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More protection for soldiers needed, deserved

WESSON – First I would like to express my appreciation to TheDAILY LEADER and especially to Scott Tynes for a very fair andbalanced article on the situation pertaining to the employment ofthe Humvee overseas. Next, I would like to make some follow-upcomments germane to the subject.

In Mr. Tynes’ article the comment was made that “Not much couldwithstand a blast like that,” specifically referring to vehiclesexposed to the blast of an IED constructed from three artilleryrounds. First of all, there are such vehicles. Second of all, mostof the IEDs encountered by our troops are not the complex,daisy-chained types of improvised explosive devices, primarilybecause it is so difficult for a lone terrorist to emplace them. Itis much easier for them to quickly plant a single-unit IEDundetected.

When I was in Baghdad, convoys traveling the route between theGreen Zone (International Zone) and the Baghdad InternationalAirport were, on average, attacked with one or more IEDs per day.Thin-skinned and lightly armored vehicles were inevitably put outof commission.

Occupants of the more robustly armored vehicles, such as theM1117 Guardian ASV, manufactured here in the South, would likelyhave survived each one of those attacks without injury.

Very recently I was forwarded an e-mail describing four ArmyCorps of Engineers U.S. contractors surviving, with only minorinjuries, an attack with a Suburban-sized vehicle configured as aVBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device). They were ridingin an older South African designed vehicle, the Caspir. Thesuburban contained far more explosive material than even threeartillery rounds would contain.

Not that long ago, five soldiers riding in an RG-31, anotherSouth African design, experienced an IED attack. They were all ableto continue on with their mission. These soldiers wrote a letter tothe manufacturer thanking them for developing such a vehicle andsaying that, “We hope the U.S. Army takes into consideration howvaluable the RG-31 is compared to an up-armored Humvee.”

This, I think, is put into a pretty clear perspective by acolleague, Mr. Duncan Lang, with the Office of the Under Secretaryof Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) who wrote mesaying, “Not only is the solution to the problem out there, it hasbeen there from the beginning. There are a number of mine-protectedvehicles (MPV) which are a heck of a lot “hardier” than a Humveeand, oh by the way, cost roughly the same as an up-armoredHumvee.

“We could have bought a bunch as an interim solution 18 monthsago while incorporating MPV technology into a newly-developed USvehicle more customized to our requirements. Instead, we spent thetime debating the rate of uparmoring Humvees.”

Not to mention the untold billions of dollars wasted andthousands of lives ruined.

Something you won’t see in the news (unless you have access tothe Early Bird) is the fact that a new issue, which is just asdeadly, has reared its ugly head as relates to the up-armoredHumvees. The up-armored vehicles are so top-heavy that they rollover much more easily … at least 14 soldiers have been killed inrollovers this year according to USA Today writer Gregg Zoroya.This clearly supports my claim that there is only so much you cando to modify the Humvee to make it a useful combat vehicle.

Los Angeles Times staff writer John Hendren recently wrote anarticle stating that the Pentagon wants to replace the Humvee,which is carrying as much armor as possible on current models butis still getting blown up by increasingly powerful roadside bombsin Iraq. He says U.S. troops there have begun using 31 larger,heavily armored, 5-ton “gun trucks” to escort troop convoys, whichhad previously been a primary Humvee mission.

Our country has at least two strong allies in elected officialswho are very concerned about the armored vehicle situation. Rep.Jim Saxton and our own Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor. Saxton’s staffprepared an extensive report on issues associated with the Strykerarmored vehicle. Taylor has probably been one of the morepersistent officials holding the Pentagon accountable for armoredvehicle issues.

He is quoted by Fox News as saying, “When I visit Iraq, I ridearound in an armored vehicle, and I am sure the secretary (ofdefense) does as well. That should be the single standard: If it isgood enough for the big shots, it is good enough for every Americansoldier.”

Taylor points out that when Washington officials visit Iraq,their security includes heavily armored vehicles. I have personallyobserved dignitaries benefiting from the M1117 Guardian and thevery robust Rhino Runner. I am not aware of any of them travelingaround in a Humvee.

I recently received a forwarded e-mail from a retired SouthAfrican army colonel, who is the program manager for the Rooikat(that our own National Ground Intelligence Center considers thebest wheeled AFV in the world), who said, “A vehicle like this(capable of protecting against IEDs) needs a certain ballisticprotection and more than a certain weight to allow acceptable blastand fragment mitigation.

“Slapping a few armor plates on a Humvee and fitting a mineprotection kit,” he said, “still leaves you with a solution that iseasily defeated and still transfers unacceptable accelerationforces to the occupants.” He concluded by saying, “Like anythingelse, vehicles are tools of the trade. Use a hammer for nails andwrench for bolts.”

None of this speaks to the vulnerability of the Humvee to theubiquitous RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade), which along with theAK-47 is one of the most common shoulder-fired weapons in Iraq.Again, there are other vehicles that offer far superior ballisticprotection against these powerful weapons. That’s fodder foranother story.

Col. Jim Hampton, of Wesson, who is recently back from dutyin Panama, previously served in Iraq.