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No Soldier Left Behind
Oops! We forgot to adequately armor their Humvees, and our soldiers fighting in Iraq weren't able to jury-rig scrap metal they'd collected to go high enough to save their lives on this particular vehicle, reports Michael Moss in The New York Times:

The four were returning to camp in an unarmored Humvee that their unit had rigged with scrap metal, but the makeshift shields rose only as high as their shoulders, photographs of the Humvee show, and the shrapnel from the bomb shot over the top.

"The steel was not high enough," said Staff Sgt. Jose S. Valerio, their motor transport chief, who along with the unit's commanding officers said the men would have lived had their vehicle been properly armored. "Most of the shrapnel wounds were to their heads."

"Two years into the Iraq war," reads a caption on a photograph shown with the story, "the armoring program is yet to be completed."

In returning home, the leaders and Marine infantrymen have chosen to break an institutional code of silence and tell their story, one they say was punctuated not only by a lack of armor, but also by a shortage of men and planning that further hampered their efforts in battle, destroyed morale and ruined the careers of some of their fiercest warriors.

The saga of Company E, part of a lionized battalion nicknamed the Magnificent Bastards, is also one of fortitude and ingenuity. The marines, based at Camp Pendleton in southern California, had been asked to rid the provincial capital of one of the most persistent insurgencies, and in enduring 26 firefights, 90 mortar attacks and more than 90 homemade bombs, they shipped their dead home and powered on. Their tour has become legendary among other Marine units now serving in Iraq and facing some of the same problems.

"As marines, we are always taught that we do more with less," said Sgt. James S. King, a platoon sergeant who lost his left leg when he was blown out of the Humvee that Saturday afternoon last May. "And get the job done no matter what it takes."

The experiences of Company E's marines, pieced together through interviews at Camp Pendleton and by phone, company records and dozens of photographs taken by the marines, show they often did just that. The unit had less than half the troops who are now doing its job in Ramadi, and resorted to making dummy marines from cardboard cutouts and camouflage shirts to place in observation posts on the highway when it ran out of men. During one of its deadliest firefights, it came up short on both vehicles and troops. Marines who were stranded at their camp tried in vain to hot-wire a dump truck to help rescue their falling brothers. That day, 10 men in the unit died.

Sergeant Valerio and others had to scrounge for metal scraps to strengthen the Humvees they inherited from the National Guard, which occupied Ramadi before the marines arrived. Among other problems, the armor the marines slapped together included heavier doors that could not be latched, so they "chicken winged it" by holding them shut with their arms as they traveled.

"We were sitting out in the open, an easy target for everybody," Cpl. Toby G. Winn of Centerville, Tex., said of the shortages. "We complained about it every day, to anybody we could. They told us they were listening, but we didn't see it."

I believe they are listening, but only to polls and the religious "right," Corporal Winn.

Posted by aalkon at April 25, 2005 9:16 AM

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You go to war with the equipment you have, not the equipment you want. Unless the people going to do the fighting are your own children. Then negotiate.

Posted by: eric at April 25, 2005 8:59 PM

Don't pay any attention to the ribbons on cars stating, "I Support Our Troops" or some such superficial nonsense. The American soldier has been penalized for success at every turn - even to the point of having their good works ignored today. The public - by extension, us - gives lip service only to the idea of giving our sons and daughters the best leadership and the best equipment, because "if it's not raining, the roof don't need patching".

By the way - a Humvee is just a big off-road vehicle. It wasn't designed with armor. If you don't want Americans to die in unarmored vehicles, either a) see that they get armored stuff to drive, or b) don't send them out to play where they might get hurt.

Please note: this is a totally different issue from that of whether Americans should be in Iraq.

Posted by: Radwaste at April 28, 2005 4:31 PM

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