Troops pepper Rumsfeld with questions |

Troops pepper Rumsfeld with questions

Associated Press

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – In a rare public airing of grievances, disgruntled soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.

“You go to war with the Army you have,” Rumsfeld replied, “not the Army you might want or wish to have.”

Spc. Thomas Wilson had asked the defense secretary, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Shouts of approval and applause arose from the estimated 2,300 soldiers who had assembled to see Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

“We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north,” Wilson, 31, of Ringgold, Ga., concluded after asking again.

Wilson, an airplane mechanic whose unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team of the Tennessee Army National Guard, is about to drive north into Iraq for a one-year tour of duty, put his finger on a problem that has bedeviled the Pentagon for more than a year. Rarely, though, is it put so bluntly in a public forum.

Rumsfeld said the Army was sparing no expense or effort to acquire as many Humvees and other vehicles with extra armor as it can. What is more, he said, armor is not the savior some think it is.

“You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can (still) be blown up,” he said. The same applies to the much smaller Humvee utility vehicles that, without extra armor, are highly vulnerable to the insurgents’ weapon of choice in Iraq, the improvised explosive device that is a roadside threat to Army convoys and patrols.

U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq are killed or maimed by roadside bombs almost daily. Adding armor protection to Humvees and other vehicles that normally are not used in direct combat has been a priority for the Army, but manufacturers have not been able to keep up with the demand.

Wilson’s ex-wife, Regina, said she was not surprised he challenged Rumsfeld.

“It wouldn’t matter if it was Bush himself standing there,” she said. “He would have dissed him the same.”

Wilson joined the National Guard in June 2003; previously, he had served about four years in the Air Force, beginning in 1994.

Rumsfeld dropped in to Camp Buehring – named for Lt. Col. Charles Buehring, who was killed in a rocket attack on a downtown Baghdad hotel in November 2003 – to thank the troops for their service and to give them a pep talk. Later he flew to New Delhi for meetings Thursday with Indian government officials.

In his prepared remarks in Kuwait, Rumsfeld urged the troops – mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers – to discount critics of the war and to help “win the test of wills” with the insurgents.

Wilson and others, however, had criticisms of their own – not of the war but of how it was being fought.