By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 31, 2007 – Force protection for deploying U.S. troops is a top priority, and the services are ensuring all units involved in the "surge" in Iraq have the equipment they need to protect themselves and do their jobs, a top Pentagon official told reporters today. "Force protection of our military servicemembers that are asked to go into a combat theater is a No. 1 priority," Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said today.
The military services, which are responsible for training and equipping their forces, are accelerating their efforts to get equipment, not just to deploying units, but also to those preparing to deploy. "They want to ensure that soldiers who are preparing to deploy have ... the maximum amount of time on the equipment are they actually going to be using in theater," Whitman said, "to train with and to be able to enhance their proficiency in terms of their tactics, their techniques and their procedures."
Whitman echoed the sentiment expressed yesterday by Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, whom President Bush nominated to take command of U.S. Central Command, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. If confirmed to the post, "I'll do everything in my power to ensure that our forces ... are the best-equipped, best-trained and best-prepared to conduct the operations we ask them to do," Fallon told the committee.
Today, Whitman cited examples of progress made in ensuring deployed troops are equipped to accomplish their missions as well as protect themselves. A "very robust industrial base" is producing body armor in the quantities needed, even in light of plans to send five additional U.S. combat brigades into Iraq, he said. He noted that the current theater requirement for 200,000 sets of body armor has been satisfied.
In addition, nearly all the Army's vehicles in Iraq - including some 14,000 Humvees - now have factory-produced armor on them, he said.
Whitman noted initiatives under way to ensure deployed and deploying troops are fully equipped. One involves tapping "drawdown stocks" to equip additional forces and another involves "cross leveling" equipment between units.
Fallon referred to the cross-leveling practice during his testimony yesterday. He noted that as commander of U.S. Pacific Command, he was asked to send to the Middle East "equipment that might be appropriate to soldiers and Marines that are headed in that direction."
Despite these and other initiatives, the troop surge in Iraq isn't without challenges, Whitman acknowledged. "But the services appear to be up to meeting the challenge of the additional equipment needs that will be needed for the plus-up," he said.
Both Army and Marine Corps leaders have expressed concerns that although they're ensuring the combat force has what it needs, they recognize that it's leaving gaps elsewhere in the force.
"Obviously, this surge will cause us to draw down other stocks," Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, Army deputy chief of staff for force development, told the House Armed Services Committee's Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Jan. 18.
"We'll need to replenish those," he said, urging Congress to approve the Army's budget supplemental requests by April. "That will be hard to do, but if we can get it from you what it'll enable us to do is to put money where we need it so we can keep systems flowing to soldiers," he said.
Speakes assured the committee that the Army won't deploy troops not equipped for their mission and the threats they will face. "We will not send soldiers who are improperly protected. Every soldier will get the Army standard for force protection," he told the committee.
"They'll get it because we have it," he said. "And the reason we can do it is because, thanks to your support, we have adequate quantities of critical equipment like up-armored Humvees and jamming devices on hand now so we can meet a search and requirements and not be desperate. And we will need your continued support."
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