Springfield State Journal Register

May 6, 2004

Half of Illinois unit's Humvees lack armor


WASHINGTON - Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., this week asked the Army to detail its efforts to add armor plating to thousands of Humvees in Iraq to better protect soldiers from roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades that blast through the floor and sides of the vehicles.

Only half of the 24 Humvees used by the Illinois National Guard's 333rd Military Police Company based in Freeport have received the extra armor, according to Durbin, who attributed that information to family members and soldiers on leave.

The unit needs the additional armor immediately because it is expected to be redeployed soon near the outskirts of Baghdad, a more dangerous assignment, a Durbin aide said.

"Mr. Secretary, I need your immediate attention to this matter," Durbin wrote acting Army Secretary R.L. Brownlee. "Our soldiers do not deserve to be left patrolling dangerous areas in vulnerable vehicles. They are the very best and they deserve the very best. It is our obligation to see that they get it and get it now."

The Freeport unit, which includes some members of the Springfield-based 233rd MP company, has been mobilized for more than a year. The Guard members were preparing to return to the United States when their tour of duty was extended April 15.

"They, like many other units, are showing the signs of stress and fatigue that go with being deployed for long periods of time, making protection even more essential," Durbin wrote. "I believe other National Guard units from Illinois and around the country face a similar threat patrolling areas in Iraq that could erupt without notice."

There was no immediate response from the Army.

U.S. Central Command has asked that armor for 8,400 Humvees be produced by the end of July. About 2,000 of the armor kits were produced by the Rock Island Arsenal, which completed its contract two months early, Durbin said.

As of April 30, about 6,900 armor kits had been sent to Iraq.
Durbin said thousands more kits are needed. He urged the Army to order more steel to ensure no delay in future orders. Once mills stop producing the specialized steel, they'll require six weeks to start up again, Durbin said.

"How do I explain to families of Illinois Guard units such as the 333rd MP Company from Freeport, Illinois, that their loved ones have not only put their lives on the line, but are doing so with inadequate protection?" Durbin wrote.

The "up-armored" Humvees are used in dangerous areas to conduct patrols and provide convoy security, officials say. The extra armor isn't needed for vehicles used primarily in military compounds.

The increase in violence in Iraq last month prompted military officials to request more armored vehicles and tanks to meet the rising threat to U.S. troops.