Rumsfeld Grilled By Soldiers?
Almost immediately after returning to camp yesterday after the visit by the SECDEF, I did a google news search and read the AP Wire article and noted that, although the piece was fairly accurate, there was definitely a sense of exaggeration in the tone that presented the townhall meeting as a gripe session. As one of the soldiers in the audience, I felt that presenting the morning in such a fashion was misleading, and with such negative connotations, I wondered how long it may be before the MSM ran with the story and turned a pleasant morning with the Secretary of Defense into a scenario that resembled a defendant being cross-examined by the prosecution in a court room. I knew the story was generating heavy circulation when I saw it headlined on Drudge today (click here for story).
Before I dig in, I want to address one item in particular from the story linked above that I think was not made clear enough. When it stated:
Spc. Thomas Wilson had asked the defense secretary, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" Shouts of approval and applause arose from the estimated 2,300 soldiers who had assembled to see Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.
I believe Secretary Rumsfeld hesitated because it was difficult to hear the first part of the question Spc. Wilson asked. Perhaps because of nerves, he spoke at first very quickly, and the acoustics of the hangar were hardly concert-hall quality. The Secretary asked others to repeat parts of their questions as well apparently because of difficulty hearing the question in its entirety. I do think Spc. Wilson is justified in asking such a question. It is a serious issue, and if logistics or "physics" is the obstacle from accomplishing the tasks of up-armoring vehicles to add to soldier safety, then we need to do our best to overcome that obstacle. The Secretary concluded with an anecdote in which he spoke of the recent terror warning surrounding the election. He said he looked out the windows of the Pentagon one day and saw 6-8 up-armored HMMWV's perched at the perimeter of the building. He then said, "Guess what, they aren't there any more."
I also want to express that as a person who has worked in politics for years, I was very surprised when we were told there would be the opportunity to ask questions without first having them screened. I would have assumed there would have been some process where those who had questions submitted them prior to asking the Secretary, and had them approved. Instead, everyone in the room was given the option to stand, motion for one of the soldiers holding a microphone, and ask anything they desired. There was no particular order of what kind of questions were asked and the soldiers who asked questions ranged in rank from Specialists to Lieutenant Colonels. When I say I was surprised that this part of the event was not micromanaged, I want to ensure you that I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, it shows the attitude that this Secretary has towards the soldiers he is sworn to represent. It shows those in uniform that he does not see us or our concerns as "below his level," but instead sends a signal that we are his concern, and ensuring we can accomplish the mission is his highest priority.
One more thing I would like to add is this, not one soldier present asked questions about why we were here, or expressed the sort of anti-war sentiment that Michael Moore led some to believe was prevalent in the military. Rather, the concern was about ensuring we would be supplied with all necessary equipment to accomplish the mission and return home safely. Let there be no doubt, this was not a hostile crowd eager to catch the Secretary of Defense off guard by grilling him with questions he has never had to answer. This was a group of truly admirable American's and patriots, receiving confirmation from the man who controls the Department of Defense, that we have the full fledged moral, financial and logistical support, to accomplish the mission.
As you know, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld came here for a visit yesterday. The news agencies (all of them- even Fox) have already spun the visit way out of control.
I just watched a "Fox Live" update (it's 1:36 am EDT as I type this- 9:36 am Kuwait time), and the anchor started with "what was supposed to be a friendly question and answer session turned into a tough grilling for Donald Rumsfeld..." -this is not a true statement.
I saw another report that indicated that the SECDEF "was slated to give a pep talk" but that it "devolved into a gripe session." -not true.
I've been sitting through briefings about this visit for the past 6 days- in every case, this visit was billed as a "town hall meeting" in which the SECDEF would open the floor to questions and answer them to the best of his ability- never saw anything that suggested it was supposed to be "friendly" or "peppy." This is nothing new- it's actually something that SECDEF's have been doing for years. When I was a VIP Flight Platoon Leader in Seoul, I picked up Secretary of Defense William Cohen at Osan Airbase, flew him to Seoul Airbase, and watched in stunned disbelief as one of my soldiers asked him why the Clinton Administration thought it was a good idea to keep downsizing the military when deployments like Somalia and the Balkans were "on the up and up." More about that later.
The only thing unusual about this particular "town hall meeting" was the fact that the press was invited. My coworkers and I wondered aloud about the wisdom of this decision, and I still can't really see the logic there. The only thing I can think of is that the SECDEF intended to show that he has nothing to hide- sort of like a "full public disclosure" kind of thing. The problem with this is obvious. When the cameras are rolling and a soldier stands up and asks why the military isn't doing anything to properly equip him for war, guess what happens? That's right- the media machine immediately establishes a new "truth"- in this case it's that the military is not equipping the force. Absolutely no effort is made to fact-check the soldier- his word is taken as pure gospel. Politicians on Capitol Hill start ranting and raving, the pundits weigh in, and the opposition party gleefully waves the "I told you so" banner. All because of one question from a hard-working well-meaning lower enlisted soldier.
