Concerns raised over Humvees in Iraq
The national news in the past two weeks has included reports about the firestorm which erupted as the result of a question raised at a military public forum in the Middle East. The controversy concerns the availability of so called "up-armored" Humvees.
On Dec. 8, 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held a town hall meeting at the American military staging area at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The audience included more than 2,300 military members and civilians who had an opportunity to question the secretary on many issues of concern to them and their families.
As someone who has held 90 town meetings during the past two years, I am very aware of how valuable this type of format can be. Not only does it allow a much greater level of interaction among the speaker and the audience, but it gives those in attendance the opportunity to ask questions directly to those in a good position to provide them with answers.
During this particular question-and-answer session the secretary was asked, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" Concerns about the availability of adequate armor plating for military vehicles – particularly Humvees – have been raised for quite some time, dating back to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In fact, many of you may recall that members of the 711th Signal Battalion faced this very same problem during their recent deployment to the Middle East. However, as a result of their efforts and the banding together of the entire First District, the men and women of the 711th were ultimately able to secure the additional armor plating they needed for their Humvees.
The armor issue raised at Secretary Rumsfeld's town hall meeting certainly warrants answers, some of which I hope to provide in this column. However, there is another point which bears mentioning.
As you may recall reading in this same column several weeks ago, I addressed the issue of integrity in journalism. Specifically, I cited the code of ethics governing journalists in this country and which I learned in my journalism classes at the University of Alabama. In the case of the armor question raised at the Camp Buehring meeting, I can't help but feel this code was violated.
The question – as important as it certainly is – was not one that was actually developed by the young Tennessee guardsman who asked it. Rather, it was planted by a reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To me, this is nothing more than an example of a reporter going outside the bounds of his job and inventing a story rather than simply reporting on the news at hand.
Truth about the Humvee program
As I mentioned, the question raised at the Camp Buehring meeting is a valid one, regardless of who actually came up with it. The Defense Department has been working to ensure that the latest and safest equipment available is making its way to the troops in theater who need it most. Let me take a few moments to provide you with some information on the efforts being made along these lines:
– The tactics being used by the insurgency in Iraq led unit commanders in the country to request a increased number of Humvees for use in their operations. As a result, production levels have been raised to more than 450 Humvees per month, up from approximately 15 per month at the beginning of the Iraqi war.
– Of the 19,000 Humvees currently being used in Iraq, almost 15,000 of that number are up-armored or have been fitted with armor plating. Three out of every four Humvees in the Central Command (CENTCOM) theater of operations are armored; those that are not are being used primarily within military installations, rather than in the field.
– Congress and the Bush administration have worked together to provide $1.2 billion in additional funding for armored vehicles since the fall of 2003.
Secretary Rumsfeld and his staff at the Defense Department are fully aware of the needs of our men and women serving in the theater of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan and keep in constant touch with their commanders in the field to stay fully apprised of the situation. I am proud to have played a part in ensuring the funding to pay and equip our service members has been available during the past two years, and I want to assure you I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure this continues.
Our men and women in uniform deserve no less.
I want to end this week's column by extending my wishes and those of my family and staff to all of you for a very happy and safe holiday season. This has indeed been an exciting year that has been full of many challenges, and I am anticipating another great year full of promise in 2005.
I look forward to continuing to work for each of you in the 109th Congress. As I have said many times, whether it is a problem with your Social Security or veterans benefits, or you simply have a question about some legislation pending before the House of Representatives, we are just a phone call away. My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner respresents the First District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County, in the U.S. House of Representatives.