Biden says MRAP fight was biggest political win in Senate

"Everybody stepped up ... pushing the case why it was possible, even in difficult economic times," the former Delaware senator said Monday during a speech at the Pentagon.

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"We voted on it, and we won," Biden told the audience of former and current military and Pentagon officials. 

Biden was one of several lawmakers who led the charge in Congress to get the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

His speech was part of Monday's DOD event to commemorate the end of MRAP production, which began in 2007. 

Of the multiple legislative battles Biden fought during his time in the Senate, he said the MRAP fight was one of his proudest moments on Capitol Hill. 

"What do we get for [that] effort? We’ve got a whole lot of young women and men coming home in one piece," the vice president said. 

The vehicle, which was specifically designed to endure the blast from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), was in high demand from U.S. commanders who realized the IED was quickly becoming the weapon of choice for Iraqi insurgents. 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former DOD acquisition chief John Young made the MRAP the department's top procurement priority. 

While American combat commanders pleaded with the Pentagon to get the MRAPs to Iraq, the program faced an uphill battle in Congress, according to Biden. 

Opponents of the MRAP, which has now been credited with saving thousands of American lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan, claimed the cost to get the combat truck in the field was more than the financially strapped Pentagon could bear. 

With an initial start-up cost of $23 billion, some lawmakers believed the vehicle would be a hard sell in Congress, especially at the rapid rate DOD wanted to get them into Iraq. 

During Monday's speech, Biden admitted that he also had his reservations about the anti-IED behemoth. 

"I have been around for eight presidents, and I know it is not easy to push something this big though this [DOD acquisition] process this fast," the vice president said. 

That was until a 2007 conversation with then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conaway. 

"My kids are getting killed," Conaway told Biden during their conversation about whether he should back the MRAP plan in the Senate. 

"That turned the tide," Biden, whose son Beau had served as an Army officer in Iraq, told the DOD audience on Monday. 

Biden, along with then House Armed Services Committee member Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and other lawmakers, was able to push through a multi-year funding deal for the MRAP. That set aside $47.5 billion a year each year beginning in 2007 and running to 2012 for initial development and construction of the heavy combat vehicle.  

Since then, more than 24,000 MRAPs have arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during the same Pentagon event. Roughly 13,000 remain in service by Army and Marine Corps units still in Afghanistan. 

In March 2010, DOD selected defense contractor Oshkosh Corp. to build an all-terrain version of the MRAP, designed to move in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. 

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