Monday, December 13, 2004

Closer to the Truth

I usually don't dwell on one story for more than a day or two, but this up-armored humvee saga has opened up a whole flurry of important issues- and so I think it's worth following a little bit longer. There are so very many points to cover, and I'll try to keep my thoughts as organized and coherent as possible.

For Starters

I hate speculation. I wish we had the luxury of waiting until all the facts had time to surface before we began dissecting the issues. As we all know, the MSM is famous for passing judgment first and forgetting to apologize later- so people like me are forced into "spin control" at a more rapid pace than we'd like. If you go back and read my previous posts on the up-armored flap, you'll see that I'm pretty much always trying to be cautiously speculative and hypothetical ("Maybe he had a valid reason for phrasing the question that way" and "Maybe his commanders are incompetent" and "My experience tells me it's probably...")- I just don't like doing that. It's the price of living in the information age, I guess.

Clearing Up a Few Things

I'll paraphrase a comment that I recently sent to our new friend, SPC Delobius:

In retrospect, I think I may have been a little too tough on SPC Wilson (of course we had so little information to go on), but I did mention that just because he's probably one of those "vocal complainers" who "likes to take shots at authority" (those types come in officer form as well!)- doesn't mean he's a bad soldier. I've found that you'll find at least one or two soldiers like that in every unit. Sure, they can sometimes be a "thorn in the side" to the chain of command, but they can also serve a valuable purpose in that they help keep the command aware of the most pressing issues. This is more important than you may realize, because most soldiers are like the ones that you find here and here and here. They are bright, innovative, unbelievably hard-working, committed to helping "the team," and totally mission-focused. They realize that things aren't always going to be perfect- but they improvise, do the best they can with what we have (even if it's just sandbags!), and shrug it off with a laugh as they "soldier on." I'm always amazed to see them in action- doing so much and asking for so little in return. They are the best our nation has to offer- and they truly are "quiet professionals." So the "rogue" soldiers are definitely the minority- but they have a value that often goes unappreciated.

Somebody mentioned in the comments the other day- the chain of command can brief up the chain and send status reports and requests all day long without seeing any noticeable increase in urgency or progress towards what they're asking for. This is true- I see it every day. However, one public comment by SPC Wilson has already prompted the SECARMY to establish a new task force on armor procurement. Having thought about it for a while- I'm absolutely certain that this is why the SECDEF does these meetings, and it's why he brings the press along. It's genius really. We should be thankful that we have leaders who will publicly "face the music" like that, and we should be equally thankful that we have troops like SPC Wilson who aren't afraid to sound off about their concerns.

Now- About Those Humvees

I think we're getting a little closer to figuring out what's really going on here. Thanks to Aakash for pointing me to a site called Soldiers for the Truth, which is headed by the "rogue" former Army officer, David Hackworth. I'm not a huge Hackworth fan (see this exchange with Army MAJ Jeff White and you'll understand why), but I found some worthy stuff on his site. This article- IMHO- is a little too tough on the American government- I think he's blasting every US official since 1992 for not having the "gift of foresight." It's really not as simple as he makes it sound. I was more in line with this article, which came with more significant research and more logical claims as to what probably went wrong. You should read the whole article, but here are some of the more important points:

Rumsfeld asked to hear the question again, an unusual reaction for the usually quick-on-his-feet Secdef. But then he provided his answer. And it is important to reiterate the full text, because the edited version being shown on TV news provides a misleading representation of his reaction. This is what Rumsfeld actually said:

"I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I'm told that they are being - the Army is - I think it's something like 400 a month are being done. And it's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it."

The SecDef then went on to say:

"As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe "it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment."

Rumsfeld was close on production rates, the actual number of Humvees being up-armored stands at about 450 per month according to Robert Mecredy, President of Armor Holdings, Inc., which produces the up-armored Humvees. This is up from a production rate of about 15 per month last year.

So Rumsfeld's response was not the flip remark widely reported.

I completely agree. And of course-

We have never gone into battle with the Army we wanted. Since World War II, we have entered conflicts with woefully unprepared, poorly equipped and undermanned armies. It is also fair to say that big-ticket items like new aircraft, missiles and warships have pretty consistently faired better in the appropriations process than the equally important, but much less politically sexy items like ammunition, training and gear.

