"A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the Marines who have been killed in Iraq from (sic) wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials."
I wish all of the terminal Republicans and tin-pot super-patriots whose letters in support of the war and those who foisted it upon us adorn these pages would please go back and re-read that first paragraph.
-- The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2006
Nowhere in that paragraph or elsewhere in the story does it say that Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan had anything to do with withholding that protective equipment from the Marines and soldiers.
Nor does the study blame the liberal mainstream media for the failure to provide enough armored Humvees to the troops — a failure that has resulted in hundreds of deaths by improvised roadside bombs.
The Pentagon did not release that information. It was leaked to a Times reporter by someone on the inside who could not sit silently by in the face of such duplicity and deadly incompetence.
The story notes that the ceramic plates in body armor vests worn by most troops in Iraq cover only parts of the chest and back. It reports further that an analysis of 93 fatal wounds suffered by Marines between March, 2003 and June 2005, showed that 74 resulted from bullets and shrapnel that struck the victims' shoulders and other parts of the torso not protected by the vests.
The Times also obtained information from an Armed Forces Medical Examiner's study that indicates about 340 Americans died as a result of torso wounds.
Of course, we all know that the Times is a questionable source in that it is not an apologist for the Cheney/Bush administration and therefore doesn't support our troops. So should you take the paper's word for that scathing report's accuracy? Or mine?
If not, how about the word of a colleague who is also a Marine recently returned from service as a scout-sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq? Does the story ring true? I asked him.
His answer: Absolutely. The body armor available to Marines in his unit, he said, was insufficient in numbers and inadequate as well. Many of the vests the Marines did receive were missing plates.
Marines would improvise he said, sometimes removing ceramic plates from the vests' crotch pockets and attaching them to the vests' shoulder areas.
And Marines about to go out wearing vests that lacked enough plates would borrow from comrades coming in off patrol.
Better, more protective vests are available on the commercial market, he said, and some Marines bought them before deploying overseas, but they are very expensive.
Given the vests' inadequacy, their weight and the 100-degree-plus temperatures in which they were operating, he said, he and many of his fellow Marines often dispensed with the vests altogether.
The vests were not their main source of frustration, he added. Most of their scorn was reserved for the civilian bodyguards who accompany American generals and civilian government officials everywhere they go in Iraq.
"You mean what we call 'contractors?' " I said.
"Yes," he said, "but we call them what they are, mercenaries."
Those contractor/mercenaries, call them what you will, have the best equipment and arms available, he noted, and make on average about $200,000 a year, while 18- and 19-year-old boys are dying daily for lack of proper equipment.
Oh, what a lovely war.
David Rossie is associate editor; his column is printed on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
© 2006 The Press & Sun-Bulletin