Bush chose tax cuts over armor: teenage soldiers die
Marines in field expedient gun truck
GIs Lack Armor, Radios, Bullets
Oct. 31, 2004
(CBS) Two weeks ago, a group of Army reservists in Iraq refused a direct order to go on a dangerous operation to re-supply another unit with jet fuel.
Without helicopter gunships to escort them over a treacherous stretch of highway, and lacking armored vehicles, soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company called it a suicide mission.
The Army called it an isolated incident, a temporary breakdown in discipline, and an investigation is underway.
But the 343rd isn't the first outfit to be put in harm's way without proper equipment, and commanders in Iraq acknowledged that the unit's concerns were legitimate, even if their mutiny was not.
With a $400 billion defense budget you might think U.S. troops have everything they need to fight the war, but that's not always the case.
But Karen Preston has been worrying a lot ever since last summer when Ryan returned home on leave and showed her these photos of the unarmored vehicles his unit was using for convoy duty in Iraq.
Lacking the proper steel plating to protect soldiers from enemy mines and rocket propelled grenades, they had been jerry-rigged with plywood and sandbags.
"They were called cardboard coffins," Preston says.
There have been more than 9,000 U.S. casualties in Iraq so far – more than 8,100 wounded and 1,100 killed. Nearly half of those casualties are the result of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or IEDs in military jargon. Yet the U.S. military still lacks thousands of fully armored vehicles that could save American lives.
Specialist Ronald Pepin, who serves in Baghdad with the New York National Guard, says, "They have no ground plating. So if you hit something underneath you, then it's going to kill the whole crew, you know? And that's just something you have to live with."
60 Minutes went to a man more familiar with the problems facing the Oregon National Guard than anyone else – its commanding general, Ray Byrne. General Byrne was somewhat reluctant to talk when 60 Minutes showed him pictures of his men's Humvees and trucks, armored with plywood and sandbags.
"If you have nothing then that's better than nothing. The question becomes then again when – when are they going to receive the full up armored Humvees? And I don't have that answer," says Gen. Byrne.
"It distresses me greatly that they do not have the equipment. I don't have control over it. The soldiers don't have control over it. The question becomes, 'When is it going to be available? When is it going to be available? When will they have it?'"
The Army acknowledged to 60 Minutes that there is a shortage of radios in Iraq and a shortage of bullets for training, and says both are in the process of being remedied. There have also been problems with maintenance and replacement parts for critical equipment like Abrams tanks, Bradley personnel carriers and Black Hawk helicopters.
Winslow Wheeler, a long time Capitol Hill staffer who spent years writing and reviewing defense appropriations bills, thinks he knows one reason why those shortages exist, after looking at the current Defense budget. Army accounts that pay for training, maintenance and repairs are being raided by Congress to pay for pork-barrel spending.
And buried in the back of this one, Wheeler found a biathlon jogging track in Alaska, a brown tree snake eradication program in Hawaii, a parade ground maintenance contract for a military base that closed years ago, and money for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration.
By law, these projects can't be cut, so Pentagon bookkeepers will have to dip into operations and maintenance accounts to pay for them.
"They do all kinds of things that adds up to: 'We're basically eating our own young to support the war,'" he says.
According to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Armed Services Committee who speaks out against pork-barrel spending, there is a total of $8.9 billion of pork in this year's defense bill, which would go a long way toward upgrading all the equipment used by the National Guard.
"I don't think that this war has truly come home to the Congress of the United States," McCain says. "This is the first time in history that we've cut taxes during a war. So I think that a lot of members of Congress feel that this is just sort of a business-as-usual situation."
"The least sexy items are the mundane - food, repair items, maintenance – there's no big contract there," says McCain. "And so there's a tendency that those mundane but vital aspects of war fighting are cut and routinely underfunded."
And the Democrats are weak on defense?
posted by Steve @ 9:52:00 PM