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(Click here for the transcript of Secretary Rumsfeld's meeting with the troops)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “not embarrassed” by tough questions from troops Wednesday about the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq and other issues, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

Rather, such tough questions are the norm for the secretary when he meets with troops, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told Pentagon reporters.

Rumsfeld received a very pointed question about the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq by Army Spc. Thomas Wilson during a “town meeting” at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, on Wednesday.

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” asked Wilson, a member of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is composed mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, according to the Associated Press.

Di Rita said that after hearing a broadcast of the town hall meeting, he “called and spoke with” the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, to ask him about the armor issue.

Di Rita said that Speer was “not certain of the specific situation [Wilson] was referring to,” but that in general, it is the policy of U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq to load unarmored Humvees on flat-bed trucks — which themselves are not armored, Di Rita said — and “convoy them” into Iraq.

The armored Humvees, meanwhile, are driven by soldiers into Iraq from Kuwait, Di Rita said.

“The policy is that as units move into the theater … if [their vehicles] are not armored, they are convoyed in, not driven,” Di Rita said. And once in Iraq, unarmored Humvees “do not leave the base camp,” but are reserved for routine errands inside the base.

Furthermore, Di Rita said, since the Army first identified a need for more armored Humvees, in the fall of 2003, the service “has done just a superb job of turning around a component of industrial base that was doing different things” and turning the manufacturers to making both armored Humvees and armor kits for other vehicles.

At the time, Humvee makers were “producing something on order of 15 armored Humvees per month,” Di Rita said.

Today, that number is 450, he said, with $1.2 billion spent since August 2003 on armor and armored Humvees alone. As a result, “three out of four” Humvees now in Iraq are armored, he said.

Di Rita said that the fact that commanders did not anticipate the need for more armored vehicles in Iraq until well after the announced end of major combat operations did not reflect poor planning on the part of Pentagon leaders, as some critics have alleged.

“Combat planning is not a crystal ball; it’s not predictions,” Di Rita said. “It’s the ability to be flexible enough to change things as needed.”

Pressed for detail concerning the 278th Regimental Combat Team’s situation as it prepares to move into Iraq, Di Rita said that the unit is supposed to “fall in on existing armored Humvees” that are being left behind by a unit that is redeploying home.

Asked whether the recent announcement that more than 10,000 troops will be held in Iraq longer than expected in order to provide security for elections might cause a shortage of such “swapped out” vehicles, Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, the Joint Staff’s Deputy Director for Regional Operations, said that “commanders have on the ground … have adjusted their plans accordingly.”

“There is a tremendous flow going in of 450” Humvees each month, Rodriguez said. The commanders “have a plan to spread (the new vehicles) out evenly” among the troops.

Rodriguez said Wilson would not face informal or formal repercussions or disciplinary actions for his question to Rumsfeld.

“No, that doesn’t happen,” Rodriguez, who attended the news conference with Di Rita, said.

“We don’t take action (against troops) for asking questions,” Rodriguez said. “That soldier will keep doing the job he [was] doing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story from Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

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