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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Commander, Third Army and Coalition Forces Land Component Command, Lieutenant General R. Steven Whitcomb Thursday, December 9, 2004 1:07 p.m. EST

Special Defense Department Briefing on Armored Vehicles

(Via Teleconference From Kuwait)

COL. GARY KECK (deputy director, Press Office): Good afternoon, everyone. Appreciate your patience. Don't want to delay this any longer.

I am Colonel Keck, as you know, the deputy director of the Press Office. And it's my privilege to introduce you to Lieutenant General Whitcomb, who's the CFLCC commander in Kuwait and has graciously agreed to talk to us today about up-armored humvees and his efforts there. And without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to him for an opening statement. And I will control questioning from him for comfort. He cannot see us, so please, when you have your question, state your name and your news organization, so he knows who he's talking to.

Sir, it's all yours.

GEN. WHITCOMB: Thanks, Colonel Keck. And welcome to the group of reporters there in the Pentagon. I appreciate you coming, and I appreciate you giving me this opportunity to talk to you.

As Colonel Keck said, I'm Lieutenant General Steve Whitcomb, and I'm the commander of Third Army, "Patton's Own," and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command. And we're stationed here at Camp Arifijan in Kuwait.

We are the folks that are responsible, among other things, for supporting operations -- ground operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. We have responsibility for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom just north of Kuwait.

I've got about 30 minutes, and I'd like to hit a couple of topics with you, but primarily focus on your questions.

As you know, yesterday we were honored to have the secretary of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld, come and talk to about 2,300 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and our "soldiers in slacks," our civilian labor force, up at a place called Camp Buehring, in the northern part of Kuwait. It was a(n) open forum atmosphere, a town hall meeting, if you will. It's one that the secretary does fairly frequently and quite well. But more importantly, it was a chance for our troops to see their secretary of Defense and ask him tough questions, which they did. He's prepared for that, was prepared for that, and he got that.

One of the questions during the session dealt with the armoring of our wheeled vehicle fleet. And I'm not going to dwell on the soldier that answered the question and those specifics, but what I do want to talk about in my opening statement is that this is a good news story for the Army. I'm going to talk about where we were a little over a year ago and where we've gone and where we're going for the future in terms of how we're protecting our force.

First, a little background on how we got there. Really, about August of 2003 last year, we began to see an increase in improvised explosive device attacks against our forces, primarily against convoys that were moving throughout Iraq. Those attacks took many forms, some very simplistic using unexploded ordnance, bombs, explosive packages that were put together, using the bodies of dead animals up along rail guards on highways -- you name it, and the enemy dreamed up a way to use it. And they began having an impact on our soldiers, a deadly impact, as we all know.

The first response was from the local commanders, the commanders in the field in Iraq. And they began utilizing whatever they could find in terms of plating to either weld or bolt onto their vehicles. It was a haphazard, unorganized method. But that certainly exposed a need both physically and one that they passed to the leadership of our Army that we needed something better.

And the Army essentially did first -- three things. The first one was we began redistributing the up-armored humvees -- and I'll talk just very briefly in a moment of what that is -- that were around the world, and started shipping them here to our theater to be used in Iraq.

Now, what is a(n) up-armored humvee? It's what we call a level one capability, a level-one armor protection. It's a vehicle that is produced in a factory back in the United States and it essentially gives you protection, both glass and on the armament on the side, front, rear, sides, top and bottom. If you'll think of a protection in a bubble, that's kind of what the level-one up-armored humvee gives you.

I'm not going to talk about the specific capabilities it will protect the soldiers against. You probably already have them, but I view those as an operational force-protection issue, so I don't want to get into the specifics. But it gives the vehicle and the soldiers, the Marines inside, good protection.

Simultaneously, the Army started two other programs. Well, let me back up and finish the up-armored piece.

Back in August of 2003, we were producing about 30 of those vehicles a month. We're in the category now of over 400 per month being produced. It took time to ramp up that production and great cooperation, the right amount of funding to do it. And so we've built ourselves up to that kind of capacity. And we've provided a little under 6,000 up-armored humvees to the force to date.

The second thing we did was to look at add-on kits that we might be able to produce that gave that vehicle additional protection. We call that level-two armor, and it's better known probably most places as add-on armor. It is factory produced, so it's built under controlled conditions, and then it's either -- can be put on back in the states. But we've got 10 sites here in the theater, a couple here in Kuwait, and eight sites up in Iraq itself where we can bolt on, add this armor to existing unarmored vehicles. It gives you protection front, rear and sides, glass. It does not give protection at the top or at the bottom of the vehicle. So it gives you better than what you have with no protection on a humvee, but not quite the level-one protection.

