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Wednesday, March 3

Plant offers troops in Iraq doors to safety

By The Des Moines Register

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - Jeff Bell knows there is a mother, father, brother or sister shielded by each set of armored doors he assembles for Humvees, the vehicles used in Iraq to patrol cities and transport soldiers and supplies.

Protecting those soldiers from roadside bombs and artillery fire is the reason workers at the Rock Island Arsenal are working round-the-clock to make armored doors to replace canvas ones on the thousands of Humvees in use Iraq.

"I've worked here 29 years and this is probably the most important job I've had - protecting soldiers in the field," said Bell, a 49-year-old artillery assembler.

Since U.S. troops have gone from combat operations to peacekeeping in Iraq, there are fewer tanks and more High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, commonly called Humvees, said Fred Smith, deputy director of ground systems industrial enterprise at Rock Island Arsenal.

Humvees, boxy four-wheel drive vehicles that replaced Jeeps, can support weapons, such as a pedestal-mounted gun, or be used as field ambulances or troop and cargo transportation. The lightweight Humvees are well suited for patrolling and transporting people and supplies, Smith said.

However, the vehicle's standard-issue canvas doors have done little to protect soldiers from rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs used by Iraqi insurgents, Smith said. "Soldiers were putting down plywood or their flak jackets."

Senior U.S. Army officials said in November that they wanted to improve protection of troops deployed to Iraq. One way to do that, they said, was to reinforce all in-use Humvees with armored doors capable of resisting bullets.

The Iowa National Guard reinforced about 30 Humvees shipped to Iraq in December, Maj. Greg Hapgood said. The guard's maintenance shop in Johnston attached protective steel panels to all sides of the vehicles at a cost of $92,000.

The armored door kits, which include side and back protective panels, are the next best thing to the steel panels, officials said.

Each 165-pound to 175-pound door is made of 3/8-inch-thick rolled homogenous armor with a window of 3 1/3-inch-thick bullet-resistant glass. Plant workers use lasers to cut the steel frame and weld on handles and attachments before painting it desert tan.

"One soldier said he was going to take a picture of it and send it to his mother to show how much safer he is," Rock Island's Smith said.

Rock Island Arsenal completed production of the first 100 armored door kits in November. By Christmas, the Arsenal and the Anniston (Alabama) Army Depot had shipped 1,000 door kits to Iraq. Civilian employees from Rock Island went along to install the doors.

The Arsenal now has orders to make up to 8,000 armored door kits by April 30, two months before the United States plans to transfer control of the country back to Iraqis. Army manufacturing plants in Alabama, California, Ohio, New York and Texas will help fill the order, estimated to be worth more than $50 million.

Smith said the Army installations are able to fill the order several months faster than a private company because they don't have to wait for contracts to be approved.