The Greenwich Post featured a front-page article in this week’s edition describing Eilhys England Hackworth’s heroic campaign to help insure that our frontline troops have the best body armor, helmets, combat boots, rifles and sidearms available. In an article entitled “Col. Hackworth: Soldiers’ Group Notches Victory,” staff writer Chris Davis describes some of the successes that SFTT has achieved to make sure that our brave heroes have the best combat gear possible. It is a cause worth fightling for and, I am pleased to reprint the article in its entirety.
May is a special month for Eilhys England Hackworth, chairman of the Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (SFTT), which she co-founded in 1997 with her late husband Col. David “Hack” Hackworth.
Col. Hackworth is “America’s most valor decorated soldier,” according to the SFTT Web site.
“This month marks the fifth anniversary of David’s death,” she said at her home in Greenwich recently, “and the fifth anniversary of my promise — my deathbed promise — to him to continue on with our fight to protect America’s front line troops.”
Her mission is to get them the best available basic five critical pieces of combat gear that give them the best chance possible to get home alive and in one piece — helmet, rifle, sidearm, boots and body armor. And Ms. England has the lowdown on them all, thanks, she said, “to years of brainwashing by my husband.” She says the equipment we send our troops into harm’s way with is lethally substandard.
The helmets our troops use in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, are not up to the technology that exists today. Not only that, she added, they are also “so grotesquely uncomfortable that soldiers tend to not want to wear them.
“To me, as an American citizen,” she said, “it is extremely offensive that our football players have more effective and more comfortable helmets than our front line troops — 18- and 19-year-old kids, out at the tip of the spear, protecting our cushy good life. These kids deserve to come back and enjoy it too.”
The standard issue rifle is “a jammer,” Ms. England said, a variant of the rifle issued in Vietnam. Ask Jessica Lynch, the West Virginia private who was taken prisoner during an ambush in Iraq in 2003. In 2007, she told Congress that her M-16 rifle had jammed and she was never able to fire it.
As for side arms, the bullets that standard issue pistols shoot “can’t stop a determined opponent,” Ms. England said. “People can fire five shots into a determined opponent and they’ll still keep coming at you, perhaps take you down.”
Boots should be appropriate to the mission and the terrain. An infantry army travels on its feet.
“You can do the math,” she said. “If they don’t have the right shoes, they can’t make the distance to do their missions. Clearly you don’t give somebody the same footwear if they’re in the mud somewhere than if they’re in the sand. And that’s what they do. They tried to develop an all-purpose thing. There’s no such animal.”
She said SFTT would be reaching out to Nike to see if it could develop “the right foot stuff.” Then would come the business of swaying the Department of Defense (DoD) procurement system to use it, a chore that takes “time and public outcry,” she said.
“It’s not a question of money,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. We pay $400,000 to families for the death of a soldier. And that’s a drop in the bucket compared to taking care of people when they come home missing half their brain or both legs.”
“There’s no way that one organization — or 50 organizations — could raise the money and buy our own equipment and send it to the troops.”
Her strategy is to “take truth to power,” she said. Get senators and congressmen to initiate inquiries.
And as of last week, that strategy has started to pay off with the fifth item of vital gear — body armor. “We’ve accomplished what corporations pay lobbyists billions of dollars to do with just our outreach of who we can go to,” Ms. England said, “because they know we talk the truth.”
Body armor has been an issue with SFTT since day one. SFTT takes credit for bringing the issue under scrutiny by alerting the media, leading to a five-part NBC News investigative report and a pro bono Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Pentagon requesting access to autopsy reports on soldiers who died from chest wounds while wearing body armor that should have protected them. The Pentagon has refused to honor the request and the case is now before a federal judge.
Meanwhile, thanks in no small part to the advocacy and influence of SFTT, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates questioning the DoD’s acquisition, testing and quality assurance of its body armor and armored vehicles and inviting the DoD to the Hill for a briefing.
The letter cites a report from the Defense Department’s own inspector general that found “that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed.”
“That’s more than an intellectual accomplishment,” Ms. England said. “It will result, we hope, in a lot coming out that should. Soldiers for the Truth is a little tiny engine that could.”
Ms. England calls herself “a big picture strategist. I created and ran a top 50 marketing and PR agency on Madison Avenue. I ran it for decades until David kidnapped me and demanded that he be my only client and that I help him with protecting the troops.
“I loved my husband so much I would have followed him anywhere. I told him that I thought he was brainwashing me every night: ‘You will help me help the troops,’” she said with a smile, with Hack’s original rifle resting on the mantle above the fireplace in her living room. “Who else would extort on their death bed a promise from their wife who adored him to do this?”
At high noon on Saturday, May 22, friends, family and supporters will gather at Arlington National Cemetery to place wreaths at both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at Col. Hackworth’s graveside and launch a year-long celebration of America’s most decorated hero.
Soldiers for the Truth is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and apolitical educational foundation dedicated solely to help bring our troops home alive and in one piece. If you find our mission compelling, please consider becoming a member or volunteer your efforts to this worthwhile cause. Let our troops know that you stand behind them.
Richard W. May