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updated 1/19/2004 9:45:49 PM ET 2004-01-20T02:45:49

I was talking with Patti DeCorte the other day when, suddenly, I saw Iraq in a whole new light: This may be the first war America ever jumped into while asking the people doing the fighting to bring their own equipment if they wanted to come home alive.

“My husband bought his own Kevlar vest and took it with him to Iraq because his unit didn’t have them,” DeCorte told me. “He’d had the vest since he served in Bosnia a year and half ago. We paid for it.”

Her husband, Rodney DeCorte, is an Army sergeant. He’s a reservist, called to active duty when the war firm of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz & Bush got a case of the hots over the prospect of quickly crushing the Iraqis and turning that country into a democracy with a Starbucks on every corner and a chapter of Common Cause in downtown Tikrit.

Look, Saddam Hussein is a murderous thug and it’s great that he’s been driven from office and captured. And there are probably a lot more success stories there than we know or read about in the papers.

But the idea that American soldiers are asked to patrol and pacify a nation filled with armed zealots willing to die for their beliefs, their country or even their hatred of us without getting the very best equipment we can offer is, in a word, nuts. Unfortunately, that happens to be the case.

“Not only have we not learned our lesson,” Rep. Ellen Tauscher told me the other day, “but we have a bunch of people in the Pentagon who don’t want to learn the lesson.”

Tauscher is a Democrat and on the House Armed Services Committee. She is from the Bay area in California. She was in Iraq three months ago. She has listened to constituents who are crazy with worry that their son or daughter is being exposed to even more harm in a war zone because clerks in the Pentagon are too busy fighting their petty turf battles to get enough items like Interceptor vests and armored Humvees to units engaged daily in battle.

“Too many of the Humvees have plastic flaps instead of armored doors,” Tauscher said. “We’ve passed two emergency appropriations for this war - one in April, the second in October - giving the President $166billion. We appropriated $900 million to find weapons of mass destruction but when we tried to take $300 million out of that $900 million and earmark it specifically for equipment for the National Guard and reservists in Iraq, the Republicans voted it down.”

Maybe those Republicans who are so gung-ho for this war ought to sit down with Brian Hart. His son John was a paratrooper with the 173rd Infantry Brigade and he was killed in October when his Humvee was ambushed by Iraqis. The vehicle was nearly two decades old. Young Hart was 20 when he died. His family’s automobile offers more protection from harm than did the vehicle private first-class Hart took to war.

“The Democrats want to politicize this,” Brian Hart has said. “The Bush administration wants to pretend we’re not in a guerrilla war and the Pentagon simply screwed up in their planning and doesn’t seem to want to address the matter. I just want the armored Humvees produced and distributed in quantity as quickly as possible.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Hart added, “the party politics stopped at the gates of Arlington when we buried John on 4 November.”

The war goes on every day. And we are spending more to rebuild Iraqi police stations, firehouses, water systems and power grids than we are on making sure our own soldiers have the best equipment possible.

“The Pentagon says it’s a procurement problem,” Tauscher said. “Hey, if that’s all it is, then why don’t we just get someone from Amazon.com to do it? At least they’re good at that stuff."

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