True. And here's the part that gets closest to the answers I've been looking for (emphasis added):

Okay, so now that the need has been unambiguously recognized, albeit belatedly, DoD has ramped up armor production significantly, but is it, as Rumsfeld said, "all that can be accomplished at this moment"?

Not surprisingly, there is a program in charge of making sure "all that can be accomplished at this moment" is actually being accomplished. It is called the Defense Priorities and Allocations System Program (DPAS). This program, run out of the Commerce Department, is supposed to (1) assure the timely availability of industrial resources to meet current national defense and emergency preparedness program requirements; and (2) provide an operating system to support rapid industrial response in a national emergency. Under DPAS, DoD can literally order vendors to produce requested items on an accelerated schedule to the exclusion of all others in times of war and other contingencies.

I spoke with people at the U.S. Army Tank, Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, Mich., which is responsible for contracting the armor plate for Humvees. They told me that in some cases, resorting to the DPAS procedure does not accelerate the process. More often, suppliers voluntarily comply.

In one case, a previous TACOM commanding general directly contacted steel suppliers and requested they voluntarily make production of armor steel for the Humvees their top priority. According to my sources, the suppliers complied. Furthermore, they claim that the production bottleneck for armor is with the steel manufacturers that produce the raw material.

Armor Holdings, who, as previously mentioned, manufacture the up-armored Humvees, claimed yesterday in a Bloomberg News article that they could immediately increase output by 22 percent, up to 550 units per month. They are awaiting orders from the Army.

Steel shortages notwithstanding, TACOM acknowledged that it had orders pending but had not yet received monies appropriated by Congress for that purpose.

Unacceptable. If our soldiers are facing added risk because some guy at a desk isn't moving money fast enough- this can't be tolerated. I'm not going to point any fingers, because we just don't have enough to go on yet- but I'm really starting to think that somebody is going to pay a heavy price for this- and deservedly so. We'll stay tooned...

About That Reporter Guy

This is a whole separate issue. This guy completely shattered any trust that may have still existed between the "media machine" and the DoD. He planted the question (the question was fine- the way it was phrased was unfair and misleading), but then he arranged to have it asked by somehow "coercing" the microphone man- and when he wrote about it in his article- he made no mention of his involvement! The whole premise of his story was that "troops are so concerned about the adequacy of their equipment- they actually hammered the SECDEF with a tough question at the meeting." Wrong! The reporter was so concerned about the equipment, that he arranged to have a soldier ask the tough question. There's a huge difference. Granted- it is an important issue that all soldiers are concerned about (I'd have been shocked if that question hadn't come up at some point during the meeting), but it's far from being the "impending mutiny" that Mr. Pitts was trying to manufacture. He effectively created an illusion- that the session with the SECDEF was nothing short of a brutal beatdown by some seriously ticked-off and unmotivated soldiers- and believe me- the MSM ran with it. All you have to do is read SGT Missick's first-hand account and bounce it off of the official transcript, and you'll see what a remarkably poor job the MSM did (again) in their "efforts to bring you the truth" about how our soldiers really feel about their involvement in this mission.

Best Post Ever

SGM Hook is the man- this is the best post I've ever seen.

And Finally

I never made any mention of the recent Wizbang Awards, but now that the voting is over- I'd like to say a few words. I think it was very nice of Kevin to do what he did- it really provided a great outlet for people to learn about and explore other sites that they may not have otherwise come across. I found some excellent sites myself.

My site was included in the Best Military Blog category- this really shocked me, and I'd like to thank whoever nominated me. I couldn't believe that I was in the same group with these blogs (like B5, Hook, Argghhh!, etc.) that I've been reading and admiring for so long- what an amazing feeling. What really shocked me, however, was the fact that so damn many people voted for my site! It looks like I even finished in the top 5 with something like 500+ votes. The fact that I've only had this site for 3 months makes the whole thing even more unbelievable to me- and it tells me that I'm doing something that a lot of people appreciate. I hear you loud and clear, and I just want to thank you all for the support- not just for me and this site- but for the support you give all of us over here in Kuwait and especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all sincerely appreciate it- THANKS!


Blackfive breaks out the JWB and celebrates a well deserved victory- here's to the milblogging champ!

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