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U.S. Troops Question Donald Rumsfeld

December 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: After he gave a warm greeting and a brief pep talk to about 2,000 soldiers, mostly reserve and National Guard, Secretary Rumsfeld opened the floor. Then, the famously blunt secretary was the recipient of several in-kind questions from the troops.

Iraqi insurgents have killed scores of American troops with roadside bombs that shred conventional vehicles. The lack of armor for trucks and humvees heading into the combat zone was on the mind of Army Specialist Thomas Wilson.

SPC. THOMAS WILSON: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us? (Cheers and applause)

DONALD RUMSFELD: I missed the first part of your question, could you repeat it for me?

SPC. THOMAS WILSON: Yes, Mr. Secretary. Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move North relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored.

We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on to our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us North.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed to place here where they are needed. I’m told that they’re being — the army is, I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done.

And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter, on the part of the army, of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

RAY SUAREZ: Rumsfeld said armor can do only so much.

DONALD RUMSFELD: If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and a tank can be blown up.

RAY SUAREZ: Several questions addressed the disparities in equipment and pay between regular army and reserve units.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S.SOLDIER: What is the Department of Defense, more specifically the army’s side of the house, doing to address shortages and antiquated equipment that National Guard soldiers are going to roll into Iraq with?

DONALD RUMSFELD: The… now, settle down. Settle down. (Laughter) What the hell, I’m an old man and it’s early in the morning. I’m gathering my thoughts here. In any organization you’re going to have equipment and materials and spare parts of different ages.

And I am told — no way I can prove it– but I’m told that the army is breaking its neck to see that there is not a differentiation as to who gets what aged materials in the military, in the army, as between the active force, the guard and the reserve.

I’m told that they are instead trying to see that the equipment goes to those that are in the most need and who are most likely to be using it.

RAY SUAREZ: The last question broached another controversial topic. A trooper asked about the stop-loss program, which extends soldiers’ enlistments involuntarily when the Pentagon says they are needed.

UNIDENTIFIED TROOPER: My husband and myself, we both joined a volunteer army; currently I’m serving under the stop-loss program. I would like to know how much longer do you foresee the military using this program?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Stop-loss has been used by the military for years and years and years. It’s all well understood when someone volunteers to join the service. It is something that you prefer not to have to use obviously in a perfect world, but if you think about it, the whole principle of stop-loss is based on unit cohesion.

It’s basically a sound principle. It’s nothing new. It’s been well-understood. It’s been used as little as possible. And my guess is that it will continue to be used as little as possible but that it will continue to be used.

RAY SUAREZ: The number of U.S. troops in Iraq, will soon be increased to 150,000. Rumsfeld said he expects the number will be reduced after the January elections.