iraq
. This in spite of continuing attacks on convoys and complaints from combat units that they were taking unnecessary casualties in the thin-skinned Humvees.
Until late last month, the Army's official guidance on the issue of hardening Humvee armor was a recommendation to troops to put sandbags on the floorboards to deaden the impact of mine explosions. Some soldiers say the military should have addressed the issue much more quickly.
"They don't like calling attention to things like this, but the problem was obvious right away," says a U.S. Marine officer in Iraq who asked not to be identified. "The war mutated from armored combat into a guerrilla campaign, and suddenly the tanks were parked and we moved out into the population without much protection."
When the Army did announce plans to armor 8,400 of the Humvees now in the country and replace another 4,400 with purpose-build armored versions, the news was presented as a logical response to changing conditions.
Comparing the Rumsfeld statement with the Myers one we can see one major difference. Myers said "it's a matter of how fast we
can build these things..." Myers implied the army was building them but Rumsfeld said the Army was pushing "manufacturers of vehicle armor
." That might not look like much difference but it points out where the real bottleneck is. Instead of making the armor a topmost priority, which would mean doing whatever it takes in the short term to make sure our troops get what they need as fast as is really possible, we are allowing some armor producer to be proprietary and set the terms based on their own productivity schedule. The contractor in question is O'Gara Hess & Eisenhardt, a subsidiary of Armor Holdings. INC. You can read their announcement on their website here
or you look at a snapshot from January 2004 on the website of Connecticut congressman here
. But to get the full effect you need to look at the 12/18/03 quote from the 12/14/03 Newsday here
American troops are dying in Iraq and suffering amputations and other massive injuries while they confront the Iraqi insurgency in Humvees not designed to withstand front-line combat....
The Army's sole contractor for putting the armor plating on the standard Humvee chassis, Armor Holdings Inc., is hiring 150 workers at its Ohio plant but won't go to round-the-clock shifts until February.
Peak production won't come until April, when the company hopes to make 220 armored Humvees a month....
That is the production number Myers was referring to in May 2004 when he misled the press on the number of vehicles that needed armor, while Rumsfeld stood smilingly by and no doubt chuckled at the clever lie. All those unemployed people in Ohio and they couldn't add more than 150 workers even temporarily? Soldiers dying and/or losing limbs for lack of vehicle armor and people begging for jobs in the very state where the armor is supposed to made and yet this is the best BushCO could do for our troops? Lying murderous damnable jackasses!!!!
But you have yet to hear the best part. Even though the commanders on the ground in Iraq were allowing soldiers to do their own retro-fitting in country for a time (see this MSNBC article from April 2004), an October 2004 AJC article says that such has been officially discouraged:
When the insurgents in Iraq began targeting convoys with roadside bombs and ambushes, troops complained about a lack of armored Humvees and armor plating for larger trucks. The Pentagon ordered more armored Humvees, but when troops devised their own armor plating, Army officials stopped them from using it.
The Army Reserve's 428th Transportation Company, out of Jefferson City, Mo., received a donation of 13,000 pounds of specially fabricated steel plates for its unarmored trucks before it left for Iraq. But the Army discouraged the unit from taking the plates along, because they did not meet military specifications.
For more on this, see the 12/18/03 post quoting AP here
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Fearing roadside bombs and sniper bullets, the members of the Army Reserves' 428th Transportation Co. turned to a local steel fabricator to fashion extra armor for their 5-ton trucks and Humvees before beginning their journey to Iraq earlier this month.
But their armor might not make it into the war, because the soldiers didn't get Pentagon approval for their homemade protection.
The Army, which is still developing its own add-on armor kits for vehicles, doesn't typically allow any equipment that is not Army-tested-and-approved, Maj. Gary Tallman, a Pentagon spokesman for Army weapons and technology issues, said Thursday.
"It's important that other units out there that are getting ready to mobilize understand that we are doing things" to protect them, Tallman said, "but there's policy you have to consider before you go out on your own try to do something."
The possibility that soldiers could be denied extra protection because of an Army policy has outraged some of the friends and neighbors who tied to help the Missouri reserve unit.
"I think it's the stupidest thing I ever heard of," said Virgil Kirkweg, owner of the Jefferson City steel company that rushed to meet the local reserve unit's armor request. "I just hope the government is not dumb enough to make them go out there without something that's going to protect them somewhat."
The 72 vehicles operated by the 428th Transportation Co. aren't designed for battle and so have thin metal floorboards and, in some cases, a canvas covering for doors....
Last May, when Myers threw out that lie about needing six months to do only 1,400 vehicles, Duncan Hunter, one of the nuttiest nuts on the GOP tree but still able to see the occasional truth, was saying this (link):
This country hasn't lost its industrial base yet, and, as House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter noted recently, many steel mills in America are operating well below their capacity. So there's little reason armor plating couldn't be quickly rolled out if it were a priority.
Frankly, it seems obvious to me that we could have put some kind of temporary plates in the humvees and other vehicles while waiting for the specialized stuff from that one plant in Ohio. But protecting a proprietary contract has taken precedence over protecting American troops. I hope there is a special place in hell for those who made this choice, knowing all the while it would cause some of our soldiers to be maimed and killed unnecessarily, and lied to make us believe they were being more responsible than they actually were. And I'm betting some money changed hands along the way too, lining the pockets of some of the main bad actors in this ugly tragedy. But that story will have to wait until I have something more concrete than absolute disgust to go on.
As a side note, I've looked at pictures of the humvee armor plates and I practically grew up in a factory that had a foundry, so I do have some firsthand experience with what those kind of guys can make. I'm guessing that Missouri steel mill made something that worked really well and, if allowed to do so, could have outfitted the whole damn Iraqi motor pool with workable armor by now.
Comments are closed on this story.