Soldiers didn't have equipment to fight

July 2, 2009 12:06:14 PM PDT
American troops fight for our freedom every day in Iraq and some never make it home. That's the grim reality in any war, but imagine the reality of going to war without a rifle or going out on night patrol without night vision goggles.That's a reality North Carolina National Guard member Sgt. First Class Brent Mast faced.

Mast has been in the service for 12 years - first in the Army and now in the Guard. He's on his second tour of duty in Iraq - part of a recent deployment from Fayetteville.

He and his fellow troops got a heroes' send-off led by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue earlier this year. But just days after the departure, reality sank in.

"I literally found out they had no plan once we got into the country, that I nor 15 soldiers still didn't have a rifle. I was shaking. I was scared. I've always been a soldier that's soldiered on," Mast told Eyewitness News.

Mast says he and his men had to share rifles during stateside training, and it took days of asking and complaining to finally get enough to go around in Baghdad. But that was just the first of his equipment problems. A lack of "aiming lights" for the rifles and night vision goggles - or NVGs - made his first night patrol a nightmare.

"I told my soldiers 'Let's get ready for night, everyone prep your NVG's,' and they gave me this look like what are you talking about? I said 'Prep NVG's,' and my driver said I' don't have NVG's' and my gunner said "Sergeant, I don't have NVG's.'"

Mast says he was shocked by what he learned.

"That was the experience that said WOW! Do I have to do something? "It was beyond belief to me. All my career that was a standard thing that all my soldiers had, and now I'm on my second tour of Iraq - doing the same stuff - and now we don't have it," said Mast.

The sergeant says he took his concerns to his superiors time and time again.

"It really tore at me. I kept trying to make my recommendations, raising my concerns," he recalled. "I can tell you we've already lost three soldiers in North Carolina and we don't want to take a chance that we're going to lose someone just because they weren't able to see what was happening around them or they weren't able to hit enemy that was aiming at them. I don't want that for my soldiers or any soldier."

Neither does his wife Aimee, back home in Fayetteville with their three young kids.

"Why would you bring you soldiers out in a combat zone and not have them prepared?" she asked.

She's seen the toll the fight has taken on her husband.

"It's in his voice. He's frustrated. He's tired," she said. "He's desperate for resolve."

Mast was desperate enough to put his career on the line by reaching out to Eyewitness News Troubleshooter Dianne Wilson.

"This is the hardest damn thing I've ever done - to go outside my chain of command - but I used them and did everything I knew how to do," he said.

His gamble paid off. Eyewitness News began by calling NC Governor Beverly Perdue since she's in charge of the state's National Guard. We also went to the Army since they're in command of active guard overseas.

Within a couple of days, we had success.

"The first I heard was that ABC 11 contacted someone in the chain of command, and within two hours I was told to submit my list again. And the very next day at noon, I got the bulk of the immediate stuff I needed to make it serviceable," said Mast.

We stayed on the Army for all the gear Mast needed and soon the sergeant e-mailed us from Iraq.

"I have confirmation that the aiming lights have been ordered. We should be 100% within the week," he wrote.

It got better.

"After contacting you, the Brigade received hundreds of aiming lights. The shortages will be filled across the Brigade," Mast wrote.

The troops also got new mine-resistant vehicles. And, Mast says that when a checkpoint was fired on recently, they were able to respond to the threat thanks to their night vision goggles.

"This might be one of the most important tasks ever undertaken for the Troubleshooter - because this gear saves lives!" Mast wrote.

The Army told us it has systems in place where soldiers get certain equipment in certain stages of their deployment. It also said it takes supply issues very seriously, and that Sgt. Mast's contact with Eyewitness News had nothing to do with him getting the needed equipment.


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