Humvees Linked To 1
In 5 US Iraq Deaths

By Lisa Hoffman
Scripps Howard News Service
In the earliest days of the war in Iraq, an enemy grenade destroyed the Humvee carrying Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and four other soldiers caught in an ambush in Nasiriyah.
Though Lynch was spared, the others died.
Last week, nearly two years later, Army 1st Lt. Christopher Barnett, 32, of Baton Rouge, La., was killed on a patrol mission in the outskirts of Baghdad when a roadside bomb eviscerated his Humvee.
Throughout the 21-month war, no other piece of military materiel has been associated with so many U.S. fatalities.
According to a Scripps Howard News Service study, at least 1 in 5 of the 1,320 fallen American troops has died in incidents involving the ubiquitous vehicles. Hundreds more have been wounded in them.
No other piece of war equipment has been the focus of as much criticism, as well.
When Congress returns in January, high on its agenda will be hearings into what some lawmakers, frustrated troops and anxious families say have been the needless deaths and maimings of GIs - particularly early in the war - while traveling in vehicles unduly vulnerable to bombs and other attacks.
Based on official Pentagon casualty reports, news accounts and interviews, the Scripps Howard study found at least 275 troop deaths have been associated with Humvees.
By far, most of those fatalities came when a Humvee crossed paths with a roadside bomb planted by insurgents and often detonated by remote control. On Dec. 3, for instance, that was the fate of Army Staff Sgt. Henry Irizarry, 38, of the Bronx, a father of five who was killed by an explosion that blew him out the right side of his Humvee in Taji.
Others, such as Army Pfc. George Harrison of Knoxville, Tenn., were killed in their Humvees by snipers or insurgents shooting rifles and machine guns. Harrison, 22, was shot Dec. 2 in Mosul while on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol.
Accidents in Humvees - which are used for transporting troops, guarding convoys, evacuating the wounded and patrolling - have also claimed the lives of dozens of troops. In December alone, five troops died that way, including Marine Cpl. Bryan Wilson, 22, of Otterbein, Ind. The married father of a 20-month-old daughter, Wilson died of internal injuries after his Humvee overturned in the Fallujah area.
Even troops in Humvees that have been equipped with armor are not immune from deadly strikes. Two New York National Guardsmen were killed Nov. 29 in Baghdad when a bomb destroyed their armored Humvee. One of the two, Sgt. Christian Engeldrum, 30, was a Bronx firefighter who helped raise the first American flag at Ground Zero after the 2001 World Trade Center terror attacks.
Never designed to withstand direct bomb attacks or serve as combat vehicles, Humvees instead were envisioned to provide transport behind the lines. As a result, only 2,000 of the 10,000 Humvees initially deployed to Iraq was armed with steel protection and bulletproof glass. Instead, most were constructed with fiberglass and aluminum, and equipped with "soft sides" and fabric roofs.
Since an enemy insurgency wielding improvised bombs took root in mid-2003, the Pentagon has scrambled to buy thousands more hardened Humvees and upgrade thousands more with steel plates and other protection.
Even so, some U.S. troops continue to use vehicles with less to shield them against bombs and bullets than the average family sedan. They also complain that even hardened Humvees leave the vehicles' floors insufficiently protected.
But military officials say that an impenetrable Humvee is neither possible nor desirable. Too much steel can make a Humvee unwieldy and dangerously heavy. And even mighty M1A1 Abrams tanks can be felled by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Instead, the Humvee armoring is designed to deflect much of an explosive blast and to give troops precious seconds to bail out or take cover, they say.
But after a National Guardsman complained in December to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that his unit had to scrounge in Kuwaiti junkyards to find material to reinforce their Humvees - triggering a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill and elsewhere - the Army announced a $4 billion program to armor all its vehicles, including trucks.
The Pentagon now says that about 75 percent of the approximately 19,000 Humvees in Iraq have been armored in one way or another. Officials said they expect 98 percent to be hardened by March. By June, the trucks will be completed, Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes told reporters.
Asked about the armoring controversy during his press conference Wednesday, President Bush said he is satisfied that the problem is being worked on.
"What I know is ... that the Defense Department is working expeditiously with private contractors and with our military to get these vehicles armed up."



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