The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, August 26, 2004  

Reserve Unit Enters Iraq Friday

Remember back in October, and more recently in May, when the media was full of reports about the failure of the Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense to provide American soldiers with sufficient body armor and the accompanying lack of adequate protection for troops traveling in Humvees and other vehicles?

If you don’t recall this particularly shameful controversy, and the strange but not surprising participation in this abysmal failure of even the most rudimentary of logistical tasks by Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), see the collection of news reports assembled in July by the Kerry-Edwards campaign’s Rapid Response Center.

And if you think the situation has been resolved, think again. I recently learned otherwise from a member of the U.S. Army’s 427th Transportation Company.

The 427th, a reserve unit based in Norristown, Pa., assembled in Fort Drum, N.Y., in June, anticipating the customary six-month pre-deployment training period. Instead, the unit was sent to Kuwait in early August, giving them less than two months’ preparation, and this for a reservists’ unit, normally considered the last line of defense in the military. According to my source, the unit received minimal training during their tour at Fort Drum.

By the time you read this, late Thursday or on Friday, the 427th will have been moved into Iraq. According to my source, the units will be running supply convoys through territory so dangerous it is called the “meat grinder.”

Although the members of the unit have been supplied with personal body armor, my source emphasizes the unit’s trucks have no bulletproof glass or armored protection of any kind, rendering the soldiers vulnerable to attack by Iraqi rebels. The Army previously indicated it would upgrade the trucks prior to deployment but now says armor plating of the doors and floors of the trucks and the installation of bulletproof glass, essential for adequate protection, will not happen for another six months.

Until then, it seems, it’s up to the reservists to make do or “tough it out.” As you may have heard, U.S. troops in Iraq facing similar deprivation have turned to private donations of bulletproof vests to provide makeshift protection for their defenseless vehicles. It’s the same with the 427th. Rather than waiting for the Pentagon, the unit will be tacking up and taking down in their trucks bulletproof vests supplied by a group of Jersey City, N.J., police officers, this only after I called the officers explaining the 427th’s dire need for this equipment.

Another source, one who was on hand when the 427th left Norristown for Fort Drum, described to me an emotional scene, with the family and friends of the mostly working-class reservists obviously distraught at the prospect of the unit heading into Iraq so woefully unequipped.

The Norristown unit is located in the congressional district of (Rittenhouse-endorsed) Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), who is running for the Senate seat currently occupied Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). I strongly urge Pennsylvania readers to contact Rep. Hoeffel, Sen. Specter, and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) regarding this matter.

Yet this is not a local concern; it reflects the well-documented failure of the Pentagon to adequately supply the troops sent to fight this folly and to prepare for the aftermath of the “Mission Accomplished” invasion. Please, pick up the phone, write a letter, or send a personal e-mail message to your lawmakers in Washington. (You can reach anyone in Congress by calling, toll free, (800) 839-5276.) And call the Pentagon at (703) 545-6700 and the White House at (202) 456-1111.

[Post-publication addendum (August 27): See update: “Update: Insufficient Armor,” August 27.]

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