Troops are being sent to war zones without proper training and suitable gear, according to two senior Democratic lawmakers who say they've been told by soldiers about problems ranging from their backpacks to their rifles.
In a Dec. 10 letter to the Pentagon's top leaders, Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Solomon Ortiz, who heads the subcommittee on military readiness, said they are "greatly troubled" by what they learned as the Obama White House begins escalating the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not seen the letter yet, according to Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Aptekar, a spokeswoman. "However, we appreciate the concern and the support the representatives have in our men and women in uniform and we will look into this matter," she said.
Soldiers are being issued a rucksack made of plastic that is not comfortable or effective in combat situations, Skelton and Ortiz found during a recent trip to Germany and Italy where they met with members of the 503rd Infantry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Troops carry heavy loads on their backs and the plastic straps cut off circulation to their hands and arms, "making it virtually impossible to fire their weapons," they told Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Skelton and Ortiz said many of the soldiers they talked to are using their own money to buy better packs from commercial suppliers.
The M4 carbine, a shorter, lighter version of the M16 rifle, was also criticized. Skelton and Ortiz said they've had long-standing concerns with the M4. Those worries mounted after a study by a military historian found the rifle failed at critical moments during a July 2008 firefight in Afghanistan that left nine U.S. soldiers dead.
"Even though these weapons routinely rank lower than other military weapons in testing, they are still being issued as the Army's weapon of choice," the letter says.
The Army has said it is improving the M4 to make it more reliable and lethal while also planning to hold a competition for a new combat rifle.
The lawmakers said they were told troops are being taken straight from boot camp and being sent to Afghanistan and Iraq without extensive training at stateside bases.
"Is this a common practice now"? Skelton and Solomon ask. "And will the upcoming surge into Afghanistan exacerbate this situation?"
There were also complaints about the camouflage pattern of the combat uniforms they wear, the lawmakers say. The current pixielated pattern of green, tan and gray doesn't work well in Afghanistan and "does more to put our soldiers in harm's way than to protect them," they said.
The uniforms also aren't durable enough to handle Afghanistan's harsh environment, according to Skelton and Ortiz. That means soldiers again have to dip into their own pockets to buy multiple replacements, they wrote.
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House Armed Services Committee: http://armedservices.house.gov/