General promises
isle troops proper
vehicle armor in Iraq

Lee returns from a visit
to Hawaii Guard soldiers and
aviators just north of Baghdad

The head of the Hawaii Army National Guard says that all vehicles that will be used by isle soldiers in Iraq will have the necessary armor.

Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, who as state adjutant general commands the 3,000-member Hawaii Army National Guard, spent three days in Iraq last week inspecting facilities and vehicles that are expected to be used by Hawaii forces when they arrive in that country in February.

"All the vehicles used by the 29th Brigade and the 100th Battalion will have the necessary armor," Lee said. "I made sure that the vehicles that may be used when the soldiers convoy from Kuwait to Iraq will have the proper armor."

On Dec. 8 a Tennessee Army National Guard soldier put Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the spot about the lack of vehicle armor. He said the Tennessee-based 278th Regimental Combat Team had to scavenge for scrap metal in landfills to protect their vehicles for the convoy into Iraq.

Administration critics said Rumsfeld's response that "you go to war with the Army you have" was flippant, and they called for the defense secretary to be replaced. But yesterday, President Bush defended Rumsfeld. "He's done a fine job, and I look forward to continue to work with him," Bush said in a news conference.

Lee spent the latter part of last week visiting soldiers and aviators belonging to Charlie Company of the Hawaii Army Nation Guard's 193rd Aviation in Balad, north of Baghdad.

He said that all the Humvees used by Charlie Company soldiers when they leave their compound at Balad are armored.

He also said Charlie Company pilots have logged more than 7,000 flight hours -- five times more than what they normally fly at Wheeler Army Airfield -- since they arrived in Iraq in March. Thirteen Hawaii Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters have been used to ferry soldiers and supplies in northern Iraq.

"They have flown more night missions than any active Army or reserve unit," Lee said.

Lee said that the area the 29th Infantry Brigade will occupy in Iraq for a year beginning in February has seen a drop in attacks by insurgents since the U.S. offensive in Fallujah last month.

Upon returning home Saturday, Lee was busy visiting soldiers coming home on Christmas leave or with airmen departing for duty in Iraq.

On Sunday he bid aloha to nine Hawaii Air National Guard air traffic controllers and mechanics belonging to the 297th Air Traffic Control Squadron who will spend four months in Mosul.

Yesterday morning, Lee greeted 89 members of the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, which returned to the islands after spending the last two months at Fort Bliss in Texas. All but two members of the brigade decided to leave Fort Bliss to spend the holidays with friends and family. The soldiers have to be back at Fort Bliss on Jan. 2.

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