Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2004 / 3 Teves, 5765

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Our heavy reliance on the Guard and Reserve raises more pressing questions than who gets first dibs on new equipment | In what other country in the world could the secretary of defense be called on the carpet by an enlisted soldier?

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee Army National Guard asked Donald Rumsfeld, who stopped to visit the troops in Kuwait on his way back from the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Wilson's question (which had been suggested by a reporter embedded with the unit) was greeted with shouts of approval and applause from the 2,300 mostly reserve soldiers who had come to hear Rumsfeld speak.

Rumsfeld's response — that the Army is working as fast as it can to put armor on humvees and larger trucks — is the truth, but is of cold comfort to soldiers who will be moving into Iraq in the next few weeks without it.

"You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time," a clearly uncomfortable Rumsfeld told Wilson.

Liberals delighted in Rumsfeld's discomfort. "We're used to hearing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld answer questions about things that went wrong in Iraq by saying they went right," said the New York Times in an editorial.

When he does that to reporters, it's annoying. When he does it to troops risking their lives in his failed test of bargain-basement warfare, its outrageous."

Rumsfeld was better received by the troops than news accounts indicated, said a sergeant who was there.

"The mood in the hangar was much more of goodwill, with soldiers packing around the secretary as if he was a movie star to shake his hand or get a picture at the end," Sgt. Chris Missick said. "I wouldn't translate one very tough question into a grill session."

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The Times imputes negligence to Rumsfeld, but the reasons why the 278th Regimental Combat Team of the Tennessee Army National Guard will be moving into Iraq largely without armor for its soft-skinned vehicles long predated the current administration.

The primary reason is that the war in Iraq is very different from the kind of war the Army has been preparing for decades to fight. The war for which the Army had planned was a war with the Soviets on the Central German plain. In that war there would be a front line, manned by tanks and armored fighting vehicles, and a rear area, in which trucks would bring beans, bullets and gas to the front line units.

Before the Iraq war, there were no plans to armor logistics vehicles. But in this war, which the enemy wages largely by attacking convoys with remotely detonated bombs, it is the "rear area" troops who are in the greatest danger.

The Army is trying to adapt to the new reality as fast as it can. Automatic weapons have been mounted on trucks that never carried them before. Support troops are receiving infantry training, something only the Marines had done in the past. And the plants which manufacture kits to armor humvees and trucks are working overtime to meet the need. (Production of armored humvees is up from 15 a month last fall to 450 a month now.) But there is a regrettable, but inevitable, lapse of time between when an order is placed and when it can be filled.

The other problem is that in the Army, reserve soldiers have been stepchildren, subsisting, in large measure, on hand me downs. The newest equipment goes to the active forces first.

This was a sensible enough distribution of resources when the Reserve and National Guard were standby forces. It's not so sensible when 40 percent of all the troops serving in Iraq today are reservists, a percentage that could rise to more than 50 percent after the troop rotation scheduled for this summer.

Our heavy reliance on the Guard and Reserve raises more pressing questions than who gets first dibs on new equipment. Future wars are more likely to resemble Iraq than the fight with the Soviets which never came. There are a lot of things we need to fix with regard to the size, structure, equipping and employment of reserve forces. It's important to do this quickly. It's more important to do it right.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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