In the first debate, John Kerry pointed out that our soldiers are sent to Iraq without proper equipment, leaving their parents back home searching the Web for proper body armor. “Humvees—10,000 out of 12,000 Humvees that are over there aren’t armored,” Kerry said, as Bush Junior smirked. “And you go visit some of those kids in hospitals today who were maimed because they don’t have the armament.” That’s the half of it. Here’s a recent e-mail from a Marine infantryman, part of the original invasion force, who recently returned from combat in Iraq:
• On footwear: “Days before we flew out from North Carolina to Kuwait, some Marines were still not being provided with the correct size desert boots. There were extra boots left, but none that would fit. The unit was allotted only a certain number of boots for each size. Still, others were issued two pairs of boots . . . the older type and a new type just released. The Marines without boots had to pay for cabs to bring them outside of the base to a military surplus store in town, where they could buy desert boots that actually fit.”
• On weapons: “We were issued a certain amount of ammunition while in Kuwait, prior to flying into Iraq. This was on 4/1/03. There was no ammo for the machine gunners. Therefore, our infantry rifle company had no heavy guns support. While we were in the hangar in Kuwait, waiting to fly out, a few of the machine gunners went up to a Navy SEAL team, which was also staged in the hangar. They had a small arsenal of weapons, including all-terrain vehicles with shoulder-launched rockets attached, and box upon box of ammunition. When told that we had no machine gun ammo, they gave us a few boxes so we could fly into Iraq with working machine guns.”
• On backpacks: “Their frames were made of plastic. The Marine Corps knew that these packs were shit. They were supposed to be the ‘next-generation’ thing, but troops in Afghanistan complained about them. The USMC already began developing new packs, but sent us into Iraq with these plastic frames. Many Marines had their frames break, simply by putting them on under the full combat load weight. Then they’re expected to carry them. Some had to repair their packs with string.”
An official Marine report prepared this past January, Marine Corps Reserve Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Lessons Learned, confirmed much of what this soldier reported, and noted other scarcely believable screwups.
“Convoys as large as 100 to 150 vehicles had only two or three military radios for long-range communications and virtually no capability for intra-convoy communications,” the report said. “Intra-convoy communications is needed because a 100-vehicle convoy can cover two to three miles from head to tail.” To stay in touch, the reserve units on their own went out and bought civilian short-range, handheld radios.
On their return, the government won’t give these soldiers the most basic benefits. Here are a couple of examples:
• Families visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington and elsewhere up to now were granted $51 a day to help pay some of their expenses. But Congress cut the per diem payment from the budget.
• Some 40 percent of reservists have no health insurance, and the Pentagon has been fighting to avoid including them under the military’s TriCare Health benefits system. The vets want to be able to buy insurance under this plan at affordable prices. Legislation being worked out in Congress will allow some, but not all, reservists to enter the military’s medical plan.
Additional reporting: David Botti and Laurie Anne Agnese