Col. David H. Hackworth, author of "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts," "Price of Honor" and "About Face," saw duty or reported as a sailor, soldier and military correspondent in nearly a dozen wars and conflicts -- from the end of World War II to the fights against international terrorism.More ↓Less ↑
“Bang, bang. You’re dead.”
Neighborhood kids playing soldier in an empty lot with wooden rifles?
Nope! Regular United States warriors, during Exercise Crocodile ’03 at Shoalwater Bay, Australia, “fighting” an Aussie reserve unit.
“We were loaded down with far more blank ammunition than we could fit in our ammunition pouches, but when we made ‘contact’ with the Yanks, we found that many of them had almost no blank training rounds,” Aussie Pvt. Simon Parmiter said.
“On several occasions when we opened fire, we received perhaps half a dozen shots in return before the riflemen started yelling, ‘Bang, bang’ back at us, while the SAW – Squad Automatic Weapon – gunners shouted, ‘Bullets, bullets, bullets,’” Parmiter continued.
“It was incredible – the best-equipped military in the world was reduced to yelling at us instead of firing.
“With the recent news that that unit will return to Iraq, I assume many of the chaps yelling, ‘Bullets, bullets, bullets …’ will soon find themselves in the real thing – hopefully with more realistic training behind them, but if the shortage of live ammunition is as bad as the shortage of blank ammo appears to be, one has to wonder.”
Spoken with the wisdom of an Australian Digger, aka a mud grunt.
This report and similar accounts of ammo shortages during the past few months have caused me to check into this story with great urgency. Because soldiers fight as they train – which, by the way, is the U.S. Army’s most heavily exercised mantra – an Army without sufficient training ammo is an Army that will fail on the battlefield.
I posted a “help wanted” ad on my hackworth.com Web page, and within 24 hours had received more than 500 messages from serving Army troops in the United States preparing for deployment to hot battlefields like Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as from warriors all over the world, confirming that our soldiers don’t have sufficient stocks of live or blank training ammo to prepare adequately for combat.
Although Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gary Tallman was most cooperative, it took him several weeks to line up the experts. When asked why, he said, “Some folks here are busy playing ‘pass the grenade.’”
For sure, the ammo-shortage problem is a live grenade. But eventually I did speak with Brig. Gen. Louis Weber and Lt. Col. Susan Carlson.
Weber, recently back from Iraq – where he served with the spearhead unit that took Baghdad – insisted that the “Army has adequate ammo for training and deployed units.” But he did admit that there was a lot of ground truth in the reports I’d received from the troops.
Gen. Weber explained that the Army ammo inventory includes 350 different lines of munitions, and that fragmentation grenades and blank training ammo are a problem, along with 23 other lines of ammo. When I asked for a list of the shortages, the Pentagon declined to provide it in the interests of “operational security.”
Tallman assured me that small-arms-training ammunition is now the No. 1 single line item for procurement dollars for the 2004 budget. “The Army will spend just over $1 billion, ahead of Stryker, upgrades for Apache, Abrams, CH-47, MLRS, procurement of communications systems and procurement of medium and heavy tactical vehicles,” he said.
West Point-trained Lt. Col. Carlson – coincidentally the daughter of retired Col. Jerry Carlson, who served with great distinction alongside of me in Korea and Vietnam – said that our Lake City ammo plant in Missouri “has gone to three shifts.”
Sources say that Lake City – both the largest Army ammo facility in the world and the producer of all the Pentagon’s small-arms ammo – has reached “capacity” and “units in the field still don’t have the right stuff to do the job.”
A regular Army major just back from Iraq says: “President Bush told the armed forces, ‘Help is on the way.’ But in Iraq and now in the training business, I’ve seen very little help, but a whole lot of pork.”
You’d think that our Congress would have the good sense to read the coffee grains and demand that we reopen other ammo plants to prepare for a long, dangerous and most critical global war in which our very way of life is at stake.