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Troops using American ingenuity to solve problems in Iraq

WASHINGTON—American soldiers in Iraq have encountered problems with their equipment and weapons, but have solved many of those problems with good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity.

That was the word from Sgt. 1st Class Jack R. Cooper, the V Corps master gunner who toured units of the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry and wrote a widely circulated e-mail account of the lessons the troops have learned and the fixes they've invented.

Cooper wrote that although no one was expecting the "well-trained paramilitary troops they have been facing," the Bradley fighting vehicle weapons systems were performing well, especially the 25mm chain gun and the 7.62-caliber light machine gun.

The gas plug on the 7.62 has been the biggest maintenance issue, Cooper wrote. The gas plug controls the gas pressure from the burning powder and uses it to operate the gun.

"Units have now taken the spare barrel gas plug; put it in a 7.62 ammo can with enough JP-8 (high octane jet fuel) to cover the plug. This self-cleans the gas plug as the mission continues."

Cooper reported that enemy forces had started putting anti-aircraft weapons in the backs of pickup trucks and using them to shoot into the rear engine compartments of American M1A1 Abrams tanks. The Cavalry unit lost one tank to this tactic, and a second was hit by RPG (rocket propelled grenade) rounds and a mortar round after it got stuck in a ditch, he wrote.

The Corps master gunner said the unit had problems with its weapons gumming up badly in the choking dust when standard Army lubricants were used. The key to getting them working and keeping them working, he said, was commercially available graphite—"Cooper or Liquid Wrench works best, according to the platoon sergeants."

The frontline troops advise others to clean up their empty shell casings at every opportunity. Empty brass in the turret rings jammed the turrets, or swiveling top, of several Bradley during firefights.

Cooper also reported that tank and Bradley crews have started using captured enemy AK-47 rifles as crew protection weapons in close range fights in the reduced visibility of sandstorms. The crews are armed with 9 mm pistols, but the AK-47s work a lot better.

The field soldiers report that it's difficult for dismounted infantrymen to communicate with those inside the Bradleys without taking a large radio from the vehicle. Removing the radio from its mounting is time consuming

"This is a slow, time-consuming process that should not occur. A field phone, SABER Radio or squad radios would be a great asset," Cooper said.

On the enemy:

"He is smart, flexible and utilizing every means at his disposal. They have moved ammo in civilian trucks, held weapons to their own people's heads, and pretended to be doctors with asthmatic children. Pretend to surrender then open fire. Recommend that you err on the side of caution. Put all civilians down before they get close to you. SEARCH EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING."

Cooper said, "These fine troopers have been down the road and want the follow-on forces to be prepared. Not once was I asked when they would be going home. They had just come out of seven days of continuous combat ops, gotten a good night's sleep, pulled some maintenance and are raring to get on with the job. There is no loss of focus or shirking by the troops. As one first sergeant put it: `Even the meatballs seem to get their act together when the bullets fly!' "


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.