Body Armor Shortage

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(HOST) Bill Seamans reflects on how and why our troops went to war in Iraq without adequate body armor.

(SEAMANS) It was difficult to read the front page headline in last Monday’s New York Times about the delay in supplying body armor to our troops in Iraq.

We’ve heard stories from our G.I.s about a shortage of flak jackets. They said that many troops were issued either leftover Vietnam equipment instead of the latest and more effective ceramic plate jackets – or they were not issued any vests at all. We even heard the stories about how some parents, in desperation, bought the latest jackets at military supply stores and shipped them to their sons and daughters in Iraq or Afghanistan.

We who hold the welfare of our troops foremost in our minds suffered through a miasma of politically drenched excuses from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. You might remember that he told troops complaining about the lack of adequate protection, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish for…”

Well, the Times tells us that the general who equipped our combat troops as the Iraq war began was told by supply officers that our front line forces had all the jackets they needed and that some 50,000 other American soldiers who were not on the front lines could get along without jackets, so they were not ordered. Then the suicide bombers attacked our troops behind the so-called front lines.

The army logistical officers then realized that the front lines in the war against terrorism were everywhere and that they had made a major supply blunder. The order was given to issue flak jackets as soon as possible to every soldier, regardless of his or her duty and location.

Then the Times reported a series of Pentagon requisition fumbles and that it took 167 days to get the first new jackets to our troops after the order was placed. The New York Times noted that some of our allies in Iraq bypassed the Pentagon supply system. They placed their orders directly with the American manufacturer and began receiving their new jackets in just 12 days.

The number of G.I.s who died because of the lack of adequate body armor cannot be counted. But the question raised by this sad story is, where did all the knowledge go that was accumulated by the Army War College and Pentagon terrorism experts after years of studying terrorism techniques in Israel and other beleaguered countries? Surely the basic lesson of Terrorism 101 was that the Arab suicide bomber would strike where least expected, and our troops were prime targets wherever they were – not just on mythical front lines.

No doubt the Times story will cause a muffled rumble in Washington. Investigations have been launched and accountability – there’s that word again – accountability for this grievous error will fade away in what’s called the Fog of War.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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