SPC Wilson is one of those soldiers who likes to take shots at authority figures. His ex-wife said of him- "It wouldn't matter if it was Bush himself standing there. He would have dissed him the same." This does not mean he's a bad soldier. It does mean that he's probably not a good choice to be an Army spokesperson, which is exactly what he became yesterday. As I mentioned earlier, I had a soldier like him working for me in Korea- the guy who unloaded on SECDEF Cohen for downsizing. I thought it was a fair question- I just wish he would have run his question by me before asking my boss's boss's boss's boss. We had a talk about it- my policy was not unusual, and he was well aware of it- if you have a gripe, ask me about it. If you don't like my answer, then go to the next level. If you feel uncomfortable talking to me, then fine- talk to my boss. Of course he didn't feel uncomfortable talking to me (I'm a pretty nice guy), he just said, "Sorry, Sir- I really don't like the Clintonians. I had an opportunity shot and I took it."
I'm not saying that SPC Wilson has an anti-Bush agenda or anything like that- I think he was probably frustrated about things he either didn't understand or didn't agree with, and just wanted to take a shot. And I can tell you that his platoon leader and everyone else in his chain of command felt betrayed if he didn't voice his complaint to them first- from my experience, I'm guessing he did not.
I have no doubt that one of SPC Wilson's superiors told him to go through a scrap yard to get more vehicle armor. There's nothing wrong with this- resourceful soldiers are always looking to improve on their equipment, weapons, fighting positions, etc. What SPC Wilson might not be aware of (at his level)- is that all vehicles that drive north into Iraq are required to have "level 3" armor protection. If a vehicle does not meet this standard, it will not be driven up north- it will be carried on a flatbed truck. Once in Iraq, armored vehicles are used for driving off post, and unarmored vehicles are used for driving around on post. This policy is put out to each unit's commanders well before the unit even arrives to Kuwait. The leaders are then charged with disseminating this information down to the soldiers. Obviously, this process of "information dissemination" doesn't always happen like it's supposed to- and so we have uninformed soldiers (who think they're going to drive into Iraq in unarmored vehicles) taking shots at our nation's most powerful leaders. It happens all the time, and it's another reason why America is such a unique country. There are many places in this world where a soldier would not survive asking such a question.
I wasn't at the event yesterday, but our friend SGT Missick was there. He presents a more accurate picture of how the soldiers received the SECDEF- very much in contrast with the "Spanish Inquisition" that you saw from the MSM:I must say that the mood in the hangar was much more of goodwill, with soldiers packing around the Secretary as if he was a movie star to shake his hand or get a picture at the end. There was a great deal of frustration in the voice of the soldier who asked questions regarding vehicles being up-armored, and the hangar did erupt in applause after he spoke, but I wouldn't translate one very tough question into a grill session by American forces.My $0.02.
1) We don't have enough vehicle armor!
I logged well over 1,500 miles driving around Iraq, and I never even saw an "armored" humvee. I didn't complain- mostly because I was well aware that my father never had any armored humvees in Vietnam, and my grandfather certainly didn't have any armored humvees during WWII.
As soon as the ground commanders asked for armored humvees, the military industrial complex went into overdrive- read more about it here:Furthermore, Di Rita said, since the Army first identified a need for more armored Humvees, in the fall of 2003, the service "has done just a superb job of turning around a component of industrial base that was doing different things" and turning the manufacturers to making both armored Humvees and armor kits for other vehicles.2) Stop the stop-loss!
At the time, Humvee makers were "producing something on order of 15 armored Humvees per month," Di Rita said.
Today, that number is 450, he said, with $1.2 billion spent since August 2003 on armor and armored Humvees alone. As a result, "three out of four" Humvees now in Iraq are armored, he said.
[i]"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." -JFK[/i]
3) Active Duty units get "preferential treatment" over Reserve and NG units!
Absolutely 100% false. The priority of money and equipment goes to the units with "tactical priority." If we had a National Guard unit "fighting it out" in the streets of Baghdad, they would have tactical priority (would get priority of equipment and funding) over an Active Duty unit that's guarding camels in Basra. As it happens, Active Duty units usually (but not always) have tactical priority by virtue of their mission and/or location.
When I was in Mosul with the 101st, we were always last in line with respect to funding and equipment. 4th ID (in Tikrit) and 1st AD (in Baghdad) had tactical priority, so they received "preferential treatment." They were fully engaged in the Sunni Triangle- we understood this, so we didn't complain.
As I said earlier, soldiers at the lowest levels do not always understand the concept of "tactical priority"- it's more of an officer thing. Having said that, we officers (and you NCOs out there)obviously need to do a better job of educating our young soldiers about their chosen profession. Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm quite certain, would appreciate it...
I think Rumsfeld handled the whole thing perfectly. I especially liked this quote:"I don't know what the facts are, but somebody is certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know," Rumsfeld said.True. And his commander will probably ask him why he used a world stage and a session with the SECDEF as a means to pass this "information" up the chain (he might be standing at attention for that part of the discussion). Who knows? The soldier might have a viable excuse for speaking out in such a forum. I seriously doubt it, but he might. In any case, he won't be punished. He'll probably feel pretty bad when he realizes what he did, though...