TCS Daily

Armor vs. Attitude

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - December 22, 2004 12:00 AM

The Pentagon has assured us that it will be spending $4 billion (that's right, billion) to "armor up" virtually all military vehicles in Iraq.

It won't be enough.

There will never be enough armor to "protect" all our troops.

The armor "kits" being placed on, Humvees and trucks will compromise their performance and mobility (2000 pounds or more added weight), complicate their maintenance, shorten their service life and provide only relative protection.

There's a famous old story about some late 19th century Chinese warlord who bought some gunboats fitted with state-of-the-art Krupp armor. When he moved confidently up-river against a rival warlord's forts, his opponent's guns tore through the gunboats' armor. He indignantly telegraphed a complaint to Krupp. The company wired back to inform him that his opponent had recently purchased the latest Krupp armor-piercing guns and ammunition. Tough luck.

Armor is a very relative thing. Its thickness and composition is little more in the end than a challenge to those who wish to pierce it.

Although the casualty rate in Iraq continues to be the lowest for any U.S. war, the casualties appear to have fallen disproportionately on "non-combat" troops. A lot of them have been those driving and crewing supply trucks and other "behind the lines" vehicles involved in the day-to-day logistics of a large military force.

But these vehicles are not "behind the lines." There are no lines to be behind. The war with the Islamofascist terrorists is everywhere. We discussed this last December in our TCS article "Looking for a Fight," and pointed out the need for every convoy in Iraq to, in effect, be a column moving against the enemy, keeping them on the move and off balance, killing them when possible and making life miserable for them at all times.

As it happens, many of those driving and crewing trucks are reservists, many of whom apparently thought they would not be "in harms way" as much as front line troops. Even being in the vicinity of a truck that's blown up can be very disconcerting. These guys have been pretty vocal about it (witness that little ambush of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a Q and A with the troops).

And of course the media love this.

But the problem in Iraq is not so much an armor problem as it is an ambush problem. And an ambush problem can only be solved by the right attitude. And the right attitude is... well let's hear it from someone in the midst of the mess: First Lt. Neil Prakash, a tank platoon leader from Syracuse, N.Y., on his blog ( from the heart of Iraq.

"I HATE WHINEY BITCHES," he writes, referring to those who have been raising howls because of a lack of armor. He tells of a typical hairy mission escorting a bomb-damaged truck back to base, rolling through the craters of previous IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in a "soft-skinned M998" one of the unarmored Hummers.

"The whole way home, we were laughing our asses off at how funny it was to be in that jalopy. And that is the whole point," writes Lt. Prakash. "The problem isn't the equipment, it's the attitude of soldiers. I gotta hand it to 1st Platoon. These soldiers have the highest morale. Even in less than ideal situations, they are always laughing and they always execute. You could tell these soldiers to clear a route on foot and they would do it."

Prakash then makes the final point. "Now I know what you're going to say, Blah, blah something about having the right equipment and force protection for our soldiers. You want to know what force protection is? DISCIPLINE. When you have discipline, everything else falls into place."

The good lieutenant ends by noting, "I'm disgusted by that convoy that refused orders in Baghdad. Give me a dune buggy. I'll deliver you're groceries on Haifa street. Just do your mission and shut up. It's not as bad as it seems on TV. Quit watching the news and actually come down here. And check your bad attitude at the door."

Go back and scour the headlines in World War II. You won't find too much about G.I.s wanting their jeeps "armored up." And Gen. George S. Patton's famous Red Ball Express kept hundreds of unarmored trucks rolling to supply Third Army troops in the European front lines despite mines, and wrecks and artillery fire. They took their casualties and kept going and wrote a proud chapter in military history.

In the New York Times this past week, the superb John Burns writes of being with the men of Fox Company 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. They are reservists, but they are Marines. And as Burns notes, they go out on their dangerous missions without the armor protection they might like to have.

But, he writes, "one striking thing about life with the 2/24, as with other units struggling with inadequate equipment was the absence of grinding complaint. These Marines have bolted the hardships of their deployment onto the corps ethos of unremitting toughness, to the point that deprivation is less complained about than celebrated."

Look, we all want to see that our military have the best in battle, and from the Civil War soldiers who bought cast iron "body armor" from itinerant vendors to the G.I. tankers who piled sandbags on their poorly armored Sherman tanks back in 1944, frontline guys will always look for more protection however marginal.

But this latest flap puts a false focus on equipment-as-savior, rather than on the alertness, discipline and ass-kicking attitude needed not only to survive but to win against a vicious, implacable foe.

If you were in command and in a tight spot, who would you rather have to "deliver the groceries" -- the guys fretting about armored doors for their Humvees? Or men like those 2/24th Marines and Lt. Prakash's 1st Platoon?


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