Simultaneously, we looked at a stop-gap measure, a bridge, if you will, till we got the factory-produced level two and the level one protection for our vehicles, and that's what we call level-three hardening. That's taking steel plates that have been approved, make sure that they've got the type of minimal protection that we want, we take those and cut those for vehicles, and then we can either weld them on a vehicle or we can bolt them on. And our real focus for the level-three armor is not the humvees, it's really the series of trucks that the Army uses in combat operations.

So we've got three things going right now: the level one, about 6,000 vehicles; the level two, the add-on kits, about 10,000 vehicles; and then we've got about -- almost 4,500 vehicles that have the level- three protection, the welded, bolted-on, locally fabricated steel plating on the vehicles.

We also made a decision really -- there were a couple of places -- but really at the request of the commanders in Iraq, and that's that we send our forces from Kuwait, where the soldiers arrive, where the equipment arrives, where we marry it up and give them last-minute capacity to organize themselves, and then they move forward from Kuwait into Iraq into that combat environment. But the commanders asked that we really look at what additional armoring we could put on vehicles. This is not something new. It's not a revelation. It started back, as I said, in 2003. And as the enemy has changed his tactics and techniques and procedures for attacking our forces, we've done the same, and that has led us to this program that we've got to armor our equipment to protect our kids as they go out.

I don't need to tell you how serious we take this. I look at the casualty reports every day. I look at how soldiers were injured. And so we look at that. We look and talk to soldiers in hospitals. And so we understand that none of us wants to send a young man or woman into harm's way without the adequate protection. And so our job in Kuwait, with our command and our soldiers -- you can see some of them behind me in the forward repair activity that are strapping on some of these add-on armor plates to humvees that we've got going. We work it 24 hours a day, and we've got the right folks working on it.

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.

And, Colonel Keck, I'm ready to take questions.

COL. KECK: Okay, Charlie?

Q General, this is Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. You said that this was a "good news" story for the Army. Are you suggesting that that question raised about the armor was not a legitimate problem? That's one.

And two, aren't trucks the major issue here, especially for members of the Guard and Reserve who drive supplies and troops around? Isn't that a major problem to them?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Well, your first question is, one, the question that was asked was a fair question. I mean, it's a good question. It's one that we address and we've been addressing and that we'll continue to address. So that was not a bad question to be addressed by the secretary of Defense or me. I didn't mean to imply that.

The issue of the trucks that our soldiers are driving in, and that are prepared, for a large part, correction in Kuwait before they move forward in Iraq, is a good news story. I can tell you that the last full brigade that deployed into Iraq about six weeks ago, the 256th Infantry, almost a thousand wheeled vehicles, just a little short of 1,000 wheeled vehicles had some level of armor protection on them -- the level one, the level two or the level three. Those wheeled vehicles that did not have some level of protection were loaded on military trucks and they were trucked up into Iraq, so they were not driven by soldiers. That is our objective for units that are preparing to deploy -- the 278th Brigade Combat Team out of Tennessee and the 116th Infantry out of Idaho and a couple of states in that area. Our goal in what we're working towards is that no wheeled vehicle that leaves Kuwait going into Iraq is driven by a soldier that does not have some level of armor protection on it.

Now some of these units are in fact going up and replacing units already in Iraq, already operating. And those units that are already forward have level-one and level-two vehicles. They will -- those vehicles will stay in Iraq. They will not come back to Kuwait. And so what we're doing is we're providing vehicles going forward. They will fall in on the better armor that's already there, in addition to what we provided them before they've gone forward.

Does that get to your question?

Q Yes, sir. Just a brief follow-up. You say that -- I believe you said 4,500 -- you suggested 4,500 trucks have been fixed so far. Figures released by the House Armed Services Committee suggest that that's only about half of the trucks in Iraq. Is that true?

GEN. WHITCOMB: We've got about -- and I'm not going to get down into the sevens and eights, because I would be wrong surely, but I'm going to give you some pretty close approximations. We've got about 30,000 wheeled vehicles in our theater -- in Iraq and Afghanistan and other areas that CFLCC and Central Command operate. Of that 30,000 vehicles, around a little less than 8,000 of them do not have some type of armor protection on them -- level one, two or three. Of those vehicles that don't, some number of them are things like tool trucks, communication vans or vehicles that don't leave the base camp. In other words, they're trucked up into Iraq -- or in cases before what we're doing now, were driven up into Iraq -- and they go onto a base camp, and that's where they spend most of their time.

