In “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Robert Gates paints a noble self-portrait. However, his recollections related to the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle suffer from tunnel vision. Gates fails to note that MRAP was a team achievement.
In 2004, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC), an office that ensured accelerated delivery for any wartime requests for mature capabilities with joint utility.
Documentation began with a joint urgent operational need (JUON). Once approved at the JRAC, any parochial service objections were neutralized through top-level reprogramming. Gates’ MRAP accomplishments began with JUONs submitted to the JRAC, a process wholly enabled by Rumsfeld’s policies, which prevented the service black holes lamented by Gates. Curiously, Gates belittles the JUON and ignores the JRAC.
In early 2006, the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) (Forward) in Anbar province, submitted the program-initiating MRAP JUON. When Gates took the DoD reins, I MEF in Iraq had already informed the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) that a 2005 service request for more than 1,000 MRAPs had been buried by the Marines, resulting in a 19-month delay. I MEF was invited by OSD to present MRAP and other equipment concerns upon returning to the US.
The information was widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon, and the presentation created for OSD ended up on the Internet in March 2007. It set the stage for then-Sen. Joseph Biden’s successful MRAP amendment in late March. This all preceded Gates’ asserted first introduction to MRAPs in late April 2007.
Throughout 2007, Biden and Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., worked directly with returned I MEF staff to pressure Gates to move faster on MRAP. There was also a pivotal article which by Gates’ own admission brought the “pushed aside” (Gates’ words) 2005 MRAP request to his attention. Early on, Biden wrote President George W. Bush to express concern about the 2005 failed response. Biden and Bond also wrote Gates, citing a study attributing hundreds of preventable deaths to the failed service response to that request.
In early 2008, Biden, Bond and Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., requested that Gates task the DoD inspector general. This led to an audit of the Marine Corps’ 2005 MRAP decision-making process. Concurrently, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., served as the key House advocate for MRAPs.
Often, warriors are frustrated when Congress places political concerns over national defense imperatives. In this case, a bipartisan Congress led the fight against Gates’ MRAP-delaying Pentagon bureaucracy. Yet inexplicably, Gates fails to give Congress credit beyond short and cynically delivered shrift.
Gates also fails to acknowledge the Marines of I MEF, the sources for pivotal disclosures to OSD, Congress and the media. Their careers, including mine, were subsequently destroyed by Marine Corps leaders at Gates’ Pentagon. Biden, Bond, Kennedy and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., urged Gates’ intervention to protect the whistleblowers, but neither he nor anyone in his office spoke in their defense.
The DoD inspector general final report on the handling of the 2005 MRAP request was a scathing indictment of the Marines’ failure to fulfill that war fighter need.
Gates states: “As usual in a huge bureaucracy, the villains were the largely nameless and faceless people — and their leaders — who were wed to their old plans, programs and thinking and refused to change their ways regardless of circumstances.”
However, Gates also knew that the Marines and Army were wedded to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a program that competed against MRAP for funding. Today, one sees the lethal consequences of pushing aside the MRAP request: a 19-month delay, hundreds of preventable deaths and perhaps thousands of injuries.
The facts were evident, and there was no excuse for passing the buck. Gates was duty-bound to get to the bottom of the MRAP delay and ensure accountability to prevent “business as usual” practices, while protecting those who challenge them. He did neither. By excluding his failure to hold officials accountable, and his failure to back any of the whistleblowers who exposed the problems, Gates severely compromised the historical value of his memoir.
MRAP delivery was a team achievement that included Rumsfeld, Congress, war fighters and journalists. Gates’ decisions not to discipline officials who delayed the MRAP, or shield whistleblowers, contrasts sharply with his tough self-portrait.
Not to discount Gates’ contributions, he should provide a complete history of MRAP and recognize those who paid the price to make “his” accomplishments possible. ■
Franz Gayl is science and technology adviser for Plans, Policies and Operations Department, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.