December 10, 2004


Edward Lee Pitts of the Chattanooga Times Free Press is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq. Here he provides a little background to that awkward question faced by Donald Rumsfeld:

I just had one of my best days as a journalist today. As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough see I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have. While waiting for the VIP, I went and found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.

So during the Q&A session, one of my guys was the second person called on. When he asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees, the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question. Then Rumsfeld answered something about it being "not a lack of desire or money but a logistics/physics problem." He said he recently saw about 8 of the special up-armored Humvees guarding Washington, DC, and he promised that they would no longer be used for that and that he would send them over here. Then he asked a three star general standing behind him, the commander of all ground forces here, to also answer the question. The general said it was a problem he is working on.

The great part was that after the event was over the throng of national
media following Rumsfeld- The New York Times, AP, all the major networks -- swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with. Out of the 1,000 or so troops at the event there were only a handful of guys from my unit b/c the rest were too busy prepping for our trip north. The national media asked if they were the guys with the armor problem and then stuck cameras in their faces. The NY Times reporter asked me to email him the stories I had already done on it, but I said he could search for them himself on the Internet and he better not steal any of my lines. I have been trying to get this story out for weeks- as soon as I foud out I would be on an unarmored truck- and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.

This doesn't invalidate the question; not at all. It's just interesting to learn that the question was "worked on" in advance.

(Via OmbudsGod)

UPDATE. Editor backs embed, to a degree:

"I think he was doing what he felt he was embedded to do: tell the stories of the soldiers of this unit," said Tom Griscom, editor and publisher of the paper. But he criticized his story about the incident, which did not mention the reporter's connection to the soldier who asked the question.

The embed, Lee Pitts, sought a response from Rumsfeld about why military units in Iraq are lacking proper armor for many vehicles. A lengthy email that he wrote to a fellow reporter ended up on several Web sites, including Romenesko, the Drudge Report and E & P Online, which Griscom lamented.

"He is there to write stories, not make news himself," Griscom said of Pitts. The editor added that the recipient of the e-mail, whom he would not identify, should not have passed it along.

Posted by Tim Blair at December 10, 2004 11:42 AM

There's nothing like distributing a grandiose, self-congratulatory email to all your professional competitors to ensure that you're exposed as the perpetrator of a fraud. Did this guy really think no one would leak his memo?

Ironically, the soldier's question was a good one. Too bad it was a setup.

Posted by: Butch at December 10, 2004 at 12:00 PM

I'm missing the point here. People always use and are used by the media to get their point across.

It's a fact that any government needs a good old dose of embarrassment now and then to get things moving. One of the few things old media can actually help with.

Isn't it pathetic to put soldiers in the situation where they aren't properly equipped? Particularly this far into the campaign.

Remember the funding drive by the guys at somethingawful because a unit was being sent over without body armor?

Posted by: Mr. T at December 10, 2004 at 12:07 PM

I don't think the question was out of line at all and I think it was good that someone asked it, BUT, I do find it ridiculous that the media has gone HOG WILD as if this were a group of disgruntled soldiers 'standing their ground' against the Defense Secretary. The difference between the free world and everywhere else is - this soldier can ask a question and not be brought to a back room and shot for it. In the beginning of the war 15 trucks per month were being uparmored - now it's 450 per month. The enemy adapts and so do we. UParmor means there was ARMOR to begin with on most vehicles. The media can't find news so they try to make news. And are then dumb enough to gloat about it.

Posted by: Kathleen A at December 10, 2004 at 12:15 PM

yes, that was a very good question, but so was rummy's reply. those guys wouldn't have asked the president, but had no qualms about grilling their intermediate boss. is there another army where such things are tolerated?

Posted by: dries at December 10, 2004 at 12:23 PM

Disregarding the question of whether it was set up or not; Rummys answer clearly wasnt. And he threw it back onto the military; the admin is in charge of forming policy & the forces are in charge of implementing it.

Should shake a few generals up - its your job to get the forces ready combat ready NOW.

Posted by: rog at December 10, 2004 at 12:51 PM

Mr. T. and rog,

The military is armed and equipped the way it is today because of allocation decisions made some years ago, and our forces of tomorrow will be equipped and arrayed the way that we are deciding today. We cannot avoid war simply because all may not be ideal, and we cannot pull out of war because deficiencies are identified. The Pentagon and mil contractors are reacting as fast as they can.