Now who makes the decision what goes off at base camp? That becomes a commander -- the tactical commander's call. And I can tell you that while I'm not a tactical commander in Iraq or Afghanistan, I know them and I know what they do. They do an assessment every time that they've got a combat mission in which their forces go off the base, and they assess what type of vehicle goes, who leads it, whether it's got track vehicles with it as protection or helicopters. Those are all, as you know, the types of things that go into those kinds of tactical decisions.

So I said about 4,500. Yeah, I think that's right in the neighborhood. But the more important figure is the approximate 30,000 and the numbers that we have up-armored. And that continues to climb.

COL. KECK: Go ahead, Tony.

Q Sir, this is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I was out there last Wednesday, actually, and missed you.

A couple questions. One, can you refresh the public's memory on why, in August 2003, you were so short of armored vehicles that you had like 200 to 300 up-armored humvees? Refresh our memory on why that was.

Two, you've got about 6,000 up-armored humvees in inventory. How far -- how behind are you in filling the entire requirement? What is the entire requirement?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Okay. The first question is, you know, what was the state of affairs in August of 2003? We were coming off the high end major combat operations, where our heavy ground fleet, in concert with our air forces and naval air forces, conducted that major combat operation.

What we saw with the enemy in the August/September 2003 time frame was a shift in their tactics. They knew that if they came face to face with the troops, they would be killed. That was a given. They would not succeed in a type of military operation man to man, woman to woman, fighting face to face with American troops.

So their tactic was to adopt the ambush tactic. And the ambush tactic of engaging with rifles and pistols and RPGs wasn't going to work either, not in the big scheme of -- big picture, not for the long term.

So one of the tactics they came up with was this explosive -- improvised explosive device, this mechanical ambush, if you will. And we saw that begin, and we saw it increase over time to where we really saw a peak near the start of the first of the year and throughout the time period that we've got now. And so that's why we addressed the issue.

What we also can't lose sight of is that the humvee was a vehicle that was not designed to afford armor protection, nor were most of our trucks. They were designed as cargo carriers. The only up-armored humvees, the high-end ones, we had were for our military police forces. They were not for use by -- as we see them used today with the numbers of forces.

So, we saw a problem, we adapted to that problem, that enemy tactic, and we built ourselves and are building ourselves to a position where we can better protect the force and are better protecting the force.

Your second question was about 6,000 up-armored humvees. Right now the requirement that we've got from Multinational Corps Iraq and Multinational Force Iraq, General Casey and General Tom Metz, are for about 8,100 up-armored humvees. And we're about 6,000 into that production. So we still have a ways to go. But at the rate of over 400 a month, we're making steady progress.

When you couple this level-two capacity, and I said that just for humvees alone we're at about 10,000 up-armored humvees. When you combine the 6,000 and the almost 10,000, we're in relatively good shape humvee-wise. It's the rest of the fleet that we are really working hard with the level-three armor, again, the locally fabricated steel plating that we weld or bolt on, and the add-on armor kits that industry is producing for us. And we've got the requirements for what we have and we're moving towards that production and that installation.

Q General, this is Jeannie Ohm with NBC News. Can you tell me, have you specifically, or anyone else you're aware of, spoken directly with Specialist Wilson to find out if in fact he was going through landfills to find scrap metal, if this was on more than one occasion, or how pervasive the problem was?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Ma'am, no I have not spoken with Specialist Wilson, and purposely I didn't. The point is not whether he was going through a landfill -- and I'll tell you how we do things -- the point is he brought up a question on up-armored vehicles.

What I think Specialist Wilson was probably talking about is going through a facility that we've got that takes vehicles of two types; one, it takes vehicles that have been hit in combat and can't be fixed in Iraq and we bring them back here into Kuwait and we either fix them or we take parts off them that we can use. And some of those parts may, in fact, be the level-three armor, the steel plating that we either take off and put into stacks that we'll reuse, or that my suspicion -- and it's a suspicion only -- is that Specialist Wilson and his crew came in and found a vehicle or found some of that stuff and was taking it to add on to their vehicles. It's counterproductive to go try and track the specialist down. He had a concern for the armoring for his vehicles, as we all do, and he brought that up and we addressed that. I don't think -- well, I just don't know whether he was in a landfill. We don't normally throw things that we can use back into a trash bin or a landfill-type thing.

