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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 - Resumed

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I am delighted to join our chairman of the Armed Services Committee and others in cosponsoring the chairman's amendment. I commend him for his impressive leadership in bringing it before the Senate as one of the first amendments on this extremely important bill.

The amendment increases funding by $340 million for the Marine Corps and $105 for the Army for more and better armored vehicles for our troops in Iraq.

This issue has been divisive for far too long. All of us support our troops. We obviously want to do all we can to see that they have proper equipment, vehicles, and everything else they need to protect their lives and carry out their missions.

More than 400 troops have already died in military vehicles vulnerable to roadside bombs, grenades, and other notorious improvised explosive devices.

Many of us have visited soldiers and marines at Walter Reed and Bethesda and seen the tragic consequences of inadequate armor. We want to ensure that parents grieving at Arlington National Cemetery no longer ask, ``Why weren't more armored humvees available?''

It is scandalous that the administration has kept sending them into battle year after year in Iraq without adequate equipment. It is scandalous that desperate parents and spouses here at home have had to resort to Wal-Mart to try to buy armor and mail it to their loved ones in Iraq to protect them on the front lines. Secretary Rumsfeld has rarely been more humiliated than on his visit to Iraq, when a soldier had the courage to ask him why the troops had to scavenge scrap metal on the streets to protect themselves. The cheer that roared out from troops when he asked that question said it all.

We have been trying to make sure the Army and Marine Corps has had the right amount of funding for vehicles for over 2 years. Last year, we tried to get additional funding in committee and faced resistance, but ultimately added money to the supplemental.

This past spring, we were successful in getting the Army $213 million for uparmored humvees. That amendment was adopted, but it was a very narrow vote.

The Marine Corps leadership clearly understated the amount and types of ground equipment it needs. In April, we were told in a hearing that based on what they knew from their operational commanders, the Marine Corps had met all of the humvee requirements for this year, which was 398 uparmored humvees.

Less than a month later, the Inspector General of the Marine Corps conducted a readiness assessment of the their ground equipment in Iraq. One of the key findings was that the requirement for additional upamored humvees would continue to grow. Based on that report and other factors, the Marine Corps reversed itself and testified the need was almost triple the original amount.

The inspector general's teams inspected many humvees in Iraq that had been damaged by mines and other explosive devices. In nearly every case, they

found that the cabin was well protected despite significant damage to the engine compartment wheels.

The inspector general also found that even with recommended changes, including replacing damaged vehicles, the war will continue to take a toll on the marines' equipment. Nearly all of its fighting gear is ready for combat this year, they found but it would drop to less than two-thirds by the middle of 2008. It has taken far too long to solve this problem. We have to make sure we solve it now, once and for all. We can't keep hoping the problem will somehow go away.

We have been told for months that the Army's shortage of uparmored humvees was a thing of the past. In a letter last October, General Abizaid said:

The fiscal year 2004 Supplemental Request will permit the services to rapidly resolve many of the equipment issues you mentioned to include the procurement of ..... humvees.

The Army could have and should have moved much more quickly to correct the problem. As retired General Paul Kern, who headed the Army Materiel Command until last November, said:

It took too long to materialize.

He said:

In retrospect, if I had it to do all over, I would have just started building uparmored humvees. The most efficient way would have been to build a single production line and feed everything into it.

In April, GAO released a report that clearly identifies the struggles the Pentagon has faced. In August 2003, only 51 uparmored humvees were being produced a month. It took the industrial base a year and a half to work up to making 400 a month. Now the Army says they can now get delivery of 550 a month. The question is, Why did it take so long? Why did we go to war without the proper equipment? Why didn't we fix it sooner, before so many troops have died?

We need to get ahead of this problem. It is a tragedy for which our soldiers are still paying the price for this delay. As Pentagon acquisition chief Michael Wynne testified to Congress a year ago:

It's a sad story to report to you, but had we known then what we know now, we would probably have gotten another source involved. Every day, our soldiers are killed or wounded in Iraq by IEDs, RPGs, small-arms fire. Too many of these attacks are on humvees that are not uparmored,...... We are directing that all measures to provide protection to our soldiers be placed on a top priority, most highly urgent, 24/7 basis.

But 24/7 didn't happen even then until January this year. The plant had capacity that the Pentagon never consistently used, as the plant's general manager has said.

The delay was unconscionable. Without this amendment, the production rate of uparmored humvees could drop off again later this year. That is the extraordinary thing. We need to guarantee that we are doing everything possible to get the protection to our troops as soon as possible. We owe it to them, to their families here at home and to the American people.

We have an opportunity now to end this frustration once and for all. Our soldiers and marines deserve the very best, and it is our job in Congress to make sure the Department of Defense is finally getting it right. Too many have died because of these needless delays, but hopefully, this will be solved by what we do in this bill.

The amendment contributes significantly to this goal, and I urge my colleagues to support it.


Mr. KENNEDY. I know the time has run out. I want to mention the family of Mr. Hart, from Dracut, MA, who lost a son in Iraq. I remember seeing the letter that his son wrote that said: Unless we get an up-armored, I am not going to last very long. And 30 days later he was killed. Mr. Hart has been tireless in trying to make sure other service men and women in Iraq receive the kind of protection they need. I have to mention his name associated with the increase in the protection for American servicemen because here is an individual who has made an extraordinary difference for our service men and women.


Mr. KENNEDY. As I remember, we spent 2 weeks of the Senate's time on the bankruptcy legislation, which is basically special interest for the credit card companies, and we spent 2 weeks on class action, which is special interest legislation. That is 4 weeks. We are asked now to spend less than a week debating the authorization for the fighting men and women after we spent 2 weeks for the credit card companies and 2 weeks for class action that will benefit special interests. And now we will be asked in less than 2 or 3 days to snuff off and silence debate on the issues affecting the men and women of this country on the first line of defense?

Mr. REID. I respond to my friend, add to that the 2 weeks and 2 weeks, add 31 legislative days on judges, and understand that wound up being five people, three of whom are now judges, two of whom are not. As I understand it, we have more than 400,000 men and women in the military, not counting Guard and Reserve. They are entitled to as much time as we spent on bankruptcy, as much time as we spent on class action, and certainly as much as we spent on five people, every one of whom had a job. They were not jobless.

There are more than 400,000 men and women, some of whom are out here in a hospital, in a bed because they cannot walk--at that hospital alone, there are more than 300 men and women who have lost limbs--and they deserve more than 2 or 3 days of Senate time.


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