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October 22, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Quick fix
When Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez wrote to Washington in December about a critical lack of equipment, the Army sprang into action.

Looking back today, officials believe it was a great logistics story. Within months, supply lines were filled with new armor, bulletproof vests and spare parts.

It is a textbook lesson in how to correct a mistake. The Pentagon failed to anticipate the raging insurgency in Iraq. Trucks and vehicles lacked armor because planners envisioned that the vehicles would be behind the battle, rather than riding through it. Some soldiers lacked the most up-to-date body protection.

"I need the Army's assistance to improve our force protection and operational readiness posture," Gen. Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wrote Dec. 2 to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the Army vice chief of staff.

Gen. Casey, now the top U.S. officer in Iraq, responded nine days later with a plan of action, a copy of which we obtained.

"We are tackling supply of repair parts to support your equipment readiness," Gen. Casey wrote to Gen. Sanchez. "During fiscal year 2003, we increased spares funding by $3.9 billion to support both inventory augmentation and increased demands. As of 30 Nov. 2003, we have $7.1 billion of supplies due in from both commercial vendors and repair facilities. The increased funding is beginning to pay off as your zero balance rates slowly improve. Repair is a key source of supply.

"We have provided additional forward repair capability for critical spares needed to support readiness. Expedited retrograde of unserviceable reparable items that cannot be repaired in theater will ensure we can best support your needs. Another factor impacting availability of repair parts is the accuracy of supply records in theater.

"Both [the Defense Logistics Agency] and Army have taken steps to maximize production of Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) and are on track to meet the original Dec. 2003 goal. The recently identified requirement of 11,902 additional SAPI is scheduled for completion in January of 2004."

A postscript: A Pentagon official says that seven weeks after Gen. Sanchez's letter, all soldiers were "fully equipped" with body armor. Today, the official said, the readiness rates for M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles is "the highest it's been all year" at a 90 percent rate. "It is also important to note the defense industry has greatly expanded its production capability to meet wartime demands," the official said.

War wounds
Defense officials say the major cause of death and injury to U.S. troops in Iraq is the result of blasts caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Many of the soldiers who were killed by explosions were hit in the face with shrapnel in an area from the forehead to the throat, officials said.

Body armor is protecting the troops from the chest down and helmets are protecting the head and forehead areas. But troops' faces remain vulnerable to the explosive blasts from homemade bombs, many of them placed along roadsides and detonated remotely as convoys pass.

As for injuries, the troops are told to wear goggles to protect against the effect of explosives. In one recent incident, two U.S. Army soldiers were hit by an IED in Baghdad. One was wearing goggles and suffered minor cuts from shrapnel. A second soldier was not so lucky. He had not placed his goggles over his eyes and as a result lost both eyes from the pressure from the explosion.

Elaine's celebration
Elaine Donnelly had lots to celebrate when she convened her annual Center on Military Readiness reception earlier this month in Washington. As supporters munched tapas at the National Guard Association of the USA building not far from the Capitol, Mrs. Donnelly proudly announced a final victory. The Supreme Court earlier this year had denied any further appeals in the dismissal of a libel suit against Mrs. Donnelly brought by a female former Navy pilot.

Mrs. Donnelly long has argued she was only trying to maintain the Navy's pilot training standards when she exposed what she believed was special treatment given some female pilot candidates.

Eight years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees) later, Mrs. Donnelly and her pro-military group are still standing.

Mrs. Donnelly honored several supporters: The Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation; George Neumayr, managing editor of the American Spectator; and Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. Mr. Miller, who could not attend the reception because of Senate business, received the Sentinel Award for "his unfailing support of America's Armed Forces."

Mrs. Donnelly noted that during Senate debate on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Mr. Miller said, "No one wants to hear this ... but there should also be some serious questioning of having male and female soldiers serving side by side in these kinds of military missions."

Fighting proliferation
The Senate version of the intelligence reform legislation now in a House-Senate conference contains a provision that would create a national counterproliferation center.

The center is the idea of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. He believes it is needed to better deal with the problem of threats from weapons of mass destruction.

"The greatest threat facing our country today is not solely a terrorist, but a terrorist armed with a weapon of mass destruction," Mr. Frist said.

Mr. Frist said the arms proliferation center is needed "to focus, clarify and coordinate" U.S. efforts to stop the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear arms and missiles.

The center would work with the proposed national counterterrorism center and would be aimed at breaking down divisions among agencies in the battle against arms proliferation.

"The bottom line is this: Just as we must take the offensive in the global war on terrorism, we must similarly take the offensive in stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Frist said, noting that "we need a good offense, and counterproliferation is just the answer."

The White House is opposing the new arms center as "premature" and wants to wait until an intelligence commission on weapons of mass destruction makes its report.

The White House is not the only Washington institution seeking Hispanic support. The Pentagon wants it, too.

The Army and Navy have started Spanish-language Web sites. The Army has "cyber recruiters" who can chat in Spanish with would-be recruits. The Pentagon is running ads directed at Hispanic youths.

Hispanics make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, but only 9.9 percent of the 1.4 million active-duty force.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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