Equipment system lulls in Iraq blamed on geography, logistics
October 19, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Some units in Iraq are reporting shortages of mission-critical supplies and equipment, such as Black Hawk parts, bandages and life-saving equipment.
Accounts of the shortages emerged amid hundreds of interviews with front line troops. Often they were blamed on logistical snarls and miscommunications.
Plates that made standard-issue flak vests bulletproof were difficult to find, and transportation companies have had to craft gun trucks because the military didn’t have enough. Other units said they lacked the basic equipment needed to take on specific missions.
The problem countrywide is not as pervasive as it might appear if the gripes of units are being documented here and there, said Central Command spokesman Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell.
“It’s quite possible that at any one moment in time, any of the units operating in the Iraqi theater could have experienced a shortfall of one kind or another. The supply system isn’t perfect. However, we’ve never had a single instance where a unit was determined to be non-mission capable because of a maintenance or parts-shortage issue,” Mitchell said.
There are lulls in getting troop requests met and these are more a matter of geography than poor planning, Mitchell said.
“There are instances of where a unit will run out of a particular part or parts before the system can address that shortfall,” Mitchell said. “In many cases, this is more often a case of geography. The part may exist somewhere in theater, but it takes time to move it to where it’s most needed.”
Part of the Bush administration’s $87 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq is earmarked for supplies, such as armor for flak vests and vehicles that would provide more protection from bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.
In the meantime, some servicemembers say they are dealing with less than the best equipment.
“The flak vest is useless. It couldn’t stop a rock,” said Army Sgt. Hogan Bernard, 27, of the 1st Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment.
Bernard is not alone. According to an Associated Press report, nearly 30,000 American troops in Iraq still have not been issued the newest body armor, which has ceramic plates to stop rifle rounds. Delays in funding, production and shipping mean the last of the needed body armor won’t be delivered until December — more than eight months after the war began.
“In Albania, we had all the parts we could have ever needed,” said Army Cpl. Joshua Enos, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief and veteran of the 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia. “Here, it’s just ridiculous. It takes forever to get parts.”
To keep flying, Enos said he has “to do a lot of cannabilizing,” or stripping parts from one aircraft for another.
Also in short supply is a small item that allows 30 mm cannons on AH-64 Apaches to move.
The equipment shortages have been discussed by Congress. When the House Appropriations Committee voted Oct. 9 to approve an additional $87 billion to go toward operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report that detailed the approval also criticized the Pentagon for failing to provide adequate equipment to Iraq troops.
“Unfortunately, many individuals and units in the active and reserve force continue to suffer from shortages in equipment that if provided would enhance their survivability and enable them to better complete their assigned missions,” the report said. “The committee finds it wholly unacceptable for American soldiers to be deployed to the Iraq or Afghanistan theaters with anything but the best equipment.”
House Appropriations committee members directed the Pentagon to send quarterly reports to all of the congressional defense committees “that identify significant soldier equipment, weapon system, or spare parts shortages in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operations for all major active and reserve component units.”
The members of Congress noted that some deployed members not only have not been issued full-out protective gear, they are spending their own money to buy adequate substitutes. The House Appropriations report noted that members have “learned that some active-duty soldiers and reservists are spending as much as $650 out of pocket to buy Interceptor Body Armor vests and small arms protective insert plates to replace the Vietnam-era flak vests issued when they arrive in Iraq.”
While some units in Iraq scrounge for equipment, others have discovered a shortage of people.
Army Spc. Anne Rice, a reservist from Las Vegas who is assigned to the 257th Transportation Company, is trained to drive fuel tankers. But because of driver shortages, she has been transferred to another unit and is driving the trucks that haul shipping containers, tanks and other vehicles.
“I’m lucky I haven’t gotten into a jam,” Rice said.
Convoys have become one of the most frequent targets for insurgents in Iraq, and she is concerned there aren’t enough “gun ships” — trucks with gun turrets for protection.
California National Guard Commanding General Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe Jr., who recently returned from visiting troops in Iraq, agrees with Rice’s sentiments and has already put plans in place to address some of the troops’ concerns.
For starters, war planners hadn’t anticipated the guerrilla tactics of resisters, and therefore non-combat units weren’t equipped to deal with them, said the 43-year veteran.
“Transportation companies are no longer just transportation companies,” Monroe said. “They’ve converted 5-ton trucks to gun trucks, welding 50-caliber guns and welding metal siding to provide protection for that crew. We weren’t prepared for that kind of thing,” he said.
“There also was the assumption the war would be over quickly, and based on that, we had enough equipment and repair parts,” he said.
Staff writers Jon Anderson, Lisa Burgess, Sandra Jontz and Scott Schonauer contributed to this story.