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Advertisement NewsIssuesProfileWho We Are Soldiers' complaints spur inquiry

Armed Services Committee looking into complaints of poor equipment, uniforms.

By John Donnelly

Senior Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have asked Pentagon leaders to explain repeated reports of inadequate equipment and training for troops headed to war.

At issue are rucksacks that cut off soldiers' circulation, uniforms that do not provide sufficient camouflage in Afghanistan and that fall apart too quickly, and rifles that jam during use, according to committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas) chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness.

Also of concern, the members said, were reports that troops are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan "straight from boot camp" without enough stateside training.

The legislators expressed their concerns in a Dec. 10 letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Copies were also sent to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Army Secretary John M. McHugh.

With roughly 200,000 U.S. military personnel slated to be deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-2010, the conditions faced by troops in harm's way, always a worry on Capitol Hill, are expected to become even more of a congressional preoccupation in the months ahead. The Armed Services leaders' letter underscores those concerns.

"These soldiers are fighting today on the front lines of Afghanistan, and we implore you to take their concerns to heart and see what we can all do to give them the tools they need," Skelton and Ortiz wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Congressional Quarterly.

Skelton and Ortiz said they heard the complaints from infantry and airborne troops in Germany and Italy preparing to deploy to battle.

One of the allegations was that troops were being sent directly from boot camp to war without extensive training. "Many of the NCOs [non-commissioned officers] we spoke to would like to see their soldiers receive more training before deployment, a sentiment with which we strongly agree," they wrote.

As for equipment, "numerous complaints" were heard about standard-issue "Army small assault packs and large rucksacks." The rucksack, a new model, is made of plastic and its straps, soldiers reported, are "cutting off circulation to their arms and hands, making it virtually impossible to fire their weapons," the members wrote. Many soldiers are using their own money to buy another kind of rucksack that they consider superior, the chairmen added.

Other complaints concern troops' uniforms. In Afghanistan, soldiers said, the camouflage version of the Army combat uniform "does more to put our soldiers in harm's way than to protect them," according to the letter.

Soldiers also complained that their uniforms are not durable enough, but when their garb has to be replaced, soldiers have to spend their own money because their clothing allowance is not sufficient to cover the expense, the letter said.

Lastly, the chairmen said, the Army's M4 rifles frequently jam and otherwise perform less than adequately. The M4 is not used by U.S. Special Operations forces, the members said.

"Even though these weapons routinely rank lower than other weapons in testing, they are still being issued as the Army's weapons of choice," Skelton and Ortiz wrote.

John Donnelly covers defense issues for Congressional Quarterly.

Jerrel svr

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Things never change cause the troops are expendible

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The issues with the M4 sound like the M-16 in Vietnam all over again. Have you ever flashed on the rucksacks the grunts carried in Vietnam. They tended to walk hunched over due to the sheer weight. Also uniforms rotted off and boots rotted in tropical climate. The troops in the field are at the end of the line and receive what everyone else does not want. The supplies come into the large base camps. The good stuff gets taken there and the rest is shipped out to remote areas. Not much changes. I bet the insurgents in Afghanistan don't carry 100 pounds of gear on their backs. They scurry around into the rocks and caves and disappear like rats. Our guys trudge after them and when in doubt call in the heavy artillery on rocks and and sand.

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