SPC Charles “Doc” Parrish KIA 4 June 2009 Iraq

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Doc was the combat medic for 1st Platoon, 55th Engineer Company, 5th Engineer Battalion. He was a 23 year old, gentle giant from Alabama with an calm demeanor and a way of putting everyone around him at ease. I was his first platoon leader and I remember liking him from the day he showed up. No matter how long the mission had been, Doc was always ready to take care of his Soldiers’ needs. As fortune would have it, I promoted and moved to another position out of the company, but still ran into my Soldiers including Doc from time to time.

About a month before the end of our 15-month Iraq tour in 2008-2009, I ran into Doc at the HHC TOC. He had sustained a non-combat injury and hadn’t been able to go on mission for the previous week. All he could talk about was getting back outside the wire with the platoon, as he trusted no one to take care of them like he could. We spoke about heading home in a few weeks and how he couldn’t wait to see his 5 year old son. As we parted, I told him to take care of our men and keep his head down. A week later, the battalion PA came by to let me know that Doc had been hit. He was on a route-clearance patrol with the platoon, riding in an MRAP, when a worthless, cowardly insurgent stepped out of a crowd in a market and hit his vehicle with an armor-piercing grenade. Doc was the only one in the vehicle who got hit. He had a love for life and was a fighter who never gave up, but knowing him, he would have wanted to be the one to get hit rather than losing any of his Soldiers. The loss of him not only took a great medic from the platoon and stole a father from his son, but deprived our nation of a warrior and a patriot.

CPT Michael S. Pierce


BAE Helmet Sensor Contract a Step in the Right Direction

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BAE Systems has received an initial order of $17 million from the U.S. Army for Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Systems (“HEADS”) to help address combat-related traumatic brain injuries(“TBI”), which according to many medical professionals are becoming a signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   BAE is one of two military contractors who has received such a contract with a maximum contract award value of $105 million.

According to the news release, the HEAD’s sensor system is “designed to better monitor soldiers and help identify their risk levels for combat-related TBIs, BAE Systems introduced its HEADS sensor to the military in 2008. Since then, nearly 7,000 of the company’s HEADS units have been fielded to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps . . .”

While this appears to be good news given the increased media focus on TBI-related injuries, it would be most useful if the DOD could share information with the public on the data it collected over the last two years based on the 7,000 units that have already been fielded.  Presumably, there is enough information from this sample testing to award a $105 million contract.  SFTT makes this simple request, since Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).

Is Dr. Hodge yet another case of a military spokesperson “sugar-coating” or “quibbling” over the effects of traumatic brain injury because of improper helmet design or is there something more sinister the military leadership is hiding?  Why the sudden rush to extend the use of sensors to track TBI?   With the recent recall of military helmets and Dr. Hodge’s lame defense of troops with “mild” TBI, one suspects that there is strong reason to be concerned that our troops don’t have the “proper” headgear and are not likely to have any too soon since the new HEAD’s sensors won’t be available until July, 2011.   While this may allow us to treat TBI injuries more quickly, it does little to determine whether our troops have the best available headgear.


Rules of Engagement: Battlefield Dilemma

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The Washington recently aired a story on the increased frustration with the “Rules of Engagement” governing military personnel deployed in Afghanistan.  The story, written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, documents several incidences where US troops under attack were not able call in additional support for fear of wounding or killing civilians.  Said one disgruntled soldier interviewed for the Washington Post article, ‘”this is not how you fight a war, at least not in Kandahar, we’ve been handcuffed by our chain of command.”

According to the Washington Post article, the current “Rules of Engagement” stem from a tactical directive issued last July (2009) by former commander of military forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, “that limits the use of air and mortar strikes against houses unless personnel are in imminent danger. The directive requires troops to take extensive measures, including a 48-hour ‘pattern of life analysis’ with on-the-ground or aerial surveillance, to ensure that civilians are not in a housing compound before ordering an air strike.”

At his confirmation hearing, General David Petraeus claimed that he would review the directive and most believe that it will be modified in response to increasing claims that US military forces are exposed to undue risk under the current Rules of Engagement.   Nevertheless, in a typical display of self-denial and Pentagon-spin, an unidentified military official claims not to have “found a single situation where a soldier has lost his life because he was not allowed to protect himself,” according to the Washington Post.  If so, why do we need to change the directive which seeks to protect civilian non-combatants?  Clearly, the increased casualty levels in Afghanistan strongly suggests that current “Rules of Engagement” or tactical directives limit the effectiveness and, as such, the safety of military troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.

