Despite these efforts, more and more of our #troops were being burned, maimed, and killed by IEDs, many of them in Humvees. Humvees could be reinforced with armor on the sides, but there were few practical options left to further armor the underbelly of the vehicle. Soldiers were reduced to putting sandbags on the floors of the Humvees to try to protect themselves. It didn’t help much. Too many Humvees became funeral pyres for our troops, and I would see some of the surviving victims at the burn unit at Brooke #Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Over time more and more side armor was attached to the Humvees, as additional protection from attacks by rockets, grenades, and other weapons, but it still provided little or no protection from bombs that blew up under the vehicles.
I received my first briefing on the mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle I had read about in USA Today on April 27, 2007. The secretary of defense’s conference room is not a big one by Washington (and Pentagon) standards, and it is quite plain, which suited me fine. I always tried to set an informal atmosphere so people would be more inclined to speak up; I don’t think I ever wore a suit jacket to a meeting of Defense officials in that room. The table seats about twenty, with another twelve or so chairs lining the wall. There is a screen for the omnipresent Power-Point slides, and combat photographs line the wall – including one of Doug Zembiec, “the Lion of Fallujah,” whose story had caused me to choke up publically at the Marine Corps Association annual dinner. There was also a coffee cart, essential to my alertness and my self-discipline – for some reason, a coffee cup in my hand made it easier for me not to fly off the handle in briefings that were often frustrating and maddening. There was always a behind-the-scenes battle involving myriad people pushing and shoving to be in meetings I held, and it fell to my two senior assistants to decide who could or could not attend. I guess people felt they needed to be there to demonstrate to others that they were “on the inside” on issues or to protect their sector’s equities. Unfortunately, those in the room rarely gave me the background details – especially about bureaucratic infighting – on the matter at hand that would have helped me understand how the problem had ended up on my desk.
So it was with MRAPs. I learned the background story the same way I heard about the vehicle in the first place: from the newspaper. Two and a half months after my first briefing, I read in USA Today that the Pentagon had first tested MRAPs in 2000 and that the Marine Corps had requested its first twenty-seven of them in December 2003 for explosive disposal teams. At the end of 2004, the Army had solicited ideas for a better armored vehicle – to sell to the Iraqis, not for U.S. use. The first of those vehicles, nearly identical to MRAPs, were delivered to the Iraqis at the end of summer 2006. Meanwhile, in February 2005, Marine Brigadier General Dennis Hejlik in Anbar province signed a request for more than a thousand of the same kind of vehicles for his men. According to the newspaper, Hejlik’s request was shelved; fifteen months later, a second request won Pentagon approval. The first vehicles arrived in Anbar province in February 2007, two years after the original request.
Multiple explanations have been put forward for the delay in getting MRAPs into Iraq. The most significant is that no one at a senior level wanted to spend the money to buy them. The services did not want to spend procurement dollars on a vehicle that was not the planned long-term Army and Marine Corps replacement for the Humvee – the joint light tactical vehicle. Most people believed the MRAPs would just be surplus after the war, which most also thought would soon end. Some argued that the threat from IEDs was evolving, and that only in 2006 had our troops begun encountering the explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that could cut through our heaviest armor. Others contended that only in 2006 had road-implanted bombs become the primary threat, which ignores the fact that in the summer of 2004 more than 1,000 IEDs exploded in Sadr City alone, and another 1,200 were dug up. Procurement of the heavy MRAP vehicles may also have been delayed because they were seen to be contrary to Secretary Rumsfeld’s goal of lighter, more agile forces. There were doubts whether industry could produce MRAPs in numbers and on a schedule that would meet the need. Finally, most opposed acquiring MRAPs simply because they thought the vehicles were a waste of money; the enemy would just build bigger IEDs.
Whatever the reason, there were hardly any MRAPs in Iraq when I was briefed in April 2007. But I knew damn well that our troops were being burned and blown up in Humvees well before I became secretary and that had they been in MRAPs, many soldiers would have escaped injury or death.
My briefer at that April 27 meeting was the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, General Bob Magnus. (The Marine Corps had taken the lead in developing MRAPs.) In November 2006, the Corps had solicited proposals for an armored vehicle that could protect against roadside bombs, and in January 2007 it had awarded nine companies contracts to develop prototypes. Magnus explained the importance of the vehicles and said that 3,700 were on order for the Marine Corps and 2,300 for the Army, but that there was no money available to pay for them. Only 1,300 were to be built by the contractor in 2007. Business as usual.
On May 2, I met with the secretaries of the Army and Navy, Deputy Secretary England, Pace, and others on the need to dramatically increase the funding, size, and speed of MRAP procurement. I didn’t often get passionate in meetings, but in this one I laid down a marker I would use again and again concerning MRAPs: “Every delay of a single day costs one or more of our kids his limbs or his life.” To my chagrin, not a single senior official, civilian, or military, supported my proposal for a crash program to buy thousands of these vehicles. Despite the lack of support, the same day I issued a directive that made the MRAP program the highest-priority Department of Defense acquisition program and ordered that “any and all options to accelerate the production and fielding of this capability to the theater should be indemnified, assessed, and applied where feasible.” This directive began an all-out push to produce MRAPs, an effort that would become the first major military procurement program to go from decision to full industrial production in less than a year since World War II.
Congress was fully supportive of the project. More than a month before my decision, Senator Joseph Biden on March 28 had offered an amendment, which passed 98-0 in the Senate, providing an additional $1.5 billion for MRAPs and pulling forward money from the FY2008 budget into 2007. At the end of April, Congress approved $3 billion to buy MRAPs during the following six months, and a House Armed Services sub-committee added another $4 billion for FY2008. Congress gave us every cent we requested. Indeed, given how large the MRAP procurement would eventually become, without congressional willingness to add money to the war funding bills for the vehicles, they would never have been built – at least not in the numbers we bought. Without this support from Congress, funding for the MRAPs would have had to come out of the military services’ regular budgets, which would have caused a bureaucratic and political bloodbath. Congress’s habitual lack of fiscal discipline in this instance was a blessing.
Continue Reading Part 4: https://www.colmikehoward.com/article/Waging+War+on+the+Pentagon+Part+4