Monday, November 15, 2004

Commanders have requested to nearly double the number of armored utility vehicles in Iraq to 8,000, in yet another shift in equipment needs to keep pace with an insurgency that continues to strike troops.

Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee told of the newest requisition during a recent hourlong interview with The Washington Times.

It is the commanders’ job in the field to devise the tactics to defeat an enemy made up of foreign terrorists, Saddam Hussein loyalists and criminals freed by the fallen dictator.

Back at the Pentagon, it has been Mr. Brownlee’s job to make sure they have the guns, ammunition and equipment.

Perhaps in Army history there has never been a war whose character changed so quickly and required a whole new set of tactics and equipment — within weeks.

“Suddenly, a different ballgame,” Mr. Brownlee said.

U.S. war planners never foresaw that the fall of Baghdad would spawn a new enemy able to attack soldiers and Marines no matter their battlefield position. Rear-line support troops became just as vulnerable as front-line ones.

That meant the Army suddenly had a need for armored Humvee utility vehicles, armored trucks, more body armor and huge shipments of spare parts.

The problem became so acute by December that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top commander in Iraq, sent an urgent letter to the Army saying, “I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with [readiness] rates this low.” Soldiers were being killed by the score by roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devises (IEDs), that ripped through a Humvee’s thin plating.

Within weeks, Mr. Brownlee convened a summit at the Pentagon of defense contractors who design and build armor.

In February, he traveled to AM General, which makes the ubiquitous Humvee, and to O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, which makes armor. He got the chief executives in one room.

“I told them to show me the fastest rate at which they can build these things,” Mr. Brownlee recalled.

AM General responded by increasing production of “up-armored” Humvees (as opposed to “thin skin” Humvees) from 150 to 450 a month.

By this fall, the Army had put 5,000 in Iraq, only to learn a few weeks ago that commanders had upped the need to 8,000.

“We had soldiers killed by IEDs in up-armored vehicles,” the acting secretary said. “If they make them powerful enough they can blow up just about anything. But they clearly have a better chance” in an armored one.

On a second front, the Army needed to start providing armor kits so mechanics in the field could plate the basic 5- and 10-ton trucks that insurgents found as easy prey. To date, the Army has sent more than 9,000 kits to Iraq.

“I’m not sure anybody in the Army ever thought we would start armoring our truck fleet,” Mr. Brownlee said. “But that’s what we’re doing.”

The Army has lost more than 800 soldiers in combat deaths in Iraq. Critics say a failure by the Pentagon to predict the insurgency left too few service members in Iraq and many of those that were there lacked body and vehicle armor.

“I expected once we took the Army down and took the main forces down, we would then begin the programs we were planning to reconstruct the country and get things moving,” Mr. Brownlee said.

In addition to the armor issue, Mr. Brownlee convened a special task force to come up with ways to defeat IEDs, set up new training at Fort Polk, La., that included anti-ambush techniques and brought in the Army Corps of Engineers to shepherd many construction projects.

Mr. Brownlee, 65, a retired Army colonel who earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam, never envisioned such a large portfolio. He came to the Pentagon in 2001 as undersecretary of the Army, after serving as Sen. John W. Warner’s staff director on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Brownlee said he realized Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had a penchant for CEOs to run the military branches. Mr. Rumsfeld picked Thomas White, a retired Army general and former Enron executive, as Mr. Brownlee’s boss. But the White-Rumsfeld relationship fell apart over a sharp difference of opinion on force transformation.

For months, the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to act on the nomination of Air Force Secretary James G. Roche to succeed Mr. White. Finally, Mr. Roche bailed out.

The power gap has left Mr. Brownlee, at 18 months the longest serving acting Army secretary.

Powerful senators, including Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, and Mr. Warner, Virginia Republican, supported Mr. Brownlee as the next nominee. But Mr. Rumsfeld refused and backed another businessman, Francis Harvey, whose nomination is pending in the Senate.

Mr. Brownlee has put in a steady stream of 14-hour workdays, and travels to Iraq every three months.

“Now, down deep, I hoped they might recognize that and honor me with the job,” he said. “Things don’t always work out the way you hope they do.”

The Army now requires one-year tours in Iraq, twice as long as the Marine Corps. Mr. Brownlee said commanders want to continue that policy, though unpopular with some soldiers. But he has ordered the Army staff to draft plans for shorter tours if January elections and expanded Iraq security forces allow the Pentagon to reduce U.S. troops in the country.

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