Also, this particular issue concerning armor is not as clear-cut as it appears at first glance.

Posted by: A at December 10, 2004 at 01:02 PM

What "A" said. Those who are making a issue out of this, like Sen. Dodd of Connecticut, are just cheap shot artists.

U.S. Army equipment of today ( and as of April 2003 when we went into Iraq ) was procured years ago at a time when the idea that we would be engaged in a large scale hostile occupation of another nation wasn't among the missions that the Army was expected to meet. Whether you agree that it was a smart decision or not, Army procurement dollars went to meet other priorities.

We can't let the fact that our army was not perfectly equipped for the exact conflict that came along prevent us from fighting that conflict.

Here we have a reporter bragging about getting away with not only planting a question, but reporting on it without telling his readers that he had planted it. That's almost as fraudulent as Dan Rather's faked memos.

Posted by: Robin Roberts at December 10, 2004 at 01:36 PM

Agreed A; the army today is the result of political decisions made some years ago and not really Rumsfelds concern. The fact that it was unprepared should rattle some US politicians (and most of the EU) and a refocussing of resources should take place.

Israel is now 100 x better prepared to take on the arabs, and the arabs are 10 x times less.

Posted by: rog at December 10, 2004 at 01:47 PM

the Hummer was introduced as a replacement for the Jeep, which wasn't armoured at all. The big fuss now is an example of circumstances prompting that old Pentagon staple "mission creep." Except this time it's being done with vituperative hindsight

IED's are blowing up, so the Hummers need more protection. Fair enough. But IED's weren't the main threat, or even a recognised, when the vehicles were designed. If you listen to Dodd, you'd think their light armour was an example of gross neglect and criminal oversight.

In fact, the reason they can be additionally armoured at all is because of the vehicles adaptable platform and load-carrying capacity. Give the designers that, at the very least.

Where the pentagon can be faulted is in the slow pace it has reacted to the threat. Production of armoured Hummers is now running at about 400 month, but a competent and innovative procurement/design bureaucracy would have had an effective makeshift solution in place much sooner.

In-the-field armouring is nothing new. Patton's tanks rolled across the Rhine armoured with tree trunks, chains and whatever else the crews could find to stop their vehicles living up to the German nickname "Ronsons" for obvious reasons

Posted by: Jackboot at December 10, 2004 at 01:54 PM

Going by the response it got it sounds like someone else in the crowd may have asked the question anyway.

But, "ambush the boss" during "morale building" Q&A is always fun, regardless of what your day job is.

Posted by: Pauly at December 10, 2004 at 01:56 PM

mr t,
you say: "I'm missing the point here"
my cousin vinny say: "there's a big fucking surprise"


Posted by: guinsPen at December 10, 2004 at 01:59 PM

...editor added that the recipient of the e-mail, whom he would not identify, should not have passed it along.

In other words, the public is better served by the journalists if they don't know how the journalists tinker behind the scenes to create the news for them.

Posted by: Siergen at December 10, 2004 at 04:23 PM

Hummers cannot be armoured enough to make a difference, nor can their tyres. The US army has thousands of M113s in war storeage, use them now!
Army politics and bad decisions about military re-organisation are the reason for this stuff up. The M113s should have been there from day one of the occupation.
The journo's the usual media creep but the problem has existed from day one and nothing has been done about it in any meaningful way. Maybe now something will.

Posted by: mike rogers at December 10, 2004 at 04:39 PM

In other words, the public is better served by the journalists if they don't know how the journalists tinker behind the scenes to create the news for them.

Yes, it's funny how whistleblowing suddenly becomes unacceptable when the target is a journalist.

Posted by: PW at December 10, 2004 at 05:42 PM

The M113 will not soleve the problem. Remember, in Vietnam the troops preferred to sit on the outside of the M113 because it would light up at the smell of a mine or RPG.

The South Africans had a good truck designed speficall to perotect against the effects of ied's. I beleive the US has some in the field.

The up armored Humvee will only do so much. I cannot believe they have not figured out a way to monitor the Baghdad airport road so they can catch the planters of ied's.

