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Up-armor: Keeping the 1st Cavalry Safe

By Sgt. Christina Rockhill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP AL-TAHREER, Iraq, Dec. 27, 2004 – With recent questions raised in the media about the battle readiness of troops in Iraq, 1st Cavalry Division leaders wanted to assure their soldiers that they have the best equipment the Army has to offer and are continuing to work the issue.

Force protection was the driving force behind the 1st Cavalry Division's efforts to provide armored layers to its fleet of vehicles, officials said. The effort began even before the division began migrating north from Kuwait into Baghdad in April.

"Task Force Baghdad soldiers are sent on combat patrol missions in an armored tracked vehicle, an M-1114 (armored Humvee) or a Humvee with Army-provided add- on armor," said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, assistant division commander for support. "We continue to maximize every opportunity the Army provides to apply more add-on armor. We also continue to work tirelessly to add such armor to our heavy truck fleet."

Lt. Col. Larry Phelps is the chief of logistics for the 1st Cavalry Division, and is known in the division as "Larry 'Up- Armor' Phelps." He arrived in January before the division, and has been the driving force in making sure the soldiers of Task Force Baghdad have the needed equipment to accomplish their mission.

"We have not missed a single opportunity the Army has afforded to apply armor to our vehicles," Phelps said. "We've far outpaced most units in the Army in our ability to apply that armor."

More than half of all the division Humvees in theater are up-armored, either through Army-provided add-on-armor kits or as M1114 up-armored Humvees. Phelps said 24 new M1114 Humvees are on the way, and as production in the Army has increased, so have the systems for Task Force Baghdad units.

"Humvees do not depart any of our camps for any reason unless they are up- armored," Hammond said. "However, not everything is up-armored to the degree we want, and we won't rest until all vehicles are up-armored."

Enhancing the force protection posture of Task Force Baghdad has been a work in progress.

"Every time the Army goes out to war, we never start out with the perfect equipment. It has to evolve over time, and I think this is part of the evolution," Phelps said.

"We've done everything humanly possible to make this thing work, short of building an up-armored wheeled vehicle factory here," Hammond said. "Does that mean because I occupy an M-1114, I'm not going to get hurt? Well, we know nothing in this environment is for certain. But, we have the best equipment available. And that -- combined with good, smart tactics on the road -- gives you the greatest opportunity for troop force protection."

Making sure the vehicles are up-armored isn't the only way the division is looking out for its Task Force Baghdad soldiers. Phelps said the division has made sure its soldiers have the proper individual equipment such as outer tactical vests with small-arms protective inserts, ballistic protective eyewear, combat earplugs and protectors for the shoulder and armpit regions.

"There's nothing we won't do to protect our soldiers," Phelps said. Phelps also said the soldiers' confidence in their weapons systems, training and leadership plays a large role in their safety.

As new units are added to Task Force Baghdad, it provides new challenges and opportunities to keep the soldiers equipped and ready to fight, Hammond said.

Since assumption of this mission, the task force has gained a National Guard brigade, an active Army brigade and two additional battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division. "In each case, we've ensured these units have the necessary track vehicle and Humvee up-armored force protection capacity," Hammond said. As the two battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived last week, they were equipped with 62 new M-1114s.

"We are looking for every option to make sure all soldiers are protected and safe," Hammond said. The division has armored more than 3,000 systems since arriving in Baghdad and still has plans to armor as much as they can for the next group soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom III, Phelps said.

"We have over 100 slots in the month of December, so as that armor is provided by the Army, we will send those vehicles to the application point and appliqu armor will be applied to those vehicles," Phelps said. "We are setting conditions for those Reserve units and active units to fall in our footprint, and every possible piece of armor that can be hung between now and the time we redeploy (will be) going toward the useful purpose of setting the conditions for Operation Iraqi Freedom III."

Hammond said the division will keep working to ensure the safety of its soldiers.

"Facts speak louder than words, and the facts are in," he said. "You will not find an unarmored 1st Cavalry Division Humvee operating outside a base camp on the road or on a combat mission. You can tell a 1st Cav convoy or patrol on the road, because they are armored-up; the soldiers are focused and serious."

(Army Sgt. Christina Rockhill is assigned to 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)

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