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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Iraq Bound Troops Confront Rumsfeld in Q&A

Posted by Tim Tagaris

This would be some "must see TV."

A group of troops stationed in Kuwait, about to head for Iraq, called out Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on what they described as "hillbilly armor," and a shortage of adequate equipment.

The New York Times has the story.

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.

That in itself is pretty inspiring.  To imagine the soldiers standing up to their boss.  But it gets better.  These weren't some rogue soldiers who commented and drew the ire from the fellow men and women in uniform at the event.  The majority seemed to agree with the questioners.

"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."

Donnie Baseball was obviously shocked by this line of questioning. Which is amazing when you consider over a year ago moms were holding bake sales to purchase the necessary body armor for their sons.  You'd think that the Secretary would have a stock answer by now.

Although I suppose its harder to lie right to the faces of the men and women days away from putting their lives on the line for a war you poorly planned.

But the hit of the day came in this confrontation.

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.

"Hillbilly armor."  That is pretty good imagery.

Rummy eventually came up with an answer.  One that doesn't really satisfy me, and I doubt that it did much to instill the confidence of the troops on the ground.

"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."

What a dick.  Excuse my language.  Read again what he told the men and women who are about to enter Iraq.  Basically he said, why bother protecting you as much as we possibly can -- you are still vulnerable.

Great logic. 

Jon Stewart was right last night, the best way to preserve your job in this administration is not just failure, but colossal failure.

Posted at 03:04 PM in General | Technorati


A quick web search tells me that major combat operations ended May of 2003. To their credit, all the administration said then was that we were entering a new phase where the enemy wasn't a cohesive army anymore, but something very different. On the other hand, they have been in this situation for a year and a half now, and Rumsfeld doesn't have good answer for these questions yet? It's bad enough that he doesn't have it solved, but to not have a good answer?

I see two types of failure here. The first is obvious. The second failure is on the shoulders of the Democrats. Some could say that we are to blame for not standing up to Bush in the lead up to the war, but that's not my point here. How is it that this administration has been this bad at keeping our guys supplied and we still don't have an overwhelming majority of the veterans and those currently serving? The CNN exit poll says Kerry lost this group 57/41. I'm not saying that a little over 1% of the voting public would have swung the election (7% of veterans which makes up 18% of voters = 7% X 18% = ~1.2%), but if the public at large were to see a swing here it could lead to a much larger swing overall.

Posted by: Dan Hogan at December 9, 2004 04:53 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I agree that we need to make sure that our troops have the best armor available. However, if we don't have it, we don't have it. They are producing the armor as fast as they can.

My brother is on the convoys over there. His truck was hit two weeks ago by an IED approximately five feet from his HMMWV. He got a concussion and temporary lost his hearing. The armor he had protected him. Earlier in the day a KBR truck directly behind him took a direct hit. It burst into flames. He and his driver rushed out and pulled the civilian contractor from his truck. The civilian contractor had NO armor.

Let's not forget that we are still fighting a war. We should be as well prepared as possible, but the armor isn't what saved my brother's life. It was the patrols and constant harrassment that we have mounted against the insurgents, that prevent them from PROPERLY arming and placing their devices. They rush to get them in place because they know the consequences for dallying too long. Silent aircraft that rip flesh with 30mm rounds. Ouch.

I thank God that he protected my brother. We need to continue to upgrade our armor. But armor isn't the only thing we should be concerned about. It is one issue among many. I think I would be bitching more about not having been properly trained in combat tactics (in a non-combat MOS), than I would armor. The training our troops recieve in reserve and guard component is too often inadequate. There is no "rear" any more.

As always, our military, being the best in the world, adapts on the fly. We run into new problems all the time, and figure out how to adapt and overcome. That is the thing that keeps us ahead of the rest of the world. Our ingenuity. Anyway, the question to Rummy was planted by a reporter. Those troops may not even be using the equipment that they currently have...they may take over equipment from whoever rotates out.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: John at December 10, 2004 08:39 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

The idea that this question was planted by the press is new to me. I'd be curious to know where you go that from.

Cancel that. I hadn't look at news sites yet this morning until I was about to finish this post. When I did, I found this link to the story.

Even if it was planted, or if a reporter gave the soldier some pointers on how to ask it, it sounds like the reaction from the majority of the guys in that room was of support. That makes it sound like there was a general concensus that there were equipment problems that the guys in that room felt were bad enough that Rumsfeld himself should have to answer to it.

What bothers me about the way that this administration seems to operate in general is this. During the planning for the war, there were two schools of thought. One thought was that a relatively large occupying force would be needed to insure that there were enough troops on the ground to not only capture cities like Fallujah a few weeks ago but to hold it when it was time to move on. The second school of thought was that a relatively small occupying force would be best because they didn't want the Iraqis to feel a constant presence of American troops. If Bush were to have picked the second option (which I think he did) because it was the best plan for victory, that's one thing. I think he picked it because it was most politicaly convenient choice. This way, he didn't have to wait for more troops to be trained and ready, or ask for more international support, or increase the size of the military, or admit that it was going to cost even more, or require more military hardware.

Bush's plan of action put our military in the extremely difficult position of fighting a war with less manpower and material than would have fulfilled the "overwhelming force" Powell Doctrine because he wanted it to be more politicaly expedient. And, oh, by the way. Many of us don't believe we should have been fighting this war in the first place.

Posted by: Dan Hogan at December 10, 2004 10:42 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Not matter how prepared we were for this war, there would have been something that wasn't right. That is the nature of war. In this case, it was armor. Who could have predicted that the weapon of choice would be IED's attacking the supply lines? In all actuality, it was believed we would be fighting somewhat more conventional troops for a longer battle. Given the historical perspective, without the convenience of hindsight, we probably were VERY prepared (maybe OVER prepared) for this war. The swift victory created the vaccuum that we weren't expecting immediately following the initial phase of the war.

Every war is different, and our military is writing the new chapters in conventional AND unconventional warfare. We learn, adapt and overcome.

As far as the troops responding favorably to the question...there is no way of knowing WHY they responded that way. They are being fed the daily diet of sky-is-falling chicken littles in the press here, without knowing the reality on the ground in Iraq....those troops were Iraq-bound. If they were guys already in theater, I might give their reaction more consideration. They are probably very nervous, and that question was directed at one of their biggest concerns.

Posted by: JOhn at December 10, 2004 06:35 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment