Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Flak Vest Follies 
So 2003’s at a close now. Defense officials assured the media and congress that all U.S. troops in Iraq would have the new, gee-whiz Kevlar-plated Individual Protective Vests by year end.

So did they make it?

For my unit, the 1-124th Infantry Regiment, they did. But it wasn’t pretty. Here’s the scoop: we were federalized—that is, activated, though federalized is an important concept to understand when it comes to anything that involves money—in January of 2003, and moved to our mobilization station at Fort Stewart, GA, five days later.

When we got there, we saw some Air Force types with the new vests, and immediately requested them. But the Fort Stewart types said they couldn’t issue them for some reason—we were supposed to get the new vests once we deployed in theater.

No dice. (Note to deploying units: anyone who tells you “don’t worry—you’ll get it in theater, unless he can give you an exact point of contact to get it there and how many items they already have set aside for you and you have an email address so you can write and confirm it yourself—is either clueless, or lying to you to make you go away.)

Once we arrived in Southwest Asia in June, though, CFLCC told us, “Our policy to sustain Guard units. Not support them. You were supposed to get that stuff at your mob station.”


But we said, horse-hockey, we’re an infantry battalion, and we’re just as infantry as any of the active duty units who did get them, and we need them, so we’re going to request them anyway.

So they asked us for a memorandum justifying why we needed them. So we complied. And they wrote back again asking for more justification, and we wrote more memorandums. Finally, after a long series of emails justifying why we needed the new vests, they finally approved the request, and sent us into Iraq.

Without the vests.

They didn’t get ‘round to issuing them.

So off to Iraq we went. And they said now that we’re in Iraq, everything we’ve ever ordered through the supply system had to be ordered again. So the first thing we did was order the vests. And again, CFLCC replied that their policy was to sustain guard units, not equip them. “You were supposed to get the vests at your mob station.”

“Well, obviously, that didn’t happen, did it? And you’ve got us doing raids and security patrols in urban areas already. So we’re requesting them all over again.”
“Ok. Write us a memorandum telling us why you need them.”

And so it went. For months. We were conducting dismounted patrols in Ar Ramadi for weeks before we finally got the new vests. And they never were pushed to us. We had to send scroungers down to Baghdad to get them ourselves. It was like that scene in Glory where Matthew Broderick throws a tantrum in a supply sergeant’s office trying to get his soldiers some shoes. We finally got the vests despite the Army’s logistics system, rather than because of it. They were sitting in a depot, still in cardboard boxes and plastic wrap.

Plates, too.

So our infantry was finally taken care of. But when we received a reattachment of truckers from the 603rd Transportation company (active duty out of Fort Polk) as recently as September, they still had not received the vests, despite having logged thousands of convoy miles between Baghdad and Al Q’aim out by the Syrian border—along Highway 1, which includes the well-known shooting galleries of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

Fortunately, we were able to equip these soldiers within a few weeks of their arrival here. So now all the members of the 1-124th Infantry and our attachments have them, and had them by the first of the year, as the Pentagon had promised. Hoo-ah.

We’re not quite there, yet, though. We still have more people to take care of.

Enter Titan, Incorporated.

Titan is a private company contracted to provide Arabic-speaking interpreters, or “terps,” in local lingo, to the U.S. military. Many of these terps are extremely poor by Western standards—starving student types, a lot of the time—and come to us with little more than the shirts on their backs.

They get death threats from the locals all the time, but they still go out on raids and traffic control points, and many of them take as much risk as our soldiers. (They just don’t like working near where they live, because people will recognize them and their families will get murdered.)

They don’t have flak jackets, either, unless they borrow one.

One of Titan’s district managers came by a few days ago, and I asked him, “How come A.P. and Reuters and the other media outlets and Brown and Root can buy these vests and take care of your people, but you guys can’t provide Kevlars and flak vests to your own employees?”

He informed me that under the terms of the contract, the Army was supposed to provide these things for the translator. The thing is, these are individual issue items. Units don’t keep spares on hand in the supply room. We simply don’t have them when we deploy. Most units don’t.

If we were so short of IBVs, why did the Army sign a contract saying we’d provide them?

At any rate, we’re almost there, but we’ve still got a ways to go, when it comes to taking care of our own.

All of our own.

I sympathise with the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a pity they are sent thousands of miles away from the homeland in a pointless war against an invisible enemy.. too bad the politicians can't understand you can't fight hate and poverty with weapons, you can only fuel them.
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