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After Delays and Criticism, Pentagon Shifts Priorities to Protect Soldiers

July 1, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Beginning in 2007 the Pentagon shifted its spending priorities to meet the deadly threat of roadside bombs leading to the procurement of the MRAP, or 'Mine Resistant Ambush Protected'. The fourteen-ton vehicle is credited for a drastic decline in roadside bomb fatalities, but why did it take so long? Paul Solman investigates.

FRANZ GAYL, Science Adviser, U.S. Marine Corps: Before I start reading this, I just want to make clear that the views I express do not represent the views of the United States Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent: Retired Marine Corps major, current Pentagon science adviser, reluctant whistle-blower Franz Gayl.

FRANZ GAYL: This culture has been criminally negligent in a way that has led directly to the unnecessary loss of hundreds of American and innocent Iraqi lives and countless serious injuries.

PAUL SOLMAN: Gayl wrote those words last May, trying to make the case that the Marine procurement system was responding too slowly to urgent equipment requests from the front. He’s recently been on a five-month fact-finding trip to Iraq, had prepared a detailed presentation, but…

FRANZ GAYL: I was told by my superiors that I would not be allowed to give that presentation after all.

PAUL SOLMAN: So Gayl went public. And what specifically was his beef? That the Marine bureaucracy ignored, in some cases for years, urgent equipment requests from Iraq for, among other items: an automatic language translator; an unmanned aerial drone; a laser device to warn off oncoming drivers at checkpoints, thereby preventing innocent people from entering a shoot-to-kill zone; and most important, the MRAP, the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle whose V-shaped hull disperses the impact of an IED or land mine from below, the leading cause of American deaths in Iraq.

The first urgent request for MRAPs was sent in February 2005. Since then, at least 1,200 Americans have been killed by IEDs, and even the military agrees that MRAPs could have saved most of them.

FRANZ GAYL: The bottom line is, after many casualties and many deaths, unfortunately, in a couple of years, now it has become a moral imperative.

Report shows slow armor response

PAUL SOLMAN: Since our interview last summer, Franz Gayl has been subjected to escalating reprisals, including a re-written job description, formal reprimand, and temporary suspension.

Meanwhile, after a flood of publicity about slow delivery of MRAPs, the Marines announced they would buy 3,700 of them and began rushing vehicles to the front in big shipments that began in late November 2007, nearly three years after the first urgent needs request was officially filed.

Recently, Gayl wrote a new report -- based on internal military memos, e-mails and briefings -- blaming the delay for the deaths and injuries of hundreds of Marines. And so, as Gayl told us last year -- his lawyer now forbids interviews -- the reason for the delay is the snail's pace of the military bureaucracy, apparent when he himself went to Iraq.

FRANZ GAYL: I realized that the people around me had a completely different sense of urgency than the people that I was dealing with back here. I was able to see that the warfighter was being hurt directly by decisions being made within the bureaucracy back in the rear.

PAUL SOLMAN: A shortage of equipment at the front, a common story in many wars and certainly at the beginning of this one. Army Medic Patrick Campbell and former soldier Bill Ferguson, both now with the Washington office of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, served in Iraq in 2003.

PATRICK CAMPBELL, Iraq War Veteran: I had to call my senator to get body armor for my guys.

BILL FERGUSON, Iraq War Veteran: I remember it took me four months to get a plate for the front of my helmet for my night vision to come down.

PATRICK CAMPBELL: We all got issued lights, but then they only came with one battery. We couldn't get batteries for the rest of the tour.

PAUL SOLMAN: Not enough tourniquets, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2005, quoting one infantry surgeon, "There is no good reason why wounded soldiers are continuing to die on the battlefield from extremity bleeding." No haemostatic bandages that chemically cauterize wounds in an instant.

BILL FERGUSON: I've never seen a haemostatic bandage, not once ever. We just had the old ones. As a matter of fact, if you were, if what -- this is going to sound -- you use tampons, women's tampons. If you get shot or whatever, you stick it inside the hole, and it'll swell and like make it stop bleeding, supposedly.

PATRICK CAMPBELL: And where do you get the tampons? You get them sent from your friends and family back home.

Corps says things have changed

PAUL SOLMAN: To Winslow Wheeler, a staffer for three Republican senators and one Democrat over the years, such shortages are typical of the system that slowed the MRAP, shortages that occurred despite the Pentagon's assurance to the Senate, just before the invasion of Iraq, that our troops had all they needed.

WINSLOW WHEELER, Center for Defense Information: The first question that the chairman of the committee, John Warner from Virginia, asked of the general sitting at the table, General Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said, "If we had a war for Iraq, are the troops fully equipped?" Myers responded with one word, and it was, "Absolutely."

PAUL SOLMAN: When we went to the Marines for a response, three-star General James Mattis assured us things have since changed dramatically.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. Marine Corps: I believe we're fielding the most well-equipped Marines in the history of the Marine Corps.

PAUL SOLMAN: Today's Marines, says Mattis, sport new and improved equipment, from helmets to boots and a whole lot in between.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Here you can see the size of the first aid kit versus the size of the former first aid kit. Go ahead and pop it open. Absolutely.

Now, this is just the tourniquet right here.

PAUL SOLMAN: And that's why you can do it with one hand, of course, up here somewhere.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: You got it.

