By Edward Lee Pitts, Military Affairs
Many of the 278th Regimental Combat Unit soldiers are too busy preparing for their mission in Iraq to be aware of the national attention their unit is getting.
But some have caught word of the discussion sparked by Spc. Thomas "Jerry" Wilson asking U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday about the team's lack of armor for its vehicles.
Some said they support Spc. Wilson's question, while others said they are worried that the incident needlessly upset their families or has endangered their convoy into Iraq.
"I love it," said Sgt. Ken Kay, 42, of Red Bank. "If I could, I'd buy him a beer. Something like that needs to be told."
But Spc. Norman Lettieri, 30, from Cleveland, Tenn., said his wife was "frantic" about it when he called home.
"I don't need to know if there's a water heater broken in the house, and she doesn't need to know what's happening over here," he said. "It is a military, and there's going to be problems. We knew that when we joined."
He also expressed concern about publicizing the team's lack of protection on its vehicles.
"You don't need the whole world knowing we are coming up here in hillbilly armor," Spc. Lettieri said.
Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Edward Lee Pitts spoke to a 278th soldier about a question the soldier asked Mr. Rumsfeld about the team's unarmored vehicles. Reporters with the soldiers in Iraq were told they couldn't ask questions of the defense secretary.
Tom Griscom, publisher and executive editor of the newspaper, defended Mr. Pitts' actions, saying he used the tools available to him to report a story that is important to members of the 278th and their families.
Mr. Pitts has written several stories for the Times Free Press detailing how soldiers were welding scrap metal onto their vehicles in preparation for a convoy from Kuwait into Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Foster Young, 34, of Sparta, Tenn., said Spc. Wilson's question could save lives.
"I'm all for it," he said. "Do you want (troops) to travel down the road with nothing on? I would feel better off if we had that heavy armor instead of what we've got."
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