Urgent memo to Congress

By David Hackworth

Dear Congress:

While you ponder green-lighting war with Iraq, you need to know that our deployed troops – who will be at the highest risk from deadly biological/chemical attack – are not good to go. Many soldiers are sounding off about the poor quality of their bio/chem protection and detection gear and the bio/chem training they’ve received. They rightly figure that Saddam Hussein will do his worst in a desperate last-ditch stand, and they’ll end up as the meat in the hazmat sandwich.

“I’m the nuclear, biological and chemical [NBC] officer for my unit,” says a leader in a unit bound for Kuwait. “Across the board, my soldiers don’t feel confident with their protective gear or level of training. We know how to use the decontamination kits and other gear, but no one really knows if anything works.”

“I worry about the NBC system on our [Abrams] tanks – there’ve been several fires recently caused by the system,” says a company commander. “Another worry is all my tanks leak like sieves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that chemical agents can kill the crew if water can get in our tanks at the wash rack.”

“In two years, my battalion hasn’t done a week of dedicated NBC training,” says a commander. “Our NBC decontamination apparatus hasn’t worked for over a year. The new protective suits haven’t been issued. They tell me we’ll get them just before we deploy – a little late to learn how to use ’em when we’re moving out to fight.”

“The problem I’ve seen is that the hot, bulky suits, gloves and other protective gear gets torn up during our gun-crew drills,” says an artillery CO. “Not good when you have to put steel on target and the Joes are jerking around on the ground. My main bitch is my troops will deploy with basically the same equipment we used 12 years ago during Desert Storm. Another problem is our CO is totally gun-shy about letting our troops train with our protective gear because it’s time-consuming and restricts their ability to do their job. Like they’ll do it better dead.”

Many Army leaders report that their units are totally unprepared for an extended period of bio/chem warfare and that after the first major battle their supplies will be exhausted.

“Not really sure if there’s enough atropine for each soldier in case of a bio/chem attack,” says an NBC sergeant in Kuwait. “In my company, we have enough for about half the men. If there’s more in Kuwait, we NBC people don’t know about it.”

“The current [protective] mask leaks under the chin,” an Army doctor says. “This same mask was used during Desert Storm, which accounts for part of the health problems of the vets who fought there. My unit has again deployed to the Gulf with this loser.”

“The bio and chemical defense program is @#$%&$ terrible,” snorts a senior sergeant in Kuwait. “My NBC sergeant said, ‘If the @#$% hits the fan … I’ll kill myself right away because I am not going to twitch like the rest of you.’ I told him to shut up and stop scaring our people. He shut up … but the scary thing is he’s right.”

The complaints of the folks in the field have been backed up by a recent General Accounting Office report documenting that the Pentagon has provided them with neither sufficient protective equipment nor adequate training to work on an NBC-contaminated battlefield. The report further states the Pentagon recalled 800,000 suits two years ago after finding defects such as “holes, improper stitching and embedded foreign objects in the fabric” and that 250,000 of these defective suits can’t be located. Many grunts worry that the bad suits are mixed with the to-be-issued stock.

Our military has to fix these life-or-death problems before President Bush hits the “go” button. More than 160,000 Desert Storm vets are disabled or dead due in part to captured Iraqi bio/chem weapons that Army engineers stupidly exploded in their unprotected faces.

What’s the big rush, anyway? Shouldn’t you make sure we’ve taken care of our soldiers, our nation’s most priceless asset, before we hurry off to another war?

Shouldn’t looking after the troops be the top priority of our congressional leadership?