Q Sir, if I may just quickly follow up, Secretary Rumsfeld in India this morning said that he expected someone would be talking specifically with Specialist Wilson to find out the exact scenario of what was going on and what he was seeing. So are you saying that there are no plans to talk with him directly?

GEN. WHITCOMB: No, ma'am. I misunderstood your question. I thought you said had I talked to him; and no, I have not talked to him. Do I think some of his chain of command has gone to him and said give me some more details, I imagine probably so. That's a prudent thing to do.

Q I wanted to ask - it's John Lumpkin with the Associated Press. I wanted to ask less about the quantity of armored vehicles and more about the quality of the armor itself. Two different ways . kind of lines there.

One is, generally is there a sense that a lot of soldiers are going through and putting sort of improvised armor or other protection on their vehicles, either through scrap yards or other means? If so, does that suggest the vehicles are not coming to them armored in a satisfactory way? Along the same line is this level-three armor. Does it provide enough protection on the trucks, is it stopping enough attacks, or is there a need for heavy -- medium-heavy trucks with essentially a greater level of armored protection?

GEN. WHITCOMB: That's a great question. The answer is, how much is enough? If I can add another plate or another inch or more to the vehicle I'm riding in that gives me protection, it's better. I mean, that is absolutely the case. It's why we have a 72-ton M1A2 Abrams tank, because we reacted to the threats, the capability to produce a better round. So I think that's a prudent thing to do if a soldier has the capability.

Do I think that it is widespread that our soldiers are going out and trying to add armor? I do not have that indication. I don't want to say it's not happening, because I'm sure it is, but I don't -- in my opinion, it's not being done in mass numbers or mass quantities.

Does a level-three protection give you level one? No, it doesn't. And we make no bones about it. The good news is it does -- level one and level two do give you protection.

And I've got a couple of great noncommissioned officers, our best spokesmen here, Sergeant First Class Steve Mikes (sp) out of the 1486th Transportation Company, and Sergeant First Class Joe Litchard (sp) out of the same company, that were convoy commanders. They run that dangerous route that runs from Kuwait up into north of Baghdad. And incidentally, that route is about as far as driving from Wilmington, North Carolina to Canton, Ohio, except when you drive from Wilmington to Canton, it's not through Indian territory.

But both these great soldiers, Sergeant Mikes (sp) and Sergeant Litchard (sp), both were attacked when they were performing their duties and had level-one armor protect them. And I asked him, "Well, what would have happened if you hadn't had level-three armor, if you hadn't had the steel plating?" He said, "Well, sir, I would have been shot." I mean, that's pretty basic. And we also had attack with using the add-on armor, the level-two kind of capability. It protected these men, these soldiers.

That is not to say that we have not lost soldiers that had no armor, level one, level two, level three. We have. And it's tragic, and we accept that and we accept our responsibility to get our troops the best protection that we can. And that's what we are about doing.

Does that get to your question?

Q Yes, sir. Thank you.

Q General, it's Mark Mazzetti with the Los Angeles Times. I had a question about the level-two armor. You said that it was . you were not protected from the bottom. And since one of your biggest threats is IEDs, I'm wondering how well does the level-two armor actually protect against IEDs.

GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, it depends on where it is. Part of the enemy's tactics and their techniques evolved over time. We still get these explosives that are in the ground and can lift up a Bradley or a tank if it's large enough, but we were seeing more and more attacks where they would raise it off the ground so they could go into the side of the vehicle. It could hit the troops being carried in it.

And so it does afford that kind of protection -- front, rear and side. But you are correct. It does not afford protection on the bottom or much armor protection on the top of the vehicle. And again, part of what we're working with is getting ourselves up to a point where we've got that full protection.

The other thing that's going on is we're not content or idle with the numbers that I've talked about. And so we're looking at ways that we can get additional bottom and top protection, side protection, lighter weight protection on our equipment so we protect our troops.

Interesting, what we also found is we looked at these attacks -- the heavier trucks and the larger trucks. While we've lost some, obviously, to explosions from the bottom, we're also more -- really concerned with those drivers that they've got small-arms protection on their sides, and that's what the level-three steel plating does. The level-two kits that are being produced for these trucks -- again, they're strap-on and add-on, but they will provide top and bottom protection as well as all-around vertical or horizontal protection.

