IMAGE: RUMSFELD'S QUESTIONER
Gustavo Ferrari  /  AP
U.S. Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, left, speaks to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday during Rumsfeld's visit to Camp Udeira, north of Kuwait City.
updated 12/8/2004 5:44:45 PM ET 2004-12-08T22:44:45

Regina Wilson wasn’t entirely surprised to see her ex-husband, a guardsman bound for Iraq, on television Wednesday challenging Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a tough question.

“He is always like that,” she said. “I don’t think he understands the concept of biting one’s tongue. It wouldn’t matter if it was (President) Bush himself standing there. He would have dissed him the same.”

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, a 31-year-old member of a Tennessee National Guard unit, asked Rumsfeld why vehicle armor is still scarce, nearly two years after the start of the war.

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” he asked.

The question prompted shouts of approval and applause from the estimated 2,300 soldiers assembled in a hangar in Kuwait to hear Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson, an airplane mechanic from Nashville, to repeat his question.

“We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north,” Thomas Wilson said.

Rumsfeld said the Army was prodding manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it quickly, but noted, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.”

Regina Wilson said she saw the TV news reports about the question Wednesday after taking the children to meet the school bus.

She doesn’t watch TV reports on the war while their two children — 10-year-old Megan and 5-year-old Thomas — are home because “it scares them to death.”

Wilson said Thomas Wilson joined the National Guard in June 2003. He had previously enlisted in the Air Force in 1994 and served about four years, she said.

“It’s all about duty, and he felt compelled to be over there,” Wilson said, adding that both she and her ex-husband voted for Bush in November and support him “100 percent.”

But she said she was not impressed with Rumsfeld’s answer.

“He seemed like he was stuttering and stumbling — like he was caught off guard,” she said. “Rumsfeld’s answer seemed like he was sidestepping around the question.”

She added, “If there is something lacking perhaps that is why our death toll is climbing.”

Wilson’s girlfriend, Marilyn Elam of Nashville, also said Rumsfeld “appeared to have been caught off guard.” Elam said she hoped the defense secretary “takes that information and uses it constructively.”

Regina Wilson said her former husband called home on a Saturday two weeks ago. His unit is about to drive north into Iraq for a one-year tour of duty.

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