Idaho National Guard members' work in the Kuwait desert centers around a lot of pieces--at least for now. Tanks, artillery, vehicles and other equipment of war--some of it unassembled--are delivered to soldiers by sea in parts and pieces.
Idaho Guard members are now putting those pieces together amid concerns that soldiers deployed to Iraq lacked adequate equipment and protective gear.
Recent national media reports described risky situations that Idaho Guard members' counterparts faced in Iraq because they lacked armor, bullets, protective gear, and battle-ready Humvees. According to an October CBS report, soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company refused orders to re-supply another unit with jet fuel. The troops called the orders a suicide mission: The military, soldiers said, didn't provide the armored vehicles and protective helicopters the company needed to cross a dangerous stretch of highway. The shortages didn't stop there, according to CBS: Soldiers from the Oregon National Guard cited a lack of equipment--from night vision goggles to radios--and blamed the death of a fellow solider on a vehicle that was lined with sandbags and plywood for protection.
The Army admitted to 60 Minutes that some soldiers did lack proper gear, but Idaho National Guard officials say Idaho troops deployed overseas are well equipped with all the safety and battle equipment necessary.
"We don't feel any solider is being sent out there without the proper equipment," said Lt. Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard. "The first obligation of the Department of Defense is to the individual solider and the Army is taking no risks."
The Army National Guard deployed 1,600 Idahoans as part of the 116th Brigade Combat Team. The soldiers, who range in age from 18 to 59 recently left for Kuwait then Iraq following training in Texas and Louisiana.
Marsano told Boise Weekly that soldiers who rolled into Iraq during the early stages of war came without properly armored equipment. But officials maintain the military took measures to remedy the situation and that Idaho and Oregon troops are well protected.
"There were some equipment shortages during training; however, the soldiers received all the equipment they needed to perform the mission before entering Iraq," Oregon National Guard's commanding general, Ray Byrne said in a written statement to Boise Weekly.
Marsano said that the set of circumstances leading to the 60 Minutes report has also been largely remedied. The military told 60 Minutes that measures are in place to correct the reported shortages, but Byrne told Boise Weekly that some equipment still remains in short supply.
"There is still a need for armored Humvees and armor kits to modify existing Humvees, but the Army has a contractor working 24 hours a day, day-in and day-out to mitigate the shortage," Byrne wrote.
Marsano said the military has drastically upped their production of battle and protective gear since the start of the war, when many of the shortages were reported. In May of 2003 the military manufactured just 15 armored Humvees. Now, about 450 fully armored Humvees roll off the assembly line each month.
"The military is ... giving the benefits of the lessons to the troops that are currently training for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.