Q General, Bret Baier with Fox News Channel. First, to clarify a previous question. Did you have specific numbers on that specialist's unit on how many are armored in his unit, for that question? And secondly, are you aware of the House Armed Services Committee's efforts to get that level-three armor in theater and to get the stuff shipped from the U.S.?

GEN. WHITCOMB: First question, sir. I didn't -- as I said, I did not talk to the soldier. Looking at his unit, he is assigned the 278th Brigade Combat Team, and so for their unit they have not totally deployed into Iraq. They have started moving into Iraq a couple days ago. But the objective and the requirement for that unit is the same for all units -- that any wheeled vehicle that drives from Kuwait into Iraq will have some level of armor plating on it -- level three, two or one, as we have discussed.

And so I'm satisfied. That unit may not be completely outfitted now, because it hasn't completed its deployment into Iraq, and that will take place over some period of time. So we're continuing to work feverishly to ensure that they meet our requirement, and that's that nobody goes north without it.

But I lost your second part of the question, or did I wrap it up in the --

Q (Off mike) -- I was just asking about the House Armed Services Committee. It seems like they have spearheaded this effort to fund spare metal from around the country and ship it to Kuwait because there's an urgent problem to get this level three stuff put on these trucks.

GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, there's not really an urgent problem. First, I'm not familiar with the -- with that specific program on the part of Congress, although I certainly welcome it.

But we're not lacking at this point for our kits, our steel plating to fabricate the level three kits or the personnel to apply those kits. That's going. I mean, it's hard work. Our soldiers and our "soldiers in slacks," our civilian workforce, as you can see behind me, are working hard to do it. But it's not for lack of material, and it's not for lack of vehicles to put it on.

So we've got the well-planned and orchestrated schedule and a plan to do this. We're sticking to it. And we're on a good track to in fact accomplish our mission in that respect.

Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. On the humvees, can you tell us how many you've lost in -- to IED incidents? And could you talk about the degradation on humvee performance with this extra armor on it?

And would you also address the issues of these truck convoys? Obviously, having a Bradley fighting vehicle in a convoy does nothing to protect an unarmored truck against an IED. And I spent a month there this summer, and every convoy that I was in was almost made up entirely of unarmored trucks. And it looks like those numbers of armoring there, according to the House Armored Services Committee, are quite low. I think something like only 15 percent are getting armor. So would you discuss all the thought process that goes into the truck armoring issues?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Okay. Sure. I'm not going to get the specific numbers in terms of what -- how many wheel vehicles that we've lost. First, I don't have the precise number.

What I can tell you is that from up-armored humvees, the level one, we've had in the neighborhood of 120 combat losses. I don't know whether they're all due to IEDs or RPGs or accidents, but there are about 120 up-armored vehicles that are have lost. And we've replaced those, and those in fact have the priority, up north from General Metz and General Casey, to replace those things.

The -- your comment on convoys -- again, I'm not going to get the specific numbers, because it's a(n) operational tactic. But what we try and do with our convoys is to move them with a mix of -- gun trucks is what we call them. Sergeant Mikes (sp) and Sergeant Litchard (sp) are gun truck commanders, convoy commanders. And so we interspace those vehicles, some number of them, throughout the length of the convoy. And the convoys vary in size, to some degree, and in that kind of space. They rely primarily on speed as they're moving on their route, as it sounds like you well know, having traveled with them.

And I'm moving -- our goal towards up-armoring those vehicles continues. I can't recall when you said you were in Iraq, traveling, but you mentioned there was a low number of those wheel vehicles that had armor plating on them or some form of armor.

What I can address now is what we are sending up, where we -- and what we've been doing for the last couple of months is designed to -- we're never going to fix it totally, but to minimize that kind of problem; to ensure that if we've got a soldier in a military vehicle, they've got some type of protection on that vehicle.

Q Would you just address the issue of degradation?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. And that's a good question. Some of these vehicles were not designed to take steel plating or the heavy add-on armor that we've got. The up-armored humvee, the level one, is a built-from-scratch Corvette, if you will. I mean, that's a vehicle designed to carry that heavy weight. Its engine, transmission, suspension carries that pretty well.

But this add-on armoring runs anywhere from about a thousand pounds of steel plating up to about 4,000 pounds of additional weight. So a lot of our vehicles, as you point out, are not designed -- their engines aren't designed to carry perhaps an additional ton of weight, the suspension and the transmission.

