'Never enough, you always want more'

The Hill’s Jonathan Kaplan has spent the past 17 days in Iraq following the money Congress voted for reconstruction. In the first of several reports, he looks into the Humvee armor controversy.

BAGHDAD — At the Camp Liberty chow hall exit, Army Sgt. Christopher Grant’s weekly cartoon, “Bohica Blues,” shows Santa Claus typing up Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Christmas list. In the caption, Santa says Rumsfeld gets “An unarmored lump of coal. … ’Cause you celebrate Christmas with the presents you got, not the presents you want.”
The Hill’s Jonathan Kaplan has spent the past 17 days in Iraq following the money Congress voted for reconstruction. In the first of several reports, he looks into the Humvee armor controversy.

BAGHDAD — At the Camp Liberty chow hall exit, Army Sgt. Christopher Grant’s weekly cartoon, “Bohica Blues,” shows Santa Claus typing up Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Christmas list. In the caption, Santa says Rumsfeld gets “An unarmored lump of coal. … ’Cause you celebrate Christmas with the presents you got, not the presents you want.”
PATRICK G. RYAN
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

The cartoon pokes fun at Rumsfeld’s answer to a Tennessee National Guardsman’s complaint that soldiers have been forced to armor their Humvees with “hillbilly armor,” scraps of metal from garbage dumps.

Democrats and some Republicans pounced on Rumsfeld, saying he was not doing enough to protect soldiers. He also came in for criticism for using an autopen to sign letters of condolence to families of those killed in action. During the presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry charged that soldiers’ families had to hold bake sales to buy flak vests and armor. The issue is certain to arise next month when President Bush asks Congress for an additional $75 billion to $80 billion to pay for the war.

“It gnaws at my innards” that soldiers might lack protection, said Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), who visited Baghdad last month with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-
Conn.).

Armor Holdings, which manufactures the Humvees, told the Army last year that it could increase its production capacity from 450 vehicles per month to 550. Yet those new Humvees won’t be fielded until after the Iraqi elections, when the worst of the violence is expected to subside.

The view from soldiers in the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, is quite different from the dire rhetoric in Washington. Rank-and-file soldiers sounded perplexed by, and dismissive of, the National Guardsman’s complaints. Senior military commanders told The Hill that the number of armored vehicles they have has not hindered the efficiency or effectiveness of combat operations.

“The lack of armored Humvees has not caused operational constraint,” said Col. Mark Milley, the 2nd Brigade’s commanding officer. “Would I want more? Yes.” He added that he has more than 300 armored Humvees at his disposal, plus 180 Humvees that have been armored while in Iraq. Another 300 Humvees have not been armored and are used for transport around base.

Milley’s policy is that no soldier is allowed to exit the base (go “outside the wire,” in Army jargon) in an unarmored vehicle unless Milley has given the order. He said his soldiers can disobey an order to the contrary.

“When armor was a problem, it was not a story,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Haselden, commander of the 210th Forward Support Battalion of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. “Now it’s a story, but not a problem.”

Lt. Col. John Spiszer, commander of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, based at Forward Operating Base Justice in northern Baghdad, told The Hill: “There’s never enough, and you are going to always want more.” When the armor issue is raised, most rank-and-file soldiers roll their eyes.

A sergeant in Spiszer’s battalion agreed, saying: “We don’t have a big problem. There’s not as many as we’d like, but there is enough to do what we have to do.”

A lieutenant colonel stationed in Kirkuk said the armor issue was overblown, adding that soldiers tend to traffic in rumor and gossip. He blamed the media for reporting what he described as the misperception that the Army lacks equipment.

But if the issue is Rumsfeld’s undoing, which seems less likely as weeks pass, some soldiers said they would not be upset. An Army captain in the 4th Battalion, 31st Regiment, told The Hill, “The question was due.”

Humvees were first manufactured in 1993 and have been used in conflicts in Somalia and Kosovo. The latest Humvee model, the M1114, weighs 10,800 pounds and costs $147,000. The Army Materiel Command has been supplying kits of armor that mechanics can weld to the unarmored Humvees.

The armored Humvees are loud and leave little leg room, given the amount of radio equipment and turret hole in the ceiling, which allows in air that chills the vehicle in winter and makes it stifling hot in summer. The turret hole allows a gunner to man Mark 18 automatic grenade launchers, 240 squad automatic weapons or 50-caliber machine guns. Some Humvees even have a 50-caliber that can be controlled with a joystick and a computer.

Senior officers in the 10th Mountain’s 2nd Brigade said armored Humvees save the lives of soldiers who encounter the enemy an average of 10 times per week. Those encounters range from small-arms fire, car bombs and the insurgents’ weapons of choice: improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Soldiers who survive attacks laud the Humvees’ performance. Pfc. Anthony Sanchez of Miami, Fla., said: “We got hit by an IED in one of these. The third truck [in the convoy] got it, and the armor did its job.”

Wearing special earplugs, shatterproof eyeglasses, flak vests, helmets and shoulder pads adds further protection. Most of the injuries to soldiers have been in the face, eye, ear or hands, according to data shared by a senior military official.

It is a logistical challenge to manage the maintenance of several hundred Humvees, which run about 300 patrols a week over an area that covers about 40 percent of Baghdad and 2.5 million people. Each M1114 is driven about 80 miles per day. At 10 miles per gallon, the 2nd Brigade’s fleet eats up 3,000 gallons of fuel each day.

Haselden is responsible for managing the supply of parts the Humvees need, as well as other equipment for the 2nd Brigade’s soldiers. He oversees ordering more than 3,000 parts — everything from hubcaps to oil — roughly four times what he was responsible for at the 10th Mountain’s Fort Drum, N.Y., headquarters.

If Rumsfeld continues in his job, he might thank the mechanics in grease-stained coveralls repairing and retrofitting Humvees at Camp Seitz in Baghdad and Camp Anaconda in Balad. At Camp Anaconda, about 50 mechanics are able to retrofit (or “uparmor” in Army lingo) six Humvees and four trucks a day, according to an Army major. Working amid frequent mortar attacks, mechanics at Anaconda are just 7 percent short of maximum production.