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January 13, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

No show
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination, has made armor in Iraq a new issue on which to bash President Bush.

The junior senator from New York appeared on ABC News to criticize Mr. Bush after a military study determined that body armor with side plates around the shoulders and neck would have increased the survival rate of Marines.

Mrs. Clinton, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also issued a press release that called on Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, to convene a hearing "to investigate these reports."

By the time the press release had hit the street on Monday, Mr. Warner had scheduled a closed-door hearing. Two generals in charge of procuring armor and an Army soldier fitted in the armor that is currently protecting troops in Iraq were the featured witnesses. Some Marines say they do not want side-plate armor because it adds weight and limits mobility.

With the Senate in recess, the attendance was light when Mr. Warner convened the classified hearing on Wednesday. Only two other senators attended: Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

We asked Mrs. Clinton's press secretary about her no-show. "Senator Clinton had a long planned day of events with her constituents in New York and wasn't able to attend the short-notice briefing attended by the chairman and two members of the minority," said Philippe Reines in an e-mail. "Her defense aide attended, and she's going to continue to work hard to make sure that our men and women in uniform get the resources they need."

At the hearing, officers said the Army is continually researching and developing better forms of armor. The Army is sending to Iraq an improved version of the Interceptor body armor. "The improvement provides increased ballistic protection at the expense of a small increase in weight," said Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, the Army's director of force development.

He said the Army is set to begin purchasing side plating. "It is important to note that we must not burden our soldiers with weight to the point that they become ineffective and susceptible to other dangers," Gen. Speakes said. "The Army gave special consideration to the balance of soldier armor protection and the impact on soldier performance."

No vacancies
The Days Inn Gateway, a popular low-cost motel for Washington tourists, has closed its doors. But it expects all 195 rooms to be filled the next two years. The Days Inn, the first lodging for travelers entering Washington's east side on New York Avenue, has rented out the entire motel restaurant, lounge and rooms to the China Construction America Co., according to a Gateway worker who declined to give his name.

The Chinese government has tapped its homegrown company to build its new embassy at the International Center on Van Ness Street Northwest, off Connecticut Avenue. It is importing scores of Chinese workers who will stay at the refurbished Days Inn. The worker said the motel signed a 2-year lease. "Then we will come back and go back to normal," the worker said.

Chu Maoming, Chinese Embassy spokesman, tells us construction began in April and will be completed in 2008.

It was all part of a deal with the U.S. State Department, which won access to land in Beijing to build a new embassy, which also will be finished in 2008. China apparently is employing its own to reduce chances that the U.S. intelligence community would be able to bug the embassy. Press reports said a Boeing jet sold to China for use by senior leaders contained several listening devices.

About the time the 2008 Summer Olympics begin in China, the Days Inn at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road will be able to post the "vacancy" sign again.

Fighters deploy
Coinciding with increased tensions with Iran over the resumption of illicit uranium enrichment, the U.S. Air Force has dispatched additional warplanes to the region in a not-so-subtle sign, military sources say.

An entire wing of F-16s, the Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing based in Fort Wayne, Ind., left for a base in southwest Asia on Tuesday. A wing is usually about 72 aircraft and several hundred support personnel.

F-16s and support personnel from the 4th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, also deployed recently to Iraq. The squadron has 12 F-16s.

Both units' F-16s could be used in any military operation to take out Iranian nuclear facilities.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command Air Forces, which runs air operations in the region, said the F-16 deployment of about 80 jets is part of a rotation and is not related to Iran's uranium reprocessing.

'Seoul Train'
A new documentary on the plight of tens of thousands of North Korean defectors, perhaps several hundred thousand, who have fled the communist dictatorship into China and other countries aired recently on PBS stations.

The film, "Seoul Train," is a dramatic expose of the plight of North Koreans and the handful of activists who are trying to help them reach freedom. The documentary shows how the communist government of China is helping the North Korean government and how the refugee arm of the United Nations is ignoring the problem.

It is the first film to reveal the secret underground railroad of courageous human rights activists who help North Koreans escape and reach safe havens such as South Korea and Mongolia.

The documentary contains video of Chinese police arresting a group of North Koreans who tried to reach freedom by entering a Japanese consulate in China. The incident shows a 3-year-old girl, Han-mi, standing by in terror as several Chinese police violently wrestled her mother to the ground to prevent them from entering the consulate grounds.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, stated in the film that Chinese authorities are "not only trying to catch the refugees but to systematically break down the networks that help them in the hope that if you take out the networks then there will no longer be refugees."

"Seoul Train" aired 9 p.m. nationwide, but PBS affiliates in the Washington area showed the film at 1 a.m. on Dec. 23.

The Army reports that it has made its recruiting goal for the active force for the seventh straight month in what is normally a slow time of year for enlistment. The Reserve and National Guard components also met their targets in December, the Army reported this week.

The Army cited incentives approved by Congress for the current budget year that may help further. New recruits now can receive up to $40,000 as sign-up bonus and up to $90,000 for re-enlisting.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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