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WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday tasked the Army with providing a point-by-point assessment of Stars and Stripes' recent “Ground Truth” series, in which a significant number of troops in Iraq were laboring under difficult conditions and said morale was low.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., told Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee, “I think it’s important that you submit to the record a point-by-point perspective as to [Stripes’] findings, and how those findings coincide or do not coincide with information that you have in your profession.”

Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker appeared before the full committee to testify on a number of topics.

Warner opened the hearing expressing concerns that while a level of dissatisfaction is part of an “arduous” military life, “the level of griping raises some alarms. And we’ll learn from you today exactly what corrective measures and how you’ve examined the root causes and hopefully eliminated some of those problems.”

Warner noted in particular “issues concerning the equitable availability of services, such as mail, PX facilities, e-mail and phones, as well as different standards between the Army and the Air Force,” which he said he witnessed firsthand.

These issues and others were covered in the series, which ran in mid-October. It resulted from Stripes reporting on conditions and morale among troops in Iraq, 2,000 of whom responded to a lengthy questionnaire.

“When that Stars and Stripes article came out,” Warner said, “it caused a considerable jolt among the ranks here in the Congress.”

SASC spokesman John Ullyot said it’s a common procedure to ask those testifying to provide more detail.

“That is a written communication to the committee offering a more detailed answer than is possible in a hearing setting,” he said, and added there was no specific deadline.

“It’s understood that it’s ‘as quickly as possible,’ within limits required for further research,” Ullyot said. “Senator Warner believes this is valuable information that Stars and Stripes was able to bring into the debate, and is interested in pursuing this. We’ll be following up directly with the secretary of the Army on that.”

The Army was looking at the request and needed to figure out how to staff it, according to one Army official.

“We will provide a timely, appropriate and objective response to the committee’s request,” added Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin.

Warner pointed out that 34 percent of those who filled out the questionnaire rated morale as low or very low.

In his testimony, Schoomaker had a different appraisal of soldiers.

“They are smart, morale is solid, and … they are proud of their service and what they accomplished.

“They understand why we are deployed in places that we are. They know why we’re there. There is an intensity of focus and a dogged determination to succeed that is absolutely extraordinary.”

Troop safety

Brownlee and Schoomaker answered pointed questions on a range of topics dealing with the war in Iraq.

Brownlee said it could take until summer 2005 for the Army to have enough “up-armored” Humvees, which are modified to better withstand the potentially fatal blast of a land mine or other ordnance. He said the Army is hoping to speed up the process by examining options for putting armor on existing vehicles.

Senators pressed him to move quickly.

“I don’t think we can accept an ’05 deadline,” Warner said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., questioned whether Humvee manufacturing lines were running 24 hours a day.

“It is inconceivable that with our manufacturing capability that we cannot produce that kind of a vehicle more rapidly and replace it,” he said.

Brownlee said he understood plants were operating at capacity and were trying to open new production lines.

Regarding the shortage of body armor, Brownlee said the Army has increased production “to the maximum rate the industrial base is capable of.” At the current rate of production, all soldiers and contractors should have the armor by the end of December, he said.

The helicopter anti-missile defenses came under scrutiny after a CH-47D Chinook transport helicopter was shot down Nov. 2 in Iraq, killing 16 soldiers. It did not have the most advanced defensive systems available, though it did have a standard package of defensive chaff and flares.

Brownlee said the Army will equip Chinooks that are in Iraq or headed to Iraq. But he said it takes three weeks to rewire a helicopter and the Army can’t remove all from service at once. He did not say how long the process would take.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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