Dec. 9, 2003
Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 1991
By Mr. DASCHLE (for Mr. KERRY (for himself and Mr. KENNEDY)):
S. 1991. A bill to require the reimbursement of members of the Armed Forces or their family members for the costs of protective body armor purchased by or on behalf of members of the Armed Forces; to the Committee on Armed Services.
(At the request of Mr. DASCHLE, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD).
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, it is the responsibility of the military departments to "organize, train, and equip," the armed forces of the United States. Yet, reports indicate that nearly a quarter of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq still wait for the latest "Interceptor" body armor, which is a Kevlar vest with "small-arms protective inserts"-boron carbide ceramic plates-that protect critical organs from weapons fired by assault rifles like the Ak-47s favored by Iraqi insurgents.
While the Congress has taken measures to provide the latest personal protective gear to all U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, over the last several months we have heard alarming reports of family members scurrying to buy bullet-proof vests to send to their loved ones in Iraq. Military families are patriotic and selfless. Their devotion is no less than that of those serving in harm's way. They have more than enough to worry about, let alone whether or not they can find and buy the gear that might save their child's life. This is the responsibility of the Department of Defense, plain and simple. There is no excuse for their failure.
On November 19, 2003, acting-Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee admitted to Congress that the administration failed to provide basic equipment, like body armor, to all of our forces in Iraq because, as he put it, "Events since the end of major combat operations in Iraq have differed from our expectations and have combined to cause problems." The Washington Post reported recently that, "Going into the war in Iraq, the Army decided to outfit only dismounted combat soldiers with the plated vests, which cost about $1,500 each. But when Iraqi insurgents began ambushing convoys and killing clerks as well as combat troops, controversy erupted." I ask unanimous consent that the full text of this article be included in the RECORD.
Stories abound of family members, fathers and mothers, wives, and others paying for personal body armor out of their own pockets and shipping the much needed equipment to Iraq. Consider the case of Mimi McCreary of Victorville, CA, whose son Olaf received his bullet-proof vest not from his reserve unit, but from his colleagues on the Clinton, SC, police department. Or consider the 120 members of the National Guard from Marin County, CA, who were unsure of when their body armor would be made available. Instead of letting their neighbors go off to war, the men and women of law enforcement in Marin County donated more than 60 vests so that they would have "at least some protection." Or consider Army Specialist Richard Murphy of Sciota, PA, whose parents, Susan and Joe Werfelman, purchased the ceramic plates missing from their son's vest. According to Murphy's step-father, he "called us frantically three or four times on this . . . We said, "If the Army is not going to protect him, we've got to do it."
We owe Mr. and Mrs. Werfelman and Mrs. McCreary and every other military family an incredible debt of gratitude. They raised children who believe in this country and are risking all in service to it. The last thing we should ask of them now is to take money out of their own pockets to buy the gear their kids should have had in the first place. But that's exactly what poor planning has led to.
The legislation I introduce today with Senator KENNEDY requires the Department of Defense to reimburse family members who paid money out of their own pockets to provide the personal body armor that the government failed to provide our troops. Lives and blood will always be the cost of war. But it is a dereliction of duty to send anyone into harm's way without basic protective gear, and it is disgusting for family members to have to take this burden of outfitting their loved ones for war. This grateful Nation must make right by those family members and reimburse their expenses in providing these materials to their sons and daughters, husbands and wives. Let families send pictures and letters from home. The Department of Defense should provide the gear.