So we do have a program in place to take vehicles off line, be able to bring them down, either in Iraq, if it can be done -- forward is the best way -- or to ship them down here, where we can refurbish the guts of the vehicle -- engines, transmissions, suspension, other things. And then where we can, what we do is we -- for example, if it's got level three, the armor strapped on, we'll upgrade it with the add-on armor kit. So we're able to do that.

You know, candidly, we're not doing it in large numbers yet. We're doing it where we can. We're building a capacity to be able to do that more frequently, to refurbish the fleet. But that is an issue.

The other thing that we're dealing with is the fact that we've got great equipment. I mean, our soldiers are great soldiers, but they've got great equipment. And these trucks have been -- and tanks and Bradleys and other things have been ridden hard. I mean, they're taken out of the stable every day. You get several year's work on them, miles on them, in the course of perhaps a couple of months. And so that's a greater issue of how do we refurbish the fleet, how do we bring that back up to a capability that we can launch it off when the cord's pulled to pull us out.

COL. KECK: Okay. One more question.

Q Rebecca Christie from Dow Jones Newswire. If I understood correctly, you said you have enough metal to put on these vehicles, and you have plenty of vehicles. What is your constraint? Do you need more people? Do you need more money? And more broadly, how much is all this costing, where is the money coming from, and will you need more? Thank you.

GEN. WHITCOMB: Yes, ma'am.

Well, your first question, I've got enough metal, I've got enough folks, and I've got enough time to meet our schedule that ensures that no combat unit in a wheeled vehicle goes into Iraq now that is not in an armored vehicle. So I don't need necessarily more stuff. Can I use it? Y'all send it and we'll figure out how to use it. That's okay.

I don't know the specifics other than our country and our Congress has provided in the neighborhood of about $1.2 billion since last year strictly to armor our vehicles, and so the money is there. I am not seeing constraints on resources that are -- allow us to do that, with the exception of, as I say, level one and -- primarily because you're producing vehicles and a certain amount of law of physics is involved here. It's not necessarily just money; it's a production capacity to be able to build more.

I hope that kind of gets to your question. I do appreciate you all coming. You've got a responsibility, as our press, to keep America informed, and we do that pretty well. You want me to answer your questions, and I got two choices. I can either say no, I don't want to participate, and you'll publish your story, or I can come forward and try and answer your questions to the best of my ability. So I hope I've done that for you today.

I'd like to leave with just a couple of quick things.

I want to go back to my comment -- and this is not patronizing to our secretary of Defense, but I appreciate him coming. I'm a three-star general, and I get excited when my momma tells me, "Son, you done good." And I get excited when a four-star general says, "Whitcomb, you did okay." We got excited when the secretary of Defense went to Camp Buehring yesterday or a couple of days ago, and his sincerity doesn't come across necessarily on the screen.

What you didn't see was his very heartfelt comment on the success in Afghanistan, a story that we don't cover very well but is a great success story of a country that now has freedom and now has a future. And we're trying to build that capability for Iraq, as you well know.

What you also didn't see were the standing ovations when the secretary thanked the troops, thanked them from his heart. You can sense when a guy is -- or gal is thanking you and it's not from the heart. He did. And the third thing you didn't see was the 45 minutes he spent after the discussion trying to shake every hand and get every photograph snapped with every kid that had an Instamatic or a cell phone. And so that's important and that is meaningful to us.

The second point I'd make to you is this armoring is an important part of where the Army is heading and what the Army is trying to do to protect our forces; it's not the only thing. Back in August of 2003, the first thing we looked at were our tactics and techniques and procedures for conducting convoy operations and how could we do that and better protect our kids, and we found some good things that worked. Unfortunately, we had a smart enemy that also adapted their ways of doing business.

The other thing that we've got -- and I won't talk about it because it is very sensitive -- is we're leveraging technology, how to detect where IEDs are, who's using them, how they're being set off and those kinds of things so we could go out there early and kill those guys before they're able to execute.

So it's a multi-phased, multifaceted operation that our Army's involved in.

And the last thing I would just say to you: We're coming up on a great holiday season. I thank you for what you're doing. Many of you have been here. You've seen the quality of our young men and women that are here simply because America has asked them to do that. They're doing a great job. I'm proud to serve with them and certainly proud to be an American. We're making a difference.

Thank you very much.

COL. KECK: Thank you, sir.

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