A newly organized political action group has been bombarding Donald Rumsfeld's office with magnetic ribbons to protest the secretary’s failure to provide troops in Iraq with enough armored Humvees. But military scientists say that the patriotic magnets may solve a critical supply problem. Covering the Humvees with magnets creates a magnetic force field strong enough to repel small arms fire.
A protest move by a new citizen’s group produces innovation at the Pentagon
By Todd Fox
Wichita, KS—Ada Bennett is knee-deep in patriotic magnetic ribbons. Bennett, a 42-year-old medical secretary, watches as her husband Casey, a sandy-haired, retired mechanic, scoops up the magnets and puts them in bags. Outside are piled up hundreds of bags of the popular magnetic ribbons, soon to be “deployed.”
The ribbons have been arriving by the tens of thousands, ever since the Bennett’s newly organized political action group, Patriotic Magnets for Armor (PMA), garnered national attention last week. Their goal? To remind Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about the importance of protecting the troops by sending him as many magnetic ribbons as they can.
Sticking it to him
The Bennetts’ idea for PMA came after watching the news reports of soldiers criticizing Rumsfeld’s leadership. “If Rumsfeld doesn’t understand how important it is to support our troops by giving them the armor that they need then we’re going to remind him,” says Casey Bennett, sorting the magnets by political message and color. “It’s as simple as that.”
Referring to the recent controversy over whether American troops in combat are getting the best protection possible, Bennett added “If Rumsfeld wasn’t going to give our troops armor, then we decided we’d do it for him—in the form of Save Our Troops yellow ribbons.”
Bennett is referring to a televised town-hall session that Iraq-bound soldiers at Camp Buehring held with the Defense Secretary last week. On camera, Army Spc. Thomas Wilson publicly admonished Rumsfeld, asking "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?”
“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.” Rumsfeld quipped in response. He later added "It's essentially a matter of physics, not a matter of money. It's a matter of production and the capability of doing it."
Secretary Rumsfeld had initially thought armored vehicles would not be necessary in Iraq, having predicted that Americans would be greeted as liberators. Unfortunately, long and difficult to manage battles with insurgents have made it clear that the Humvee—a light transport vehicle—performs best in Iraq’s hot desert climate. While Humvees are the ride of choice among US soldiers, many of the vehicles that made the trip to Iraq rolled off the lot without protective armor, making them easy-to-hit moving targets.
When the war against Saddam Hussein morphed into a battle against Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists, the Army had few armored Humvees in Iraq. Within a year, nearly 20,000 of them were needed.
Magnetic ad-on armor kits
When the Bennetts first conceived of the project, it was intended to be an act of protest, a visible response to the Defense Department’s inability to supply American troops with armored transport vehicles. But unbeknownst to them, the Kansas couple may have inadvertently solved the very problem of physics that Rumsfeld alluded to last week.
After receiving thousands of patriotic magnetic ribbons in recent days, Col. Charles Matlak, a senior civilian official for the Army Materiel Command, launched a series of experiments to determine the effect of covering Humvees with the magnetized ribbons. What he discovered, says Matlak, astounded him.
“Basically you have a situation where when you put together enough of these magnets you actually create a magnetic force field. We’re still running the tests, but at this point the force field appears strong enough to repel small arms fire,” says Matlak. He adds that the magnetized ribbons may help to compensate for shortages of a critical high-tensile steel and ballistic glass for windshields and door windows. Their effectiveness against improvised explosive devices or IEDs is still undetermined.
Meanwhile, the Bennetts are coping with an overflow of ribbons from donors around the country. Last week, popular conservative talk show host Sean Hannity put in a plug for Patriotic Magnets for America and since then, says Ada Bennett, they’ve been up to their eyeballs in magnets. Now that their own garage is overwhelmed with patriotic displays, the Bennett’s recommend sending contributions directly to Army Materiel Command:
U.S. Army Materiel Command
ATTN: Magnetic Armor Kits Project
9301 Chapek Road
Fort Belvoir, Va. 22060-5527
Todd Fox can be reached at [email protected]