Thursday, December 09, 2004

There's The Opposition....

...then there's just the enemy. The following e-mail was sent by Edward Lee Pitts, an embedded reporter attached to the 278th RCT. Drudge reports that Mr. Pitts planted the question about the armor kit scarcity situation that was asked of Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday:

(note: unedited)

From: EDWARD LEE PITTS, Chattanooga Times Free Press military reporter
Sent: Wednesday, December 8, 2004 4:44 PM
To: Staffers

Subject: RE: Way to go

I just had one of my best days as a journalist today. As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough see I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have. While waiting for the VIP, I went and found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.

So during the Q&A session, one of my guys was the second person called on. When he asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees, the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question. Then Rumsfeld answered something about it being "not a lack of desire or money but a logistics/physics problem." He said he recently saw about 8 of the special up-armored Humvees guarding Washington, DC, and he promised that they would no longer be used for that and that he would send them over here. Then he asked a three star general standing behind him, the commander of all ground forces here, to also answer the question. The general said it was a problem he is working on.

The great part was that after the event was over the throng of national media following Rumsfeld- The New York Times, AP, all the major networks -- swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with. Out of the 1,000 or so troops at the event there were only a handful of guys from my unit b/c the rest were too busy prepping for our trip north. The national media asked if they were the guys with the armor problem and then stuck cameras in their faces. The NY Times reporter asked me to email him the stories I had already done on it, but I said he could search for them himself on the Internet and he better not steal any of my lines. I have been trying to get this story out for weeks- as soon as I foud out I would be on an unarmored truck- and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.

The press officer in charge of my regiment, the 278th, came up to me afterwords and asked if my story would be positive. I replied that I would write the truth. Then I pointed at the horde of national media pointing cameras and mics at the 278th guys and said he had bigger problems on his hands than the Chattanooga Times Free Press. This is what this job is all about - people need to know. The solider who asked the question said he felt good b/c he took his complaints to the top. When he got back to his unit most of the guys patted him on the back but a few of the officers were upset b/c they thought it would make them look bad. From what I understand this is all over the news back home.



Please read the stories linked within the Drudge story - and note that Rumsfeld's answer to the Army Specialist included the statement "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish or want to have". This has always been a truism of heading into harm's way; the enemy is going to do his best to kill you whether you show up in a loincloth or in a powered flying cybernetic armored suit complete with nuclear weapons.

I cannot attribute the quote, but many years ago I read that ..."in the race between armor and warhead, the warhead wins in the end".

Now we've had a two-day feeding frenzy over a non-story willfully created by a journalist who has crafted a media event to conform to his agenda of how the world ought to be, instead of covering it as it is.

There were probably thousands of GI's killed by shrapnel, mines, or small arms fire driving jeeps across Europe in WW2...but the GI's still loved the vehicle. Eisenhower rejected selecting the M26 Pershing tank over the M4 Sherman because he feared the delay in retooling the factories would leave him without adequate armor for D-Day and the invasion to follow.

When that decision was made, it was common knowledge that the Sherman had NO business on a battlefield where even the lightest German tanks - the MkIV's with the 75mm high velocity gun - might be encountered. The Sherman was underarmored, had a crappy suspension setup for anything but roads and hard ground, and the vast majority of them were armed with a low velocity 75mm gun that couldn't penetrate German frontal armor at all, and flank and rear armor only at pointblank range. The Sherman also looms on a battlefield; its silhouette is almost four feet higher than any other tank found on WW2 battlefields.

Eisenhower justified his decision on several assumptions. The spearhead assault units were envisioned as making contact with the enemy, then sliding left or right around them using the American advantage in mechanized mobility and leave the Germans to be pounded by artillery and air as they were encircled. The assault element would race on, sowing confusion and destruction in the rear. He also pointed out that the support echelons had become masterful at maintaining the M4 and would have to be completely reequipped with spares, specialty tools, and undergo retraining for the new tank. I read a fascinating book on this subject called Death Traps. I highly recommend it.

Eisenhower had the mission to carry the fight to the continent of Europe. He made a command decision that even he admitted cost more than he thought it would...but in the end we still won.

In combat you must accept that there is never going to be a bloodless battle, and that time is the greatest ally your enemy has in defense. The unit mentioned in the story did receive some uparmor production Hummvees - they were assigned based on the mission of the crews that would be operating them. Every unit I ever served with trained to prepare to make use of field expedients like bolt-on kits, sandbags, or plain boilerplate skirts...just like the units are doing right now in Iraq.

We can't put enough armor on any vehicle to make it totally safe as long as there is no upper limit on how big a bomb the enemy can plant alongside a road. There are even some Marine units stripping down their uparmor Hummvees in order to have enough top speed to run down enemy sport utes/pickups configured as weapons carriers. You make the best use of what you have to accomplish the mission before you.

Mr. Pitts should apply at CBS. I hear they are looking for people just like him for 60 Minutes.

1 comment:

WichitaBoy said...

I think the fundamental problem we face is that a lot of the country isn't willing to face the fact that we have to have a war, let alone that war requires casualties and tradeoffs. They want to believe that if we just tend to our own knitting and leave everybody else alone then they'll leave us alone. If you don't see a need for war you are going to be vociferously critical of everything that goes wrong.