A serious and recurrent problem in Iraq has been the scarcity of up-armored Humvees. Many units in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 did not have the advantage of up-armored Humvees until close to the end of the year. When I embedded with 1AD in Baghdad, the Division was a few weeks from the scheduled end of their one-year rotation, and they had only recently received an incomplete compliment up-armored Humvees. Many of their vehicles were still unarmored, but had metal plates added, for example, to cover the slats in open back “cargo” model Humvees. As one of the medics explained to me (after requesting that I not use his name), the plates were really there just to give the soldiers some [false] sense of security. The plates were not sufficient to stop bullets, as the troop had learned when one of their own men accidentally shot through a plate with a round smaller than the 7.62 commonly used by anti-Coalition forces. The up-armored Humvees, by contrast, are real lifesavers. In the Adhamiyah region of Baghdad, an up-armored Humvee was hit with a 155 mm mortar round configured as an IED. The Humvee was wrecked, 7 Iraqis traveling on the street were killed by the blast, but every soldier in the Humvee walked away. Sgt. Yeb, who was in the Humvee at the time of the IED, told me that if the makers of the up-armored Humvee ever need a spokesman, he’s their man.
Yet up-armored Humvees were slow coming to the soldiers. When Echo 196 came into country, they were promised that they would not leave Kuwait until they had up-armored Humvees. Despite this promise, the company traveled all the way through Iraq in the back of unarmored 5-ton-trucks (essentially large cargo trucks with wood slats)—leaving the troops exposed to the elements and the enemy. When I met up with E 196 here at Bernstein, they finally had up-armored Humvees . . . but not enough. The scarcity meant that platoons were forced to share Humvees, which in turn meant that platoon missions had to be staggered to take into account the limited resources. It also meant that the crews did not have regular vehicles which they used on a consistent basis—a small detail except that the idiosyncrasies of a radio set or of the vehicle has a strange way of becoming important in combat situations. Humvees with mechanical problems that ordinarily would have merited taking the vehicle out of commission were used because the company simply could not afford to lose a Humvee, and when Humvees were sent for service, getting parts became a quest all its own.
A couple of weeks ago, Generals Morgan and Hickman came for a ceremony here in Tuz. They were to be transported in Humvees to the Joint Operation Center (JOC), where the ceremony was to take place. Both Humvees used by 3d platoon for the transport had scars in the bulletproof glass from, well, bullets. One of the vehicles blasted hot air on the passenger seat. The other Humvee shook violently until the vehicle reached around 35 MPH. The two rear doors would only stay closed if they were combat locked (a latch mechanism which makes the doors difficult to open from the outside), and for some reason this day the doors were not combat locked. So, the General was riding down the road in a vehicle shaking like it was about to come apart at any moment when out-of-the-blue, the rear doors flew open. And what do you know: one week later the company learned that it was getting the requisite number of new and refurbished Humvees. The shipment, which just arrived, means that every platoon has at least two Humvees with working air conditioning, and every platoon has their own up-armored Humvees—a major (or in this case General) improvement.