My Husband Was Not Properly Equipped for War
By Elizabeth Frederick
t r u t h o u t | Statement

Wednesday 01 March 2006

Testimony provided to the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs.

In May of 2004, my partner informed me his National Guard division was being mobilized to deploy to Iraq. Eight months later, his division finally deployed. I say finally because his date of deployment kept changing. They were initially scheduled to leave in October, and for whatever reason, the date kept being pushed back. While I enjoyed having him home for a longer period of time, it was mentally taxing to constantly be saying a final goodbye, only to repeat the process again month after month.

Regardless, I assumed the delays were happening because the division was ensuring everything was in order prior to deployment. I assumed those in charge were making sure everyone had proper supplies and training. With eight months of preparation, I assumed my loved one was being sent to war with everything he would need to keep him safe. That assumption could not have been further from the truth.

When I finally had the opportunity to talk to my partner, I learned about the severe lack of equipment, armored vehicles, and body armor. I learned a lot about the so-called "farmer armor" he and his men were being forced to use. I learned about the truck he was using in missions throughout northern Iraq. The truck lacked windows and bullet proof glass. The gun in the back had been welded onto an old oxygen tank. The makeshift doors would swing open unless they were secured with rope inside the cab of the truck.

The gun turrets on larger vehicles were completely open, leaving the gunner inside vulnerable. The men duct-taped Kevlar blankets around the open spaces in an effort to give themselves protection during convoys. However, they were forced to stop this practice once they were told the cost of any lost blankets would come out of their pockets.

They had to choose between paying for lost supplies and conducting missions with their entire bodies exposed. It seems as though all the time that had passed since the war began was not enough to ensure each unit deploying to Iraq had armored vehicles. However, according to the division's leadership, only armored vehicles were being used on missions. The hundreds of other unarmored vehicles never left the base, and were never used during the trip from Kuwait to Iraq. The soldiers who claimed to be using them on a daily basis, in cities like Tikrit, Mosul, and Ramadi, were apparently lying.

In addition to the armored vehicles, there was a shortage of common supplies like flash lights, goggles, warm gloves, ammunition pouches, and the list goes on. The most common line they were given by their supply clerk was,

"If you want it, buy it yourself." Apparently eight months of preparation was not enough for the division to gather enough supplies for all the troops.

For some unknown reason, the supply clerk rarely had anything to give the soldiers, but the PX on the same base was fully stocked. They could not get chest protectors from their unit, but they could order them from private companies and have them shipped to Iraq. They could not get gloves and winter clothing from their supply clerk, but they could walk to the PX and pay for it themselves. The ironic thing is that the same supply clerk, the one who was unable to supply the soldiers more often than not and directed them to the PX, was given a bronze star for his service in Iraq.

The issue of supplies and body armor is not new, which is the very reason I feel obligated to raise it with you today.

Years after this war first began, the same problems still exist. Progress has been made, but not enough. I was fortunate enough to be living in Washington, to know how to contact my partner's representative and try to get help. I was fortunate to find a congressman to raise the issue in committee. Even with these efforts, the amount of change that occurred was minimal. So much effort for so few results.

I was fortunate - most people do not know how to go through this process. They chalk it up to another unfortunate aspect of military life. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want." They have been conditioned not to complain, not to ask for common items that would protect them, not to raise a fuss about vehicles and supplies. When one renegade soldier decides to speak out, they live in fear they will face retribution and punishment from those higher up. Only then does the military act, and seemingly in order to avoid embarrassment, not because they really care.

My partner's leadership was more concerned with protecting their own reputations, ensuring their own promotions, and earning their own medals, than with the well-being and safety of the men and women serving under them. These soldiers, and their families who they left behind, deserve better than this. It is a shame that the only ones who receive help are those lucky enough to have an advocate back home. Furthermore, it is a shame those soldiers who do speak out risk their own reputations and safety, only because they want the supplies and vehicles that may increase their odds of making it home alive.

Unfortunately, I have learned many of the same lessons apply when dealing with health care, disability services, mental health care, and just about anything else you can think of. Those who have the knowledge and ability to figure out bureaucratic red tape are the ones who receive assistance. Those who have family members who can dedicate a substantial amount of time and effort to advocating on behalf of their soldier are the ones who are able to find a solution. Those who do not, and there are many, are left with the short end of the stick.

They become frustrated, and eventually give up. They resign themselves to the fact that no one cares, because if they did, they would not be faced with these kinds of problems to begin with. They feel let down and betrayed. They feel disillusioned and disappointed in an institution they had so much respect for. These are not isolated incidents; for every solider who does take a risk and speak, there are many more who feel they cannot not.

I have learned many things since my soldier was first deployed, things I never thought I would have to learn. I feel I was forced into this position because no one else was there to look out for him. Families of soldiers should not be in this position. We should be able to rest easy knowing our leaders, both elected and military, are doing everything in their power to protect the lives of our loved ones. We should be able to know once our soldiers come home, that our government will take care of them, and ensure they are getting the care and assistance they need to readjust to civilian life.

For whatever progress has been made, we still have a long way to go. Military families need to know we have advocates in Congress, people who will look out for our loved ones and respect the sacrifices they have made. We have been let down time and time again over the past three years and forced into situations we never thought we would find ourselves in. It is time for some serious changes to be made. It is my hope you will be the ones to make those changes and create a better life for our soldiers. They have given everything to this country, and your promise to look out for their interests is the very least they deserve.

For more information: Military Families Speak Out.