By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
April 08, 2005
The Army is scrambling to add armor to more than 5,800 medium-size and 4,400 heavier trucks in Iraq that haul equipment, fuel and other supplies to American troops across the California-sized country. The goal is to have hardened all trucks destined to be used outside base camps in Iraq by June, the Army said in December.
At the end of 2004, about half the truck fleet had been fitted with at least some steel protection, the Army said. This included 507 heavy tactical trucks, 492 medium-sized trucks, two heavy equipment trailers, eight M915 tractor trailers and 187 rigs that haul pallets of goods, Army Lt. Gen. Steve Whitcomb said in a briefing in December.
But the bulk of the trucks have only "hillbilly armor," as troops have dubbed the makeshift protection they have cobbled together for their vehicles.
Scrounging steel from junkyards and trash heaps, GIs have welded pieces onto their trucks and piled sandbags on the floor to increase the chance they can survive the roadside bomb and rocket-propelled-grenade attacks that have bedeviled U.S. forces since the summer of 2003.
The improvised armor is being systematically replaced on trucks now in Iraq with 1,000-pound steel "add on" plates to shield the sides and rear of the vehicles. Before other trucks are shipped to the battlefield from outside Iraq, they are being fitted with bulletproof or explosive-resistant glass for the cab areas and armored tops.
But the added steel has not calmed the concerns of some troops. Kentucky National Guard Staff Sgt. Brad Rogers caused a stir this week when he e-mailed media and others back home to ask for help in getting elected officials and the public to pressure the Army to provide better protection.
Rogers, a 16-year Guard veteran from Hebron, Ky., said the April 3 death of another Kentucky Guardsman could have been avoided if his vehicle's glass had been equipped with shrapnel-resistant "ballistic" windows.
Sgt. James Sherrill, 27, was killed by a piece of shrapnel that passed through a window and hit him in the left temple after a roadside bomb detonated near his convoy truck.
"I feel in my heart that Sgt. Sherrill would still be with us if he had had ballistic windows," Rogers, 33, wrote in an e-mail.
His protest follows similar grievances aired last year by Florida, New England and Tennessee Guard and reserve members who also went public with their complaints about vehicles left vulnerable by a lack of armor and maintenance woes.
Military officials say that, while more extensive armor can lessen the peril to troops, even the Army's 65-ton battle tanks have fallen victim to roadside bombs and other attacks.
And they say the insurgents, recognizing that U.S. vehicles are becoming more armored, have been building even bigger bombs to compensate for that hardening. Now, bombs are even being fashioned around artillery shells or constructed with 500 pounds of explosives.
"No amount of effort in armoring will make our soldiers completely invulnerable," Army Secretary Francis Harvey said this week.