Reality check for Rumsfeld or the troops?

Published December 8, 2004 4:34PM (EST)

Worried about unnecessary exposure to attack? Make the best of the situation.

That was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's message at a U.S. Army base in Kuwait on Wednesday, where he got an earful from some of the troops about a lack of protective armor that's left them more vulnerable to insurgents.

"Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"'Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?' Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

"Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

"'We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north,' Wilson said after asking again.

"Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face and said the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible. 'You go to war with the Army you have,' he said in a rare public airing of rank-and-file concerns among the troops."

Must've been a real morale booster.

Update: In other news, the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq has now passed the 1,000 mark. A total of 1,278 U.S. soldiers have died, according to the AP, since the beginning of the war in March 2003.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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