Ammo Blues

Maybe it's time for George W. to bring in the camels

So the battalion's supply officer learned to barter with other units, trading commodities for tires, Mirable said. "For now we use those Humvees with slightly bald tires for close-in moves (less than two kilometers) within our [area of operation] and with an escort."

For the record, Mirable, reached by Tailpipe last week by e-mail in Iraq, now insists that the battalion's problems have all been resolved. "The supply lines in this theater of war are now mature and working well," he wrote last week. "We receive all we need and then some...Each soldier has two new uniforms with the ability to direct exchange the two old ones for new ones. Humvee parts are coming in and we are very happy with the current supply of parts, ammunition is not a problem."

He said Gov. Bush and the Florida National Guard higher-ups "were instrumental in rectifying" his supply problems.

Shoot sparingly, boys.
Shoot sparingly, boys.

Castillo scoffs at this. "We think his superiors probably grabbed him by the throat and told him, 'Watch out what you say,' " she says.

Feedback from soldiers in another battalion of the 124th regiment, the Third, which is from the Tallahassee area, seems to confirm this: "The Guard is called on to do the same missions as the regular Army," says Steve Sumner, a Lynn Haven funeral director whose brother-in-law is on the front lines. "But they're left pretty much to fend for themselves."

Some Third Battalion families have been pooling their resources to send supplies to relatives in Iraq. Soldiers have been asking for everything from medical supplies and tools to winter clothing, Sumner says. "They need basic stuff like penicillin and antibiotics, because a lot of guys are getting dysentery over there," he adds. "They're bathing in contaminated water. They're not getting adequate medical supplies from the Army." Nor are the Third Battalion guardsmen being issued winterized Gortex jackets like regular Army troops.

Some Third Battalion guardsmen have been using tools sent from home to jerry rig their Humvees with panels of plywood and sheet metal -- "just to give them some sort of protection" -- because Humvee armor has not been available.

Sumner adds that, despite some assistance from Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the families have gotten little response from military authorities. "The families have gone through all of the military channels we know of to voice our concerns," he says, "and they've been met with a stonewall."

"These [the National Guard soldiers] are no longer weekend warriors," Sumner says. "They're guys at the front, and they need to be taken care of just the way the regular Army guys are."

Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, public affairs officer for the Florida National Guard, responds that most of the supply issues have been addressed. Major Gen. Douglas Burnett met with family groups throughout the state in October to address their concerns. "He had people working on the issues," Tittle says. Now, however, the Florida guardsmen "fall under the flag of the active duty Army, which provides the leadership [in combat], the supplies, and all of that."

Neither Tittle's response nor Mirabel's new religion could quite erase the earlier, no-holds-barred description of his troops' bitter disillusionment. "We understand that certain generals are telling the Congress that morale is high among the National Guard troops," he wrote then. "I can only say that hopefully they can lift their veil of ignorance. We are glad to be performing a vital mission of combating terrorists and contributing to our country's national interest, but we definitely are not happy on the lack of planning that placed us in the situation we are in at this time. Morale is not high. The stress of being [attacked with homemade bombs], ambushed, shot at, etc. daily is getting so high that you can see it in the air."

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