Senator Fumo's Remarks on the floor of the Senate, June 14, 2005, concerning the Bush Administration's failure to properly armor and equip American troops fighting in Iraq:
I would like to pay tribute today to two more brave sons of Pennsylvania who gave their lives while serving with the United States armed forces in Iraq.
Specialist Michael J. Smith, age 24, of Media, Pennsylvania, died on January 11 in Ar Ramadi, when his military vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Smith was assigned to the1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division.
Staff Sergeant Thor H. Ingraham, 24, of Murrysville, Pa., died on May 8 in Khalidiyah, Iraq, while he was involved in combat operations and an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Notice that both of these young Pennsylvanians were hit while in vehicles. That is a very common type of casualty among our service men and women in Iraq. They are ambushed by insurgents as they travel through the countryside. In fact, about 40 percent of our combat losses now occur that way.
Far too often, our soldiers have been victimized not just by enemy combatants, but by the Bush Administration’s failure to provide them with adequate protection. Many deaths have occurred because our vehicles lacked sufficient armor. Also, individual soldiers have been sent into the field without proper equipment, such as body armor.
Why? Because the Bush administration failed to appreciate the type of conflict it was starting in Iraq. The commander in chief thought combat operations would be over after six weeks. So they failed to prepare for the protracted street fighting and insurgency that has claimed so many American lives. It is just one more example of the way the Bush Administration botched the job of this war. Whether you believe the invasion of Iraq was a good idea or a bad idea, all Americans can agree that we should have given our military personnel the right tools to get the job done, and to protect themselves as much as possible while doing it.
Two infamous cases late last year brought public scrutiny to the problem.
In October of 2004, a group of 19 reservists from a South Carolina unit refused a mission. They had been ordered to deliver a convoy of fuel trucks to a town north of Baghdad, but they disobeyed that order. One of the soldiers, Amber McClenny, said in a message on her mother’s answering machine: “We had broken down trucks, non-armored vehicles, and we were carrying contaminated fuel.”
Then less than two months later, on December 8, 2004 while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was visiting the troops in Iraq, a young man from Tennessee made headlines around the country because he confronted the Secretary. Specialist C. Thomas Wilson said this: “We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that has already been shot up, dropped, busted-- picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to go into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us North. “
Rumsfeld’s response to the young man was: "As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
While those two incidents brought the plight of our servicemen into the public eye, it actually was NOT news to the Defense Department. They were aware of it long before that, and they should have done something about it.
As early as December of 2003, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote an opinion piece in USA Today about our soldiers’ lack of protective gear. Several months earlier, one of his former students now in the Army Reserves had emailed him from Iraq. The reservist told him that he had been issued a Vietnam-era flak jacket that was designed to stop shrapnel, but was ineffective against the fire they were facing in Iraq. The reservist’s mother went out and spent $650 of her own money to buy the protective plates for his body armor.
Turley began checking with retailers around the country and found out that they had been deluged with such orders from family members of servicemen in Iraq. He told of another email from a husband whose wife was fighting there, and who asked for body armor as her Christmas present.
In all, some 40,000 U.S. soldiers went into Operation Iraqi Freedom without body armor, and no one in this administration is being held accountable.
In April of 2004, eight months before the young man from Tennessee spoke out to Secretary Rumsfeld, a study by a defense consultant concluded that one in four U.S. combat deaths in Iraq need not have occurred – they could have been prevented simply by adequate armor. Thousands more have needlessly suffered grievous wounds, including the loss of limbs. Still, the Defense Department was slow to act, largely because it continued to ignore the evidence that we were in for a long and protracted war.
But as of last week, 1,702 Americans have been killed in the Iraq war. Another 6,454 have been wounded too severely to return to action.
Paul Rieckhoff was an Army first lieutenant and platoon commander during the primary combat phase of the war and the first few months of the occupation. He said the armor problem was well known for a long time.
“I spent just under a year in Iraq in central Baghdad, and commanded 38 soldiers on the ground who were poorly equipped. We did not have armored Humvees; we were reduced to duct taping old flak jackets to the side of our Humvees to provide protection. We put sandbags in the floors of our vehicles,” he said in a radio interview late last year.
He believes the Defense Department began to respond properly only after the soldier from Tennessee spoke out to Rumsfeld. Before that, in his opinion, there was a failure to plan properly, a failure to accommodate and equip our soldiers properly, and a failure to adapt.
I realize there are some who say that these soldiers shouldn’t be complaining, that they signed up for the military, and should accept the hardship and casualties that are part of the bargain. And I realize also that unexpected situations arise in war. But when we send men into combat, they have the right to expect that we will give them the best chance possible to come out of it alive, and that’s not what our troops in Iraq got from the Bush Administration.
In the words of Lieutenant Rieckhoff, a combat veteran of Iraq:
“This is not a small segment of whining soldiers; they're not crying about their beans being cold. They're talking about survivability; they're talking about being able to accomplish the mission and return home safely. We've got the most powerful, well equipped military in the world and there's really no reason we should be riding around Baghdad looking like the Beverly Hillbillies; it's inexcusable.”
There will always be casualties in war. We understand that. Not every life can be saved. But to repeat, according to a defense consultant, one out of four American fatalities in Iraq was preventable.
That is inexcusable. That is a shameful record of negligence on the part of the Bush Administration in this war.
And by the way, George, where is Osama bin Laden, whom you promised could run but could not hide? Well, he’s still hiding. We know he isn’t in Iraq, yet that is where most of our troops are bogged down.
Thank you Madam President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo