U.S. TROOPS REDUCED TO SCAVENGING OLD IRAQI ARMOR AND
IMPROVISING THEIR OWN WITH SANDBAGS AND PLYWOOD
REPORTS "60 MINUTES" -- SUNDAY ON CBS
At times this year, U.S. troops in Iraq have had to rely on armor made of plywood and sandbags to shield them from the deadly shrapnel of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, fashioned by the insurgents from looted Iraqi munitions. Even though IEDs account for half of the war's U.S. casualties, soldiers are still getting killed and wounded by them because the Pentagon has yet to provide enough fully armored vehicles to protect them. Steve Kroft's report on under-equipped troops in Iraq will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Oct. 31 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"We had plywood with sandbags [for armor]" says Oregon National Guardsman Sean Davis of his unarmored Humvee that was hit by an IED. "There was this big graveyard of Iraqi tanks�.We would take pieces of armor off that tank and stick it in between the plywood," he tells Kroft. It wasn't enough: he was critically injured and his fellow guardsman, Army Spec. Eric McKinley, died in the explosion.
To address the problem, the Pentagon has sent so called "add-on armors," which add protection to vehicles' upper areas but not their undersides. "I've seen a lot of burning Humvees.�They have no ground plating, so if you hit something underneath you, then it's going to kill the whole crew�" says New York National Guardsman Ronald Pepin.
The head of the Oregon National Guard, Gen. Ray Byrne, is frustrated. "It distresses me greatly that [soldiers] don't 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?" he asks.
The lack of armored vehicles is a result of the government's not planning on such a long and deadly insurgency, but armor is not all soldiers lack. National Guard and reserve units are usually given lower priority and many lack basics like night vision goggles, global satellite positioning systems, even radios, which they have had to purchase themselves. The civilian radios they buy are not as secure as the military types, however, and insurgents can listen in on them. They also lack spare parts for equipment.
The issue is troubling to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who found $8.9 billion in pet projects in this year's defense budget, money which could have gone to paying for all the things these units lack. "This is the first time in history we've cut taxes during a war," says McCain. "I think that a lot of members of Congress feel that this is just sort of a business-as-usual situation," he tells Kroft. "The least sexy items are the mundane: food, repair items, maintenance. There's no big contract there and so there's a tendency that those mundane but vital aspects of war fighting are cut and routinely under-funded," says McCain. "I don't think this war has truly come home to the Congress of the United States."