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December 09, 2004

Armored Hummers...My Perspective

My mind is spinning from the massive case of deja vu I'm getting after watching the faux feeding frenzy over the kid busting Rummy's chops over armored Hummers.

First, I think this exchange reflects great credit on the military.


Where else can a junior enlisted man ask a pointed question to the second-most influential civilian in the chain of command after the President and not get hammered for it? I honestly don't think there were any repurcussions for the kid, for at least two reasons.
One: it was an honest bitch about a real problem...and I know of few GOOD commanders who would react negatively to it. Even if they wanted to (let's say the guy was a habitual squeaky wheel whose normal complaints were lame at best), ANY evidence of a smackdown would put the kabosh on future feedback that good commanders rely on to keep themselves honest, informed and in pursuit of the right things to protect, prepare and effectively support their troops.
Two: Rumsfeld is man enough to stand there in front of God (the media--who else did you think I was referring to?) and everybody and expose himself to this kind of no-notice clipping penalty (sort of). His boss did the same thing in the election, in contrast to his opponent, whose unscripted news question/answer periods I think I could count on one hand. That's why the latter won (among other reasons) and the former is still SecDef (among other reasons).

Anyway, if this kid thinks things are bad in the Army, he should try the TACP community in the Air Force. (NOTE: Before someone blows a Service parochialism gasket...THE ARMY AND MARINES NEED 'EM WORSE THAN ANYBODY...I KNOW THAT...OK?...OK).

Let's rewind a bit to Operation ALLIED FORCE...the airwar over Serbia. We (the Army and my Air Force brethren attached to them) were monitoring things from outside Kosovo when Slobodan's boys (Arkan's Tigers...a Serb SOF/bandit outfit) thought it would be really cool to try to snatch a few US soldiers for propoganda purposes during that Clintonesque campaign (run by Wes Clark...remember him?).

Well, they did it, collaring three kids who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Tigers shot the living s**t out of the Hummer these guys were in. Fortunately for them, it was an armored one they could hunker down in while getting sprayed with AK-47 rounds. The bad guys put so many bullets into the thing that the engine caught fire as oil and gas flowed out of the 7.62mm orifi that had just been punched in the engine block. The soldiers, however, were unscathed. Of course, the Serbs beat the s**t out of them later, but I digress...

Now comes the good news (sort of)...about 5 km due west of these guys were a couple of USAF TACP types in an UNarmored Hummer. Why unarmored? Ask the Air Force.

Basically, ground vehicles ain't exactly on the top of the recapitalization hit parade in the blue world. And cosmic vehicles for a career field that is, in essence, microscopic in the grand Air Force scheme of things, was, shall we say, um, rather low in the priority list. In an era of limited military budgets, roughly from 1776 to 2004 with a few good years on occasion for higher OPTEMPO (Civil War, WW I, WW II), Services like to save their money for equipment they use the most (Army...tanks; Navy...ships; Air Force...airplanes; Marines...anything they can get after the navy buys ships, etc., etc.). Note the Air Force priority..."vehicle" means "airplane." I think the last time I asked, the recapitalization (replacement/upgrade) rate for--OK, lets call by their civilian name, "cars"--was about 5% per fiscal year.

Now, let's review the bidding on USAF missions requiring Hummers. Take two...

Cops, until very recently, pretty much remained inside the perimeter of a base to protect it and the assets thereon. This is good...and their job sucks...and they do it well...and I like them a lot...and please don't slash my tires.

ETACs (Enlisted Tactical Air Controllers), on the other hand, go forward with the Army maneuver units to find and schwack enemy targets with close air support fighters. If you know me, by now you know where I'm going with this...who gets the up-armored Hummers? Yeah.

OK. Why was this? To be frank, many in the officer corps of many years ago in the TACP community--how shall I put this?--well, let me just say they didn't do as well as they could have in promoting the needs of their charges. (ANOTHER NOTE: I AM GENERALIZING HERE...THERE WERE GOOD ONES BUT THE GOOD ONES KNOW I'M RIGHT) And, to be fair, the powers that be in the Air Force, for the most part, didn't listen anyway. Proximity helps, too. When a Wing Commander looks out his window, he usually sees a Security Policeman. If he sees an ETAC, his base is probably about to be overrun.

Fast forward a little bit back to Kosovo. The shoot-'em-up got some attention in USAFE. Better yet, a man named Jumper was the commander at the time and liked us. So, things started to "move" and armored Hummers became a topic of discussion. When I was there we still didn't have any but the check was in the mail, as it were.

Now, what isn't mentioned in the discussion (at least not very much) today is that an uparmored vehicle is a horse of a different color, design-wise, weight-wise, suspension-wise and (I think) power-wise. It takes awhile to get 'em fielded. Of course, that's not an excuse and it probably will take not one, but several, "pointed moments" with high rollers to keep things moving. I know the manufacturer in Florida says he can crank 'em out at a higher rate and shame on us for not having done that sooner. BUT...things ARE getting better...

So, do we have a problem? Yup. Do people care? Yup. (Yeah, c'mon guys, you know thay do). Could things be going faster? Yup. Are we as broke-d**k as the media thinks we are? Ask the mujiis in Falluja.

This is a very self-critical military. It ain't perfect and I can, literally, personally relate to this particular issue. But, if there's any fighting force an this planet whose top civilian leader will take this little faux pas to heart, it's ours. We shouldn't be proud of the shortfall but we can be proud of a society and a system that is not afraid to expose it and is, I think, committed to fixing it.

Of course, that's my opinion and I could be wrong.