- 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
- 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
- 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."