Dec. 8, 2004 – Troop complaints about equipment shortages and extended duties, which have been largely kept out of mainstream attention, came out today at a well-covered "town hall meeting" in Kuwait featuring US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. US soldiers set to deploy to Iraq confronted the Secretary, pummeling him with questions about vehicle armor, equipment discrimination and the militaryâ€™s controversial stop-loss policy.
"Why do us soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-arm our vehicles?" asked National Guard Specialist Thomas Wilson, who received applause from many of the soldiers assembled.
Rumsfeld, after faltering, responded to the question by assuring troops that it was not a matter of funding that was keeping them short on protective equipment, but a matter of logistics. "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want," he said, then added, "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can [still] be blown up."
Another soldier pressed Rumsfeld about the militaryâ€™s stop-loss policy under which several thousand troops are being forced to serve beyond their contracted terms of duty. The policy, termed by critics as a "backdoor draft," has been challenged in court, so far unsuccessfully.
"My husband and myself, we both joined a volunteer army," said an unidentified soldier. "Currently, I'm serving under the stop-loss program. I'd like to know how much longer you foresee the military using this program?"
Rumsfeld responded to that question by saying that stop-loss "is something you prefer not to have to use in a perfect world" and that he guessed "it will continue to be used as little as possible, but that it will continue to be used."
Soldiers also pressed the Secretary about their concerns that active military units were being better equipped than those in the National Guard, an allegation Rumsfeld denied.