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News :: International
"Rummage Sale" Rummy Supports the Troops?
10 Dec 2004
"Rummage Sale" Rummy Supports the Troops?
Picture of Rummy Commiting a Marie Antionnetism: "Let Them Sift Garbage!!!!"
Rumsfeld Gets Earful From Troops
Complaints Cite Equipment Woes, Extended Tours and Pay Delays
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page A01
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking in Kuwait yesterday to troops deploying into Iraq, got an earful of complaints about poor combat equipment, personnel policies that keep soldiers in the Army beyond their terms of enlistment, and other issues that reflect the strains the war in the Middle East is placing on the U.S. military.
In one of the exchanges during the town-hall-style meeting, Spec. Thomas Wilson complained that he and his comrades were rooting through junkyards to find improvised armor for their military vehicles to protect against bomb blasts and small-arms attacks.
"A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon," said Wilson, an airplane mechanic with the Tennessee Army National Guard, according to a transcript of the meeting released by the Pentagon. "Our vehicles are not armored. We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up . . . picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper . . . vehicles to carry with us north."
Rumsfeld replied: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
He added: "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up."
Another soldier, from a logistical support unit based at Fort Bragg, N.C., complained that she was being kept in the Army against her wishes by a Pentagon "stop-loss" order.
"It is something you prefer not to have to use, obviously, in a perfect world," Rumsfeld responded. "It's been used as little as possible."
When a third soldier, from the Idaho Army National Guard, complained that Guard units were being issued "antiquated" equipment inferior to that given to regular Army units, Rumsfeld said that the Army is trying to be equitable but that somebody has to get the older gear.
The one question that seemed to give Rumsfeld pause came from a lieutenant colonel who said that many of the soldiers in his unit are having trouble receiving all the pay due them, causing problems for their families back home who are being pestered by collection agencies.
"Can someone here get the details of the unit he's talking about?" Rumsfeld asked. "That's just not right."
As a whole, Rumsfeld's responses provoked a wave of criticism from congressional Democrats. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) called Rumsfeld's remarks "callous." Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) termed them "contemptuous." Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) labeled them "stunning."
"When I visit Iraq, I ride around in an armored vehicle, and I am sure the secretary does as well," Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said in a statement. "If it is good enough for the big shots, it is good enough for every American soldier."
Some military experts agreed with the criticism. "Any problem mentioned, he's in denial," said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
"Troop frustration is growing," especially as some soldiers head back to Iraq for their second occupation tour as the security situation there deteriorates, said another retired four-star general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officers and senior sergeants are worried, he noted, because, in his view, "we are breaking a small, great professional force."
The series of pointed questions shot at Rumsfeld reflect a consequence of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on National Guard and reserve units to carry out the U.S. mission in Iraq. Almost 45 percent of the 130,000 Army troops there now are drawn from the part-time components. Unlike active-duty troops, Guard and reserve troops tend to be older, more "civilianized" in their behavior and less deferential toward authority.
Some Guard units preparing to deploy to Iraq have been vocal about their morale problems, and an Army Reserve unit already there made headlines in October when it refused to carry out a convoy mission it considered too dangerous. Earlier this week, eight U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Kuwait filed a lawsuit challenging the "stop-loss" policy, which forces them to serve beyond the end of their terms of enlistment.
Rumsfeld's spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said the meeting was hardly unusual. "The range of questions was quite typical," he said at a Pentagon briefing. "I thought it was a very standard event."
He also said that the question posed by Wilson, the Tennessee Guardsman, was misleading, in that it made it appear that soldiers are being sent into a combat zone in unarmored vehicles. Any Humvees -- the military's jeeplike light trucks -- that lack armor are carried into Iraq atop flatbed trucks and, once there, are used only inside the relative safety of U.S. bases, he said.
The Army is moving to produce as many armored Humvees as it can, he added. In the fall of 2003, there were only 15 made each month, he said, but after the need for more became clear, the rate of production was boosted to 450 a month.
Some military experts agreed with Di Rita in finding the meeting unexceptional. "This is what leaders are supposed to do, meet with troops and get their honest feedback," said retired Army Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, now an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "No one should be surprised when our troops say what they mean; that's what makes the American soldier great."
Likewise, Robert Andrews, a former Pentagon official, said: "This is vintage Rumsfeld. He doesn't talk down to these guys. He talks to general officers the same way."
But some others were more critical. Part of the problem, said Daniel Goure, another former Pentagon official, is that Rumsfeld acts less like a head coach and more like the owner of the football team. "For this reason, he doesn't do well at 'win one for the Gipper'-type speeches," he said.
A transcript of Rumsfeld's meeting with the soldiers is available at www.dod.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20041208-secdef1761.html.
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