Wednesday, October 08, 2003
( 10:29 AM )
Meanwhile In Iraq: BYOB (Bring Your Own Body Armor)
Everyone is talking about California, so I thought today I'd let that subject lie and look over to an ongoing little issue known as Iraq. Lost amongst all the star-gazing and media frenzy over Ahnold these last weeks, is the fact that our soldiers are still getting killed on average of two per day. Just yesterday, three soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed, not to mention the others that were injured in those attacks, the two helicopter crashes and other violet upsurges in Baghdad. That was just yesterday.
On Sunday, I read an editorial in our local paper. Its original dateline was September 29. But I haven't seen much mention of this issue - the fact that our soldiers not only have outmoded gear, they are actually buying their own stuff to make up for what they're not being issued. Jonathan Turley wrote the article.
Suzanne Werfelman is a mother and a teacher
who has been shopping for individual body armor.
This is not in response to threats from her
elementary-class students in Sciota, Pa.; it's a
desperate attempt to protect her son in Iraq.
Like many other U.S. service members in Iraq, her
son was given a Vietnam-era flak jacket that cannot
stop the type of weapons used today. It appears
that parents across the country are now purchasers
of body armor because of the failure of the military
to supply soldiers with modern vests.
The greatest shortfall in vests and plates appear
to be National Guard and reserve units, though full-
time soldiers like Byrd also have reported shortages.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, confirmed last week that it would not be
until December before there were enough plates
for all of our people in Iraq.
Murphy's reserve unit, which initially had no modern
jackets, was eventually given some Interceptor vests
weeks after they arrived in Iraq, but even then the
new vests were missing the essential ceramic plates.
That is when Werfelman went out and bought some
plates for $650 - more than her weekly salary - and
sent them to her son so he'd have basic protection.
Workers at one armor company she called said that
they had been deluged with calls from parents trying
to buy vests and plates for their sons and daughters
Of course, many soldiers do not have even empty
Interceptors. When they have received plates from home,
they have reportedly used duct tape to attach them to
the backs of their flak jackets.
Ahem. I was just wondering, where is that $87 billion going? Bush has said time and again that our soldiers are getting the best support possible - yet many of them are not even getting basic protection.
[Bush said] "My attitude is, any time we put one of
our soldiers in harm's way, we're going to spend
whatever is necessary to make sure they have the
best training, the best support and the best possible
equipment." When Bush later taunted gunmen in Iraq
to "bring it on," many GIs must have nervously
tugged at their obsolete flak jackets.
So just what IS this administration spending its defense money on?
the Air Force announced that it had cut a deal with
Boeing to lease airplane tankers for billions more
than it would cost to buy them outright. According to
the Congressional Research Service, the Air Force will
waste almost $6 billion by leasing the planes rather
than buying them. Congress is looking into the deal.
By comparison, outfitting all of the 150,000 soldiers in
Iraq with Interceptor vest plates would cost less than
$97 million at retail prices. Because many have already
been outfitted, the actual cost would be a small fraction
of this amount.
This is frightening and not a little infuriating considering this administration's continued tough-talk. But just a little research shows us that flak jackets aren't our soldiers only liabilities out there in the desert.
Soldiers for the Truth has a long list of equipment that have failed our soldiers. Hackworth's effort to give soldiers voices is providing a new insight for us civilians into what things are really like. It's not so easy for the government to censor the soldiers these days. After action reports coming in list a unconscionable amount of uneccessary dangers that are facing our troops due to inadequate weaponry and provisions. Here are just a few comments from the soldiers on their equipment:
-- The flip-up sight on the M-4 allowed the soldier to engage targets out to 600 meters. However, the plastic grommet that formed the small aperture was prone to falling out. Soldiers "super-glued" the aperture to the sight.
-- Vehicle crewman purchased hand-held laser pointers to orient the fire of more than one platform weapon.
-- Lubricant: Soldiers provided consistent comments that CLP was not a good choice for weapon's maintenance in this environment. The sand is as fine as talcum powder here. The CLP attracted the sand to the weapon. Soldiers considered a product called MiliTec to be a much better solution for lubricating individual and crew-served weapons.
-- Commercial GPS: As is widely known, many soldiers purchase their own GPS systems rather than use the PLGR. The Rhino was provided to the 82nd as part of the rapid fielding initiative. Overall, soldiers were very appreciative of this addition to their MTOE. The Rhino was a vast improvement over the PLGR because of the weight, volume, power consumption and performance - the Rhino consistently acquired satellites faster than the PLGR.
