Union Tribune

November 15, 2003

Army used copters known to lack defenses


WASHINGTON For 18 months before it was deployed to Iraq, a combined Illinois-Iowa National Guard helicopter unit reported to the Army that most of the unit's helicopters lacked basic missile defense systems.

Despite that, the Army sent the Chinook helicopters to Iraq and used them in missions.

"There is clearly a dispute about the information that was given from the Guard to the Army before mobilization," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said yesterday. "I cannot understand how that unit can be activated with only three of 14 helicopters properly equipped."

Since at least October 2001, the Bartonville, Ill.-based Guard unit had reported that 10 of its 14 helicopters lacked basic missile defense systems, a spokeswoman for the Illinois National Guard said.

"We clearly reported it and showed the unit's deficiencies," said Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau of the Illinois National Guard. "The information was there for them to view."

She was responding to the suggestion made this week by Army officials that the Guard unit had misrepresented itself as ready for deployment to Iraq, setting off a last-minute scramble by the Army to find missile defense systems for the helicopters just before they were shipped out from Corpus Christi, Texas. Several of the newly acquired systems, however, arrived damaged.

Six of the unit's 14 helicopters flew for three months without the basic anti-missile protection system, Army officials told Durbin in a private briefing Monday. One of the helicopters was shot down Nov. 2, killing 16 soldiers, including Staff Sgt. Paul Velazquez, 29, a former San Diego resident. That unit had the basic missile defense system, but not the more advanced system that regular Army and some Guard Chinook helicopters have.

Durbin had requested the briefing after receiving several e-mail messages from Guard members in Iraq contending that they didn't have the same equipment regular Army helicopters had received. Durbin said Army Col. William Crosby suggested the state National Guard might not have had the money to equip its helicopters with the ALQ-156, a basic anti-missile protection package.

But Guard officials contended that funding was not the issue. The missile defense systems are within a category of equipment that must be bought directly by the Army, Tate-Nadeau said.

"Not only was the unit's hands tied . . . (but) the Illinois National Guard as an organization, our hands were tied in that we could not use any discretionary dollars that we had to buy that piece of equipment," she said. "It's not like we said, 'I can buy 300 backpacks or one of these.' "

The monthly unit status reports, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, are filed with the state National Guard. They are then sent to the National Guard Bureau in Washington and to the Army.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.