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Army bungles armoring of its Humvees

Pentagon and the Army screwed up badly and fatally for too many

Brian Hart sat in a booth in a restaurant in Waltham, Mass., 7 miles from a plant where equipment that could have saved his son's life was being produced quickly so it could be sent to Iraq. His boy, John Hart, was 20 and brave and with the Army when he was killed in October near Kirkuk. His unarmored Humvee was ambushed, the bullets tearing through the vehicle as if it were made of Kleenex.

"Someone's either lying about this issue or they are incompetent," the dead soldier's father said.

It is obvious today - with the death toll in Iraq rising daily - that the Pentagon bosses never planned properly for the potential of facing a stubborn and lethal resistance once Baghdad was in their grasp.

Last week, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, sounded like Prof. Irwin Corey as he tried to explain why so many soldiers were put in peril because of inadequate planning. When asked why, with $335 million already appropriated for armored Humvees, there weren't enough of the vehicles in Iraq, Schoomaker said: "Now our total requirement for the entire Army in the future is about 11,000 up-armored Humvees. We did not have that requirement before."

In other words, the Pentagon and the Army screwed up badly and fatally for too many.

A few days ago, Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) went to the Ohio company hired to produce the armored Humvees to see whether the Army's contention that production was at capacity was accurate. He discovered it was not. According to Simmons, the company is scheduled to armor 360 vehicles this year. Full production would mean turning out 500 a month.

Since his son was killed, Brian Hart has traveled the country to testify and inquire about how the shipment of armored Humvees to Iraq could be expedited. "Imagine how I felt," he said, "when I discovered one answer was just a few miles from where my son grew up."

He was talking about the Foster-Miller company in Waltham, where they are turning out lightweight ceramic-Kevlar plates for Humvees. The plates weigh 32 pounds and can be attached to the vehicles with heavy-duty Velcro and big brass clips.

The Army discovered the product last fall and decided to study its effectiveness. The Marine Corps heard about it and ordered immediate production. "It took the Marines less than two weeks to decide and sign a contract," Foster-Miller's Doug Thomson said the other day. "We are shipping about 300 a day to Iraq, and within 90 days we will have armored nearly 1,000 vehicles."

The country is in a presidential campaign that is filled with grief over those who have died and rage toward those who planned the adventure without enough thought about leaving brave soldiers ill-equipped.

"I won't find peace until I get the Army to do what they should have done before kids like John went to Iraq," Brian Hart said. "Then maybe I can say 'mission accomplished,' too."