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Context of 'December 9, 2004: Soldier’s Question about Vehicle Armor Provided by Reporter; Soldier Excoriated by Conservative Commentators'

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US military units in the Gulf, as well as those in the US preparing for deployment, contract local welders and steel fabricators to retrofit their light-armored vehicles with makeshift armor known as “Hillbilly” or “Haji” armor. [MSNBC, 4/15/2003; Washington Post, 12/26/2003; Daily Press, 9/26/2004]

Timeline Tags: US Military, Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

The US Army’s official guidance on the issue of “hardening” soft-skinned Humvees and other lightly-armored vehicles includes a recommendation for soldiers to put sandbags on the floorboards to reduce the impact of explosions. Since the summer, the soldiers’ preferred solution to the problem of unprotected vehicles has been to hire local contractors to add steel to the bodies of their vehicles (see March 2003 and After). [MSNBC, 4/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: US Military, Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq.A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. [Source: Public domain via the Department of Defense]During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. [ABC News, 12/8/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250] Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).

Entity Tags: Thomas Wilson, Tennessee National Guard, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Rumsfeld, Blaze Crook, Scott McClellan, John Zimmerman, Kurt Hendler

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Tennessee National Guard, Frank Rich, Donald Rumsfeld, Chattanooga Times Free Press, George W. Bush, Lawrence Di Rita, Thomas Wilson, Rush Limbaugh, Lee Pitts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of the Army, Thomas Wilson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” [McClatchy News, 5/15/2008]

Entity Tags: William Cowan, Glenn Greenwald, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, Barry McCaffrey, Lawrence Di Rita, US Department of Defense, Joseph L. Galloway

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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