SFTT is committed to making sure that our young men and women who serve in harm’s way receive the best combat equipment and protective gear available.  SFTT refers to those as the Basic Five:

  • Body Armor that wards off fatal wounds;
  • Comfortable helmets that protect against traumatic brain injuries;
  • A lethal and reliable rifle;
  • A pistol with effective stopping power;
  • Boots that endure and provide comfort during combat.

While the DOD and US Army do not have a very convincing procurement record of making sure our troops have the best possible combat gear, tactical doctrines which expose them to even greater danger must be carefully examined.  SFTT has written on several occasions that current military doctrine appears to expose the grunts on the ground to even greater danger.  If so, shouldn’t they have the best protect gear and combat equipment available to protect themselves and succeed in their mission?


DOD Calls for Changes in Military Procurement Practices

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In a delightful article published by Huffington Post entitled “Pentagon’s New Contractor Policy Doesn’t Scare the Defense Industry At All,” Huffington’s editors sadly conclude that recently announced measures to improve the efficiency of the military’s procurement process are likely to produce little more than a yawn from contractors who have long thrived on the ineptitude of the Defense Department.

Ashton_CarterIn a June 28th Memorandum for Acquisition Professionals, Defense Department Acquisition Chief Ashton B. Carter,, calls for military suppliers to “. . . abandon inefficient practices accumulated in a period of budget growth and learn to manage defense dollars in a manner that is, to quote Secretary Gates . . .’is respectful of the American taxpayer at a time of economic and fiscal distress.'”   I  assume that most American taxpayers would be incensed to discover that military spending profligacy needs to be curtailed only during periods of “fiscal distress.”  This seems to be a damning indictment of the questionable and most likely corrupt procurement practices that are now so firmly entrenched at the Pentagon. 

Huffington Post goes on to say, “it’s a testament to how corrupt the now $400 billion a year contracting process has become that the changes outlined Monday seem in any way dramatic; they are, mostly, simple assertions of common sense. Among the new policies, as summarized by me (Huffington Post):

  •  Cut down on awarding contracts without genuine competition.
  • Cut down on contracts in which government pays for all or part of cost overruns.
  • Reward higher productivity, innovation and excellence, rather than other things.
  • Get credit for government’s generous cash-flow policies.
  • Eliminate valueless overhead and administrative fees; for instance, don’t pay contractors’ bidding and proposal expenses when there was no bidding.
  • Add more and better government acquisition workers.
  • Improve audits.
  • Let cost considerations shape requirements and design for new programs such as the presidential helicopter, the ground combat vehicle and the new nuclear submarine fleet.
  • Don’t allow contractors to reduce production rates without approval.”

Our troops in the field are painfully aware of the inadequacies of our military procurement process as evidenced by the improper testing of body armor, the recent recall of military helmets and ceramic plates, the inability of the Defense Department to supply replacement parts for the M2 heavy duty machine gun and the reported ineffectivness of the M4 in Afghanistan.   If the Defense Department really wanted to show the taxpayers and military contractors that they mean business, the should begin by firing government employees whose oversights and/or indiscretions are responsible for those failures and ban military suppliers from bidding on new contracts where neglect has been shown as reported by the DODIG or GAO. 

Mr. Carter’s soft memo to “Acquisition Professionals,” is the equivalent of giving prison inmates a copy of Emily Post’s book on Etiquette.  The military industrial complex is alive and well and thriving at taxpayer expense and in the blood of our young men and women serving in harm’s way.


Military Helmets: Traumatic Brain Injury

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Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).    This article appears to have written to place the US Army “spin” on earlier report from the New York Times that a US Army survey of 18,000 soldiers suggested that 40% of returning soldiers had “experienced at least mild TBI.”   Could it be that our antiquated military helmets should have provided better protection to prevent these cases of TBI?

While Dr. Hoge recommends that we should honor these brave but impaired heroes, he goes on to argue that there is no easy clinical or pychological explanation to determine the degree of TBI.  In fact, he goes on to suggest that we re-label these conditions to produce an “AC” or Army-Correct version.  According to Dr. Hoge, “medical and mental health professionals can better educate their warriors about combat physiology, and not make everything so clinical. Instead of ‘trauma,’ ‘injury,’ ‘symptom’ or ‘disorder,’ they can try using words like ‘experience,’ ‘event,’ ‘reaction’ or ‘physiological responses.’ That doesn’t minimize the importance of medical terminology, especially in guiding effective treatment, but it also acknowledges the warriors’ need for validation of their own experiences.” 

This callous “spin” suggests that if we call the symptoms or evidence of TBI something else such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) then we have a psychologically treatable “reaction” to high levels of stress rather than a physical ailment.  This is sophistry at its