It sounds to me as if it is time to lock a few bright people into a room with soem operators and not let them come out until they have some solutions. But then maybe this is already being done.

Posted by: davod at December 10, 2004 at 08:05 PM

I apologize for all the typos.

Posted by: davod at December 10, 2004 at 08:07 PM

Ha! One man's secrets are another man's leaks ;-)

Posted by: pdq332 at December 10, 2004 at 08:53 PM

" ... The editor added that the recipient of the e-mail, whom he would not identify, should not have passed it along."

Have these people been living in a cave somewhere, cut off from news reports of people who HAVE had their emails passed on and were very sorry they ever sent that email?

You'd think people who earn their bread and butter reporting (and sometimes creating) news would NOT even bother making a statement like this.

Emails get passed around ALL the time. This is a fact we all live with. If you don't want your business known, don't write it down in email and send it out. The reporter was an idiot sending that email if he wanted to keep things quiet.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at December 10, 2004 at 09:08 PM

An account by a soldier who was there. An interesting read.


See his Rumsfeld's Visit posting.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at December 10, 2004 at 10:12 PM

I'm glad to hear the issue being discussed in pro-invasion blogs. When I've heard it being discussed in anti-invasion blogs or in the mainstream media, I didn't know how much to trust the reports.

Posted by: Andjam at December 11, 2004 at 02:11 AM

It has to be discussed. The best explanation is in Chesterton - society needs both optimists and pessimists to be healthy. The pessimists are there to point out what still needs to be done, to keep the society improving, and the optimists are there to point out why we should bother.

It was a great question (good pessimism), and a great answer (good optimism). If it could be left at that, it would encourage more good questions and drive up military readiness and capability. The problem (from a purely media standpoint) is that there's a lot of dishonest pessimism out there - people who get a good answer and are angry about it. They want bad answers, to prove their point at any cost, to say, "You're right, we'd better give up on the whole idea." They want their pessimism to win, which means of course that we all lose.

Posted by: Nightfly at December 11, 2004 at 02:52 AM

OT, and apologies for that, but I'd be very grateful if someone here could answer a small military question, prompted by my years of watching Hollywood war movies and a similar number of years of being frustrated in getting an answer. (I haven't been successful with a Google search.) Namely:

What does 'click' mean, as in, say, when a soldier tells his mates, "It's a couple of clicks down that road"? How far is a click? Do soldiers use some kind of counter they 'click' every so many estimated number of paces to keep a rough track of distance travelled on foot? If not, where does the term come from?

Slight question budget overrun there.

Posted by: JamesUK at December 11, 2004 at 11:17 AM

James: Hard to believe, but the US military uses the metric system on maps. The metric grid-square maps have slightly raised print of the grid. As a soldier traces a path along the map, the raised grid makes a slight click sound. Therefore, a click of one grid-square is about 1,000-meters.

Posted by: Horst Graben at December 11, 2004 at 12:33 PM

Here in Canada, the land of government imposed metrification, we know them as klics in kilometres. Glad to be of help.

Posted by: DAMNYOURLOUSYEXCUSES at December 11, 2004 at 01:01 PM

M-113's are a viable solution today. It is possible to upgrade them to be RPG proof with applique armour kits, which the Israeli Defence Force uses on Zeldas in support of anti-terrorist operations in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

Band tracks would improve mobility in urban areas, and reduce road impact (important in a situation like Iraq), and hybrid engines would vastly increase range, and give a creep capability (stealth approach on electric motors only)

Wheeled vehicles are always vulnerable to IED's

Go to this site: there are a lot of links on how the M-113 could be used in Iraq, and that it had in fact been requested by commanders, and the requests were turned down by the Army.

Posted by: Sheriff at December 11, 2004 at 01:35 PM

Horst and DamnYLE:
So, finally I get to know. One fewer itches to scratch. Thank you both kindly.

Posted by: JamesUK at December 11, 2004 at 02:05 PM

James, maps don't "click" for heavens sake, it's a military slang expression for Kilometer, grew out of the "kil" part of the orginal word I guess.

Posted by: mike rogers at December 11, 2004 at 05:42 PM

Unarmoured humvees are not a new problem.
See Counter column's "Contrasting attitudes" for further info.

Posted by: Observer at December 12, 2004 at 03:20 AM