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Soldiers Must Rely on 'Hillbilly Armor' for Protection

ByABC News
December 8, 2004, 6:47 PM

Dec. 8, 2004 — -- They call it "hillbilly armor" -- U.S. military vehicles protected with scrap metal salvaged from landfills. And now U.S. soldiers want to know how long they will have to scavenge for junk to protect themselves in combat.

At Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, a Tennessee Army National Guardsman with the 278th Regimental Combat Team put the question directly to visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" asked Spc. Thomas Wilson of Ringgold, Ga. His question was met with shouts of approval and applause from the estimated 2,300 soldiers who had gathered to see Rumsfeld.

"It isn't a matter of money, it isn't a matter on part of the Army of desire," Rumsfeld responded. "It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have."

Soldiers say trucks and transport vehicles that lack sufficient armor leave them vulnerable for attack.

"What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor," said Col. John Zimmermann, a senior officer with the Tennessee National Guard. "It's real frustrating for these soldiers."

Zimmermann said 95 percent of the unit's 300 trucks do not have appropriate covering. In October, Army reservists refused an order to deliver fuel in Iraq, saying their vehicles were unsafe.

Army Spc. Blaze Crook, a 24-year-old college student who will be heading into Iraq within days, was taken aback when he saw the condition of the vehicle that will take him there.

"It's got huge windows on the front of my truck," he said. "It's basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn't make me feel good that I'm riding up there without the proper armor."

Rumsfeld said soldiers can still be injured even in armored vehicles, but he said the Army is doing the best it can to protect them.