Senator, Soldiers Urge More Armor in Iraq

Sen. Kent Conrad (search) says the federal government should contract with a plant here to produce armor plating for military vehicles.

Pribbs Steel and Manufacturing (search) produced an armor kit for transport vehicles from December 2003 to June, but currently is not making any.

"We've got to harness the industrial strength of America to get this done," said Conrad, D-N.D.

A Pribbs Steel and Manufacturing employee who served in Iraq with the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion says kits made at the plant worked on newer Army vehicles but not on the older vehicles driven by many of North Dakota's National Guard soldiers.

Sgt. Jake Collins served in Iraq from January 2003 through March. He said the vehicles the battalion drove did not have armor.

"We used to just cut out steel and put it on hooks and hang it over the side of the vehicle," he said.

However, Pribbs easily could alter its designs to produce armor that would fit those older vehicles, Conrad said. "The vast majority of both of them are not armored," he said.

Worries about armor on Humvees and lightweight vehicles in Iraq have escalated since a soldier questioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) about the lack of armored vehicles. The Army is dedicating more than $4 billion to beef up equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Arnold Pribula, president of Pribbs, said the company would be proud to produce the kits if given a military contract.

Pribbs earlier helped to develop and produce about 40 FMTV-Armor Kits (search), which can be bolted onto military vehicles, said Kris Falk, the quality and inventory manager. But even though the Department of Defense is one of its main clients, Pribbs has not been able to secure a contract to fill the current supply needs, Pribula said.

Lt. Col. Mike Aberle of Bismarck, commander of the Engineer Brigade 34th Infantry Division, said three of the seven North Dakota National Guard soldiers who have died in Iraq were in vehicles without armor.