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Servicemembers in Iraq Adequately Protected, General Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2005 – Every vehicle that moves into Iraq from Kuwait has the necessary armor protection, according to the Army commander in Kuwait in charge of the military's movement into and out of Iraq.

"As far back as October 2004 ... we have not driven a vehicle into Iraq from Kuwait that has not had some form of armor protection on it, either Level 1, Level 2 or the hardening, the steel plating on what we call Level 3," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whitcomb, coalition forces land component commander, Kuwait, during a March 20 "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" interview.

Of the three forms of armor being used to reinforce the Humvees going into Iraq, Level 1 is the "top of the line" Whitcomb said. It is a factory-produced vehicle that provides 360-degree protection to its occupants.

Level 2 is a factory-produced kit, and provides ballistic glass for front and side windows. It does not, however, offer protection for the top or bottom of the vehicle.

Whitcomb called the Level 3 protection "a bridge to get to Levels 1 and 2." It is add-on steel plating, and does not provide protection for the windows.

And though he agreed that after two years in the theater the Army is not where it ought to be, he said he views the up-armoring of the Humvees a success.

"This fleet was not designed, nor were any of our wheeled vehicles designed, to have armoring on it because it was a different war back then," Whitcomb said. "So the success has been going from 2003 with a handful of Level 1 up-armored Humvees to what we have today, which is in excess of 7,000."

While the up-armoring is needed for troops to safely perform their missions, it isn't foolproof. In fact, it may be partially responsible for more than a dozen deaths this year, the general said. Already in the first 10 weeks of this year, 14 soldiers have been killed in rollover accidents that may have been a result of the armor.

Whitcomb said that some of those accidents might be attributed to the driving conditions in Iraq. He said the roads are very narrow and there are lots of canals. He also cited speed as a possible factor.

But he allowed that it could simply be the fact that soldiers are not used to driving the heavy vehicles.

"(Lt.) Gen. J.R. Vines, the Multinational Corps commander, and Gen. (George) Casey, the Multinational Force commander in Iraq, have asked that we look at driver training and any kind of capabilities in the vehicle that might cause rollovers," Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb also said body armor is not an issue, denying that there is any prejudice between active and Guard or Reserve troops when it comes to issuing the armor. It's all the same top-of-the-line equipment, he said.

"There's no difference between what a soldier gets, be it an active soldier or a National Guard or Army Reserve soldier or a Marine or the other soldiers," Whitcomb said. "The operational requirements are determined by the guy on the ground. ... We don't look at a patch when we issue that type of equipment."

The same blind eye is applied to units when it comes to up-armoring the Humvees, he said.

Up-armoring and personal armor are just pieces of a larger puzzle to protect servicemembers from improvised explosive devices. After evaluating tactics, the military has developed technology to allow early detection and detonation of IEDs.

"It runs the gamut from being able to detect changes in the earth that occur over time to being able to, as I say, pre-detonate and those types of technological solutions," Whitcomb said. He declined to go into further detail regarding the technology.

Blitzer, quoting Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, brought up the issue of alleged tourniquet shortages.

Whitcomb quickly dispelled any such notion, saying that every soldier has basic tourniquets.

The military has been working on finding tourniquets that don't require specialized training and can be used by the victim without doing more damage. He said there should be 170,000 of those types of tourniquets in the theater by this summer.

And while reports have hinted at Kuwait's growing impatience with the significant presence of U.S. troops, Whitcomb said that is not the case.

"I don't think they're necessarily shifting their attitude," he said. "I just think they're open for discussion with our government on how we position ourselves in this region, not only now for today's contingencies, but also for the future."

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