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ARLINGTON, Va. — The three Army National Guard brigades about to rotate into Iraq will arrive with the same protective gear issued to their active-duty brethren, according to the Guard’s top commander.

Guard units “will have exactly the same chances for survival on the battlefield” as active troops, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard, told reporters at a Wednesday defense writer’s breakfast. “This is a huge change.”

Army leaders set aside $1.7 billion to outfit Guard and Army Reserve units with the gear, Blum said.

The new gear includes Interceptor body armor and small-arms protective inserts, or SAPI, for the vests for every soldier; the Army’s new ballistic helmet; and new up-armored Humvees and armoring kits for those already in Iraq.

Blum said he has visited two of the three Guard brigades preparing to deploy, and that the personal protective gear has already been delivered.

“They have better equipment than the [Guard] soldiers I saw in Iraq in September are wearing downrange,” Blum said. “And they have it now. They are training with it.”

Guard members now in Iraq have repeatedly complained that they have been last in line to be issued protective body armor, armored vehicles and other supplies with which active Army units — especially combat units — routinely deploy.

The situation has not markedly improved over the yearlong deployment, some soldiers say.

“The longer we’re here, the more we get a ‘don’t care’ attitude,” National Guard member Sgt. Merlin Nichols, who is assigned to Camp Navistar, Kuwait, wrote in a letter to the editor that was published in Stars and Stripes on Nov. 3.

But Blum denied hearing such sentiments at any point during his visits to Iraq.

“I have been there three times … and I have not been able to detect any ‘us’ and ‘them’ over there,” he said.

The three Army National Guard brigades — roughly 15,000 troops — that are now preparing to deploy to Iraq are the 81st Armor Brigade (Separate), from Fort Lewis, Wash.; the 30th Infantry Brigade from North Carolina; and the 39th Infantry Brigade, from Arkansas.


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