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Marines Fail to Get Gear to Troops
Associated Press  |  May 25, 2007
WASHINGTON - The system for delivering badly needed gear to Marines in Iraq has failed to meet many urgent requests for equipment from troops in the field, according to an internal document obtained by The Associated Press.

Of more than 100 requests from deployed Marine units between February 2006 and February 2007, less than 10 percent have been fulfilled, the document says. It blamed the bureaucracy and a "risk-averse" approach by acquisition officials.

Among the items held up were a mine resistant vehicle and a hand-held laser system.

"Process worship cripples operating forces," according to the document. "Civilian middle management lacks technical and operational currency."

The 32-page document - labeled "For Official Use Only" - was prepared by the staff of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force after they returned from Iraq in February.

The document was to be presented in March to senior officials in the Pentagon's defense research and engineering office. The presentation was canceled by Marine Corps leaders because its contents were deemed too contentious, according to a defense official familiar with the document. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The document's claims run counter to the public description of a process intended to cut through the layers of red tape that frequently slow the military's procurement process.

The Marine Corps had no immediate comment on the document.

In a briefing Wednesday, Marine Corps officials hailed their "Urgent Universal Need Statement" system as a way to give Marines in combat a greater say in weapons-buying decisions.

"What we all liked about (the urgent requests) is they came from the operators out on the ground and there was always a perceived better way of doing things," said Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, who was a commander in Iraq from June 2004 to February 2005.

The document lists 24 examples of equipment urgently needed by Marines in Iraq's Anbar province. One, the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, has received attention as a promising way to protect troops from roadside blasts, the leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.

After receiving a February 2005 urgent request approved by Hejlik for nearly 1,200 of the vehicles, the Marine Corps instead purchased improved versions of the ubiquitous Humvee.

The industrial capacity did not exist to quickly build the new mine resistant vehicles and the more heavily armored Humvees were viewed as a suitable solution, Marine Corps officials said.

That proved not to be the case as insurgent elements in Iraq developed more powerful bombs that could penetrate the Humvees. The mine resistant vehicles are now a top priority for all the military branches, which plan to buy 7,774 of the carriers at a cost of $8.4 billion.

Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead, chief of Marine Corps public affairs, said cost was not a factor in choosing the Humvee.

"This was not a budgetary decision," Milstead said Wednesday. "You can take that to the bank."

The internal document, however, states that the cost of building new vehicles was a primary reason the request was denied by the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.

Needs of the deployed troops are "competed against funded programs," the document states.

"Resistance costs time," it adds. "Unnecessary delays cause U.S. friendly and innocent Iraqi deaths and injuries."

A second example cited is the compact high power laser dazzler, an inexpensive, nonlethal tool for steering unwelcome vehicles away from U.S. checkpoints in Iraq. The dazzler emits a powerful stream of green light that stops or redirects oncoming traffic by temporarily impairing the driver's vision.

In June 2005, Marines stationed in western Iraq filed an urgent request for several hundred of the dazzlers, which are built by LE Systems, a small company in Hartford, Conn. The request was repeated nearly a year later.

"Timely purchase and employment of all systems bureaucratically stymied," the document states.

Separate documents indicate the deployed Marines became so frustrated at the delays they bypassed normal acquisition procedures and used money from their own budget to buy 28 of the dazzlers directly from LE Systems.

But because the lasers had not passed a safety review process, stateside authorities barred the Marines from using them.

In January, nearly 18 months after the first request, the Marines received a less powerful laser built by a different company.

Titus Casazza, president of LE Systems, criticized the Marine Corps' acquisition process.

"The bureaucrats and lab rats sitting behind a desk stateside are making decisions on what will be given to our Soldiers even if contrary to the specific requests of these Soldiers and their commanding generals," he said.

There are successful examples listed in the briefing document. A December request for an airborne surveillance system - Angel Fire - is expected to be filled this summer. The system provides constant overhead surveillance of large urban areas, such as Ramadi or Fallujah, and is able to track the movement of people and vehicles.

Len Blasiol, a civilian official with the Combat Development Command, said the speed with which requests can be met is largely dependent on how much research and development work needs to be done.

"The first question is, 'Is this something we can go out right now today and buy? Is it sitting on a shelf somewhere waiting for us to buy?' And if it is, then we figure out how to buy it," Blasiol said.

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