12/14/04 — Armor: They should have what they need

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Armor: They should have what they need

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a seasoned master at responding to questions. He’s famous for fielding the toughest questions or accusations from the most aggressive antagonists during his frequent press conferences.

His answers often are humorous, sometimes biting.

But in a recent “town meeting” type setting with Army National Guard personnel preparing to move into Iraq from Kuwait, Rumsfeld did not do so well in some of his responses.

One soldier complained of soldiers having to dig scrap metal and discarded “bullet proof” glass from a landfill to beef up the armament on their vehicles. Another lamented that regular Army units received the most modern equipment while Guard and Reserve forces were left with outmoded versions.

At one point Rumsfeld replied: “You go to war with what you have.”

That could not have been a satisfactory response from the secretary of defense for the soldiers going into combat and for their families and the rest of us back home.

The secretary of defense is second only to the President in responsibility for the readiness of our men and women going to war.

Mr. Secretary, you don’t send them to war “with what they have” — you send to war with what they need.

There was no great urgency attendant to the invasion of Iraq. It was a responsibility of the secretary of defense to be aware of all contingencies and to make certain our men and women in uniform had the best equipment possible before being sent into harm’s way.

It is unlikely that Rumsfeld in responding to concerns expressed by soldiers going into combat intended to be caustic or infer a “like it or lump it” attitude.

But that’s the way it came across.

President Bush later had a more appropriate response: “The concerns expressed by the soldiers are being addressed ... They deserve the best.”

Also back in Washington, some members of Congress reminded Rumsfeld that there he has been given “every dollar requested” for the conduct of the war.

Published in Editorials on December 14, 2004 11:44 AM