Troops' Gripes 'Good' for Army
NEW DELHI, India – A day after being challenged by a soldier on the Army's failure to provide adequate armor for vehicles used in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Thursday he expects the Army to do its best to resolve the problem.
Thousands of miles away, President Bush echoed Rumsfeld's sentiments.
"The concerns expressed are being addressed and that is — we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," Bush said at the White House. "If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country I'd want to ask the secretary of defense the same question. And that is, 'Are we getting the best we can get us?' And they deserve the best.
"And I have told many families I've met with, we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission which is vital and important. And that mission is to spread freedom and peace," Bush said.
Rumsfeld, on a visit to the Indian capital, said it was good that ordinary soldiers are given a chance to express their concerns to the secretary of defense and senior military commanders.
"It's necessary for the Army to hear that, do something about it and see that everyone is treated properly," Rumsfeld said, referring not only to the complaint about insufficient armor but also another soldier's statement about not getting reimbursed for certain expenses in a timely way.
Those complaints, and others, were aired on Wednesday when Rumsfeld held a "town hall" style meeting with about 2,300 soldiers at Camp Buehring in northern Kuwait, a transit camp for troops heading into Iraq.
Spc. Thomas Wilson had asked Rumsfeld, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" Shouts of approval and applause arose from other soldiers who had assembled in an aircraft hangar to see Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.
"We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson, 31, of Nashville, Tenn., concluded after asking again.
"You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld replied, "not the Army you might want or wish to have."
Asked on Thursday about that exchange, the defense secretary said he believed the session in general was "very fine, warm (and) enjoyable." As for Wilson's statement, Rumsfeld said it could be constructive.
"I don't know what the facts are, but somebody is certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld gave no indication that the soldier would face any kind of disciplinary action for speaking up. Indeed, the defense secretary said he found it healthy for soldiers to feel free to express their views.
He also said military vehicles that go into Iraq without full armor are used only inside U.S. compounds, rather than used on street patrols where they are vulnerable to roadside bombs. And he said those vehicles without full armor are moved into Iraq on transport vehicles rather than being driven.
More broadly, Rumsfeld said people should understand that the military has done all that can reasonably be expected to adjust to changing circumstances in Iraq as the insurgents have refined their tactics.
"That is the way war and insurgencies and combat operate," he said. "You go in, you have an enemy with a brain that does things, and then you make adjustments." He added, "Does everything happen instantaneously as the brain in the enemy sees things and makes changes? No, it doesn't happen instantaneously." But, he said, the Army has adjusted "pretty rapidly" to the evolving tactics of the insurgents, including the need to have more armor on vehicles like the Humvee.
Rumsfeld spoke after meeting Thursday with Indian Defense Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee. At the Ministry of Defense, Rumsfeld read a brief statement to reporters on U.S.-Indian military cooperation.
"The defense relationship is a strong one and something we intend to see is further knitted together as we go forward in the months and years ahead," he said.
Later he was meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then flying back to Washington.