Troops deserve body armor

The news media still reports daily on about the war in Iraq, yet beyond the issues of the how and why argued in election year rhetoric, America’s attention seems to be slipping.

Accounts on the war itself quietly weave their way through the background of newscasts that America really cares about.

Heidi was fired from “The Apprentice.” Mel Gibson loves Jesus. Kerry said a bad word. Janet … well, you know what Janet did because you saw the pixilated photo a thousand times on television and in every newspaper.

Oh yes, and not so different from yesterday, more soldiers were killed or wounded in Iraq.

The story is simply too repetitive to keep America’s interest, not without the illustrations that exciting footage of air strikes and smart bomb explosions provide. Maybe that’s why the upcoming spring United States offensive in Afghanistan is being advertised like a football game.

There’s even a feeling of nostalgia in the media as it celebrates the anniversary of a war that yet continues.

Since sporadic ambushes and booby trap bombs don’t film well, the press is all too happy to take this chance to reminisce. Embedded journalists hawk their valiant “we rode in a tank” tales in newly published books.

These brave men and women, forged in the sands of Iraq, were, at least for a couple of days, relatively close to a place where someone was fighting.

Reporters now make their careers in war as generals once did. Occasionally they may even acknowledge the soldiers who don’t get to jet home and reap the rewards of a press junket after only a few months.

Meanwhile, the families of these soldiers in Iraq attempt to purchase body armor for their loved ones, which remains so scarce despite a year of constant ambush.

Body armor, or more specifically, the ceramic inserts that strengthen the vest, can determine the difference between life and death for a soldier facing the small arms fire so common in Iraq. It’s a standard piece of equipment in city police departments, though police are far less likely to face a bullet in the line of duty than a soldier in the Sunni triangle.

For a year now, many soldiers in Iraq have done without such protection. While the availability of adequate armor may be improving, the reduction of the heavy weaponry that supported earlier troops makes the need perhaps even greater. Again, U.S. soldiers are asked to be police officers. They deserve the same protection we afford our own police officers.

An Army spokesperson claimed the needed armor was acquired in January, yet reports continue of its scarcity on the front lines.

Rep. Brian Baird personally sought assurances that body armor would be provided to deployed National Guard units from his state, Washington. Legislation was introduced in Ohio to prompt body armor distribution to soldiers from that state.

Polls once showed 70 percent of Americans supported the war. Less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military. With this kind of civilian support and considering our military budget, surely a $1,000 piece of equipment proven to protect lives is a fair and reasonable request.

It’s been a while since the yards of America were forested in signs proclaiming troop support. Was the patriotism that placed them still as strong when the signs were removed?

Go ahead and toss the sign if it’s getting worn. But if you really wish to support the troops, send a letter or e-mail to your local representative and demand that we protect those who protect us.

David Cotton, Sidelines, Middle Tennessee State University.