PAUL SOLMAN: And then you can twist it even further, like this.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Absolutely.

PAUL SOLMAN: So our troops seem far better equipped than they were...

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Simply pops the tube out, bites it, and pulls the water in.

PAUL SOLMAN: But as well as they should be? Why are they only now getting MRAPs, for example, considering that, when they first appeared, they wowed the troops? Marine Reservist Todd Bowers, also with IAVA, served twice in Iraq.

Production of new MRAPs

TODD BOWERS, Iraq War Veteran: I remember in 2004 seeing an MRAP pull into my camp. And once the drooling stopped and I actually got to look at the vehicle and see how safe it was, it was incredible.

PATRICK CAMPBELL: Someone said, "Why don't we have one of these?" And I just gave them the look like, "You really think they're going to get rid of the Humvees?"

PAUL SOLMAN: Meaning Humvees have the contracts, the connections, are the product of least resistance to the bureaucracy.

In addition, says Franz Gayl in his new report, the MRAP was seen as a threat to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a weapons system in development, still years away from being fielded, yet regarded by the Marine procurement bureaucracy as, to quote Gayl, "a higher priority than the daily killed and wounded."

But there's another explanation, counters General Mattis. A current item like the Humvee was widely available. The MRAP was not.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: We had a very low industrial base that could produce these. We're talking about 12, maybe 18 a month. We were also having reliability problems, because we did not have a long development program for this. As fast as they could build them, we were sending them out.

PAUL SOLMAN: On the other hand, say Franz Gayl and others, this is 40-year-old South African technology. And Force Protection, the U.S. company now making many of the vehicles, told us a large contract would have prompted them to partner with other firms, make lots more MRAPs, quickly.

Archie Massicotte, who works for a rival company, says it took his firm only two months to get into production.

ARCHIE MASSICOTTE, International Truck and Engine: Two months from the time that we got the initial order until the time we actually had to deliver test vehicles to Aberdeen.

So we can take these through a production environment, almost in assembly line effort, and produce these at a high rate.

REPORTER: If DOD had come to you in 2003 and said, "We need something like this," would you have been able to have the same turnaround time?


PAUL SOLMAN: But, says Mattis, industrial capacity wasn't the only problem. IED land mines, for which the MRAP is designed, weren't much of an issue at the start when he was leading troops into Iraq.

New war needs new equipment

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Complex firefights were the norm. We were in a heck of a battle for Ramadi, for Fallujah. These names I'm sure ring bells for you. Nobody in the infantry wants to be high off the ground when you're in a fight.

These vehicles are designed to be high off the ground, because, with their V-shaped hull, they have to clear the objects on the ground and still be high enough to permit the full use of this V-hull that deflects the underbody blast of an IED mine.

Today, we do not face the same number of complex firefights, so you can have Marines higher off the ground without creating vulnerability to other weapons systems.

PAUL SOLMAN: But why, given the known nature of modern insurgency warfare in, say, Afghanistan, didn't we have armored vehicles in the first place? Well, we didn't expect the insurgency, began armoring Humvees once the enemy devised roadside, side-impact IEDs, says Mattis. Then our armor led to their IED underbelly landmines.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Welcome to my world called war. Every time we do something, they do something. Every time they do something, we do something. It's improvise, improvise, improvise. So what we had going into Iraq were zero armored Humvees.

PAUL SOLMAN: To Franz Gayl, though, that's both a condemnation of our preparedness and all the more reason for urgent procurement.

FRANZ GAYL: Speed is security. We regain the initiative just through our speed, which also has to be creative and also has to produce surprise.

PAUL SOLMAN: Yet the military procurement system seems mired in bureaucracy, says Gayl, resembling a giant corporation, with more and more to lose from change...

FRANZ GAYL: ... because it causes great instability in large process-oriented systems that seek stability and are risk-averse. What threatens the programs back here sometimes is exactly what is needed to counter the threat over there, if it's urgently deployed. And so you come up with -- you appear to have a Marine Corps here and a Marine Corps over there.

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: There's not two Marine Corps; there's one Marine Corps.

PAUL SOLMAN: It could be that this is just reasonable people differ, huh?

LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS: Reasonable people can differ. I appreciate anybody's impatience.

But I will tell you that that includes the commandant of the Marine Corps, who's the most impatient person I've ever seen on this. That includes the sergeants in the field who give me very candid advice on what they need and how fast they need it.

And that certainly includes Deputy Secretary of Defense England, who daily chairs meetings and asks very penetrating questions about this. And he does not tolerate any kind of laziness on this system or any kind of delay on this system whatsoever.

PAUL SOLMAN: Just after this story first aired in September, the Navy released an audit of the Marine Corps' process for dealing with urgent need requests. Its conclusion: that it was, quote, "not effective."

Senators Joe Biden and Kit Bond have called for an investigation, referring to Franz Gayl's report as, quote, "a stark warning that the military brass back home is not acting on needs of our warfighters."

Throughout, Gayl himself has remained unswerving and unrepentant.

FRANZ GAYL: It's a matter of life and death. The harm that's being done due to the slow pace and our inability to react to the realities, to respond to the realities of warfare, is much bigger than me or anyone else.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though the Marines have yet to comment on Gayl's report, other than to call it internal and preliminary, they've asked the Pentagon inspector general to look into its claims.