-- Soldiers have no confidence in the ICOM radios. The range was unsatisfactory. Everyone had a Motorola-type hand-held radio that had vastly better range and power performance. Soldiers purchased handsets and longer antennas for their ICOM radios.
-- Boots: Soldiers were generally dissatisfied with the performance of the Desert Combat Boot. The soles were too soft and were easily damaged by the terrain. This seemed to be more of a problem for the boots manufactured by Altima. Many spent their own money to have the boots resoled with Vibran soles with mixed success.
-- Slings: Soldiers are purchasing their own slings because the issued variant does not provide the flexibility or comfort they require. Soldier purchased or fabricated tactical slings for the M-4/M-203 that allowed the weapon to be slung on their back or hung on their chest so they could respond to contact faster.
-- Desert Camouflage Uniform: The most prevalent comment on the DCU was the need for pockets on the sleeves. Soldiers realize they will wear IBA in almost all environments from now on. The pockets on the front of the DCU are all but useless. Many soldiers have already had a tailor sew pockets on their sleeves. A similar suggestion was made for the pant pockets. The current pockets are frequently blocked by the protective mask carrier and the thigh holster. Soldiers suggested moving the pants pockets to the front of the leg. The durability of the uniform was questioned due to the propensity of the thread to give away especially in the crotch area. Soldiers felt that dirt was to blame for the high failure rate. Soldiers did not receive an opportunity to have their uniforms laundered for over 30 days of combat.
--Socks: A very important item of equipment that generated a good deal of discussion especially among the light fighters. Many received the black wool/poly pro blend which were too hot for this environment. Some received the Wright sock (tan outside/white inside), which shrunk too much after washing. Soldiers within 3ID had received the dark green sock that was selected and continued to judge it as superior. Again, soldiers felt if they could just keep their socks clean they could better protect their feet.
-- Gloves: The nomex gloves provided with the rapid fielding initiative were too thick and warm for this environment. Soldiers preferred the air crewmen or mechanic style nomex. Other popular gloves include moto-cross or batting style gloves. Some soldiers purchased HellStorm gloves from Blackhawk.
-- Neck Gator: Many light soldiers told us that this was the single best piece of gear for the desert environment. Unfortunately, it is not flame retardant so the vehicle crewman cannot use it.
--Magazines: Soldiers carried as many as 15 magazines with them for this operation. They local purchased two items to facilitate their ability to manage this amount of ammunition. They purchased several commercial variants of devices to allow for quick magazine changes...They also purchased commercial bandoleers for wear of additional magazines on the chest and upper leg.
* Survivability: Combat identification still relies on methods and technologies used 10 years ago. Our army is extremely lethal - we rely too greatly on the discipline and skill of our soldiers.
* Sustainment: Soldiers still spend too much of their own money to purchase the quality packs, pouches, belts, underwear, socks and gloves they believe they need for mission success and comfort.
-- M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) -- the SAW's are worn out and apparently beyond repair. They have far exceeded their service life. Many Marines are duct taping and zip tying the weapons together.
-- M203 Load Bearing [harness]:Grenade bearing vests don’t hold enough ammunition. Rounds don’t fit into many of the pockets, so grenadiers aren’t able to carry as many rounds as the vest is designed to carry. They aren’t able to fit rounds into all of the pouches. Granadiers are coming up with several different “band-aid” solutions to carry enough ammunition, most of which aren’t working.
-- Drop Holsters and phone dummy chords: Many Marines purchased these items from their own personal funds. Drop holsters …cost approximately $65. Marines would like to see these holsters issued with their pistols. Also, Marines fashioned pistol lanyards from phone chords.
Is this right? As a mother, I probably think about things a little differently sometimes, but come on. Can we truly need $500 million dollars for more weapons inspections when our soldiers can't even get wearable uniforms, workable weapons and dry socks?
Bush and his cronies like to harp on about how pro-military they are, but they are again lying out their teeth. There can be no true support of our soldiers unless we are actually supporting them with the practical items that will help them survive. That they shouldn't have to be in this situation at all seems almost moot to this argument. But if we're going to put them in them in the middle of this dangerous environment, the least we could do is use some of those millions of tax dollars to actually provide for them.
We can talk about getting them practical R&R, not burning them out and actually paying them what they're worth in a different post.