As usual, Donald Rumsfeld was in control. At a “town hall” meeting with almost 2,000 American combat soldiers in northern Kuwait, the Secretary of Defense and his PR machine were going to give a “pep rally” to troops about to go into combat. He would prove he cared about the individual troops, that the Bush Administration supported them, and that God and country, at least 51 percent of the mortal voters, were patriots who supported George W. Bush and, thus, the war.
But, just in case there might have been a problem-and in the Bush Administration there are no problems, no weaknesses, no errors-the Secretary of Defense didn’t allow any reporters to ask questions. He didn’t really need to impose that restriction. For more than two years, the nation’s reporters had lamely tossed cream-filled puffs at Rumsfeld, who effortlessly swatted each one into crumbs. Even the public enjoyed seeing the Secretary of Defense pose his own questions and then answer them, or tongue-lash reporters whose inane questions became indicative of how poor the media had prepared for this war.
In an aircraft hangar at Camp Buehring, a transitional camp for soldiers going into the quagmire that was Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld was smiling, joking, and mugging for the cameras, completely in control. And then a soldier spoke out.
“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Spec. Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard asked to the applause and cheers of hundreds of others. It was a question thousands of Americans had asked but were largely ignored by the establishment media and by sycophantic generals who should have, but didn’t, question post-war occupation strategies. It was also unusual for an enlisted person, drilled to obey orders unquestioningly, to even ask such a question, especially of the Secretary of Defense. But these Reservists and National Guardsmen were tired; tired of lies and deceptions from being told the Army would honor their contracts to how quickly they were be paid-and how little protection the sand-slogging soldier was given.
“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have,” said a slightly shaken Rumsfeld, who never acknowledged that it was the Bush Administration that decided how and when to launch the invasion of Iraq. Nor had Rumsfeld admitted it was the Bush Administration that didn’t have substantial plans to occupy the country, as Colin Powell and dozens of retired four-star generals and admirals had said prior to that invasion. And so friends and relatives of soldiers bought bullet-proof Kevlar vests to send to the war zone, and millions of Americans sent all kinds of personal supplies to the troops. But now the question to the Secretary was about the lack of armor protection that Americans couldn’t afford or couldn’t send to protect the troops.
It’s “physics,” said Rumsfeld, thinking he could dismiss the soldier’s question, just as he easily dismissed the questions of those who previously challenged his authority. “It isn’t a matter of money. . . . It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it,” he said. The Army later claimed that at least three-fourths of its vehicles had protection. Gary Motsek, a civilian official for the Army Materiel Command and a former Army colonel, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that about one-third of all convoy vehicles are armored. An analysis by the House Armed Forces Committee revealed only about 10 percent of medium and light military trucks in combat zones were protected.
“The demand has gone up leaps and bounds since 9/11,” says Ray Toone, general managing partner of Elite Armoring Co. of Dallas, Tex. Toone says his company has had to increase staff by more than 40 percent in the past three years to meet demand. Most of Elite’s customers are CEOs and the wealthy who pay as much as $85,000 to protect their own Hummers, BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, Cadillac Escalades, Chevy Suburbans, Ford Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators. When Elite finishes with a vehicle, it appears to be just like a floor model. Elite’s Level IV protection will stop a 147 grain 7.62 x 51 NATO-certified armor-piercing bullet fired with a velocity of 2,900 feet per second or a 220 grain .30-06 armor-piercing bullet fired at 2,400 feet per second.
During most wars, the United States required private companies to retool their production lines to produce war materiel not for the elite of other countries but for the American war effort. Elite doesn’t manufacture armor for the military. “We haven’t been contacted,” Toole says, but his company is supplying vehicles for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
Elite isn’t the only company that provides vehicle armor. International Armoring Corp. of Ogden, Utah, in partnership with the Ford Motor Co., produces armored Lincoln Town sedans.
Even if Elite, International Armor, or dozens of other companies aren’t retooling for military production, a Pentagon spokesman said that the U.S. is already producing armored Humvees as fast as it can-at least since August 2003, two months after the war began. However, at least two companies with military contracts said they were capable and willing to produce more armor kits for Humvees but were rejected. Matt Salmon of ArmorWorks in Tempe, Ariz., said his company was at 50 percent capacity “and we could do a lot more.” He told USA Today that the Pentagon was “aware of it.” Robert Mecredy of Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Fla., said his company, which also had a military contract, could produce at least 100 more armor kits to trucks per month. Dozens of companies are now providing at least parts of Humvee armor or bullet-resistant glass.
President Bush, trying to cover Rumsfeld’s comments, told military families, “We’re doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones.”
More than 1,100 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq; more than 9,000 have been wounded. More than half of them were in military vehicles. It’s been 21 months after the invasion, and the mightiest military force in the world, with the mightiest intelligence operation, hasn’t provided for the needs of the soldiers. Instead of empty promises and misleading rhetoric, the Bush Administration might consider doing what it falsely claims the anti-war opposition doesn’t do-support the troops.
WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.walterbrasch.com