09/30/05 — Foot-dragging? Troops not getting reimbursements

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Foot-dragging? Troops not getting reimbursements

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld misspoke last December when he commented to some soldiers to the effect that “you go to war with what you have — not what you want.”

In the case of the attack on Pearl Harbor, our men and women in uniform had no choice but to make do with what they had.

But in wars like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, our people should be sent to war with what they need. That might not cover everything they might want, but it should include everything they reasonably need to prevail over the opposing forces and provide for their own protection to every extent possible.

This obviously has not always been the case in the wars we are now fighting.

Some of the shortcomings could be attributed to the unexpected — such as the tremendous force of improvised devices used against our convoys.

In some cases, our fighting personnel have resorted to scrounging and using their own money to beef up the armor on their vehicles and to provide additional personal protection.

Congress acted out of concern and compassion last year when it ordered the Pentagon to reimburse soldiers for such personal expenditures.

It hasn’t been done. Pentagon officials objected from the outset, contending it was an “unmanageable precedent.”

In response to inquiries since then, the military’s response apparently has amounted to “we’re working on it.”

Congress had told the military to have the program ready by last Feb. 25. But in April an undersecretary said his office was still “developing” the program and it would be ready in about 60 days. That would have been in June. But now a spokesman says it is in the “final stages.”

An exasperated Sen. Christopher Dodd is asking that the program be turned over to unit commanders, which he feels will expedite implementation by people who know the needs and what their individual troops have done.

The impression today is one of ineptness or deliberate foot-dragging. And that’s not fair to the men and women we have sent in harm’s way.

Published in Editorials on September 30, 2005 9:12 AM