WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came under sharp interrogation yesterday -- over why the mail takes so long to get to the Persian Gulf and why some troops aren't yet outfitted with proper desert fatigues.
"You guys are getting ready to go back to the desert, and the only link that the families have between here and that desert is the mail," complained Representative Larry J. Hopkins, R-Ky. "Nobody is asking me these days about the cost of the B-2 bomber or the MX missile, but they do want to know why they aren't hearing from somebody that's in the desert."
Mr. Cheney, appearing with General Powell before the House Armed Services Committee to defend the White House's budget request for the coming fiscal year, deferred to his colleague for an answer.
"One of the problems we have had, frankly, is the outpouring of
mail that has come not only from the families of servicemen and women over there, but just from the average American to any soldier," General Powell explained, citing Christmas volume of 700,000 to 800,000 pounds of mail a day. "We're working both sides of the mail equation. As you know, there [aren't] those nice little blue and red boxes everywhere out there."
Later, Representative Marilyn Lloyd, D-Tenn., griped that some home-state reservists were being sent to Saudi Arabia without desert camouflage clothing. Representative Lloyd, chairwoman of the congressional textile caucus, also put in a plug for the textile industry.
General Powell diplomatically assured her that the Defense Department was "pleased with the response of the textile industry," adding that he would look into the distribution of desert uniforms.
"It has been a heck of a demand placed on the system in a short period of time, and there are limits to how quickly you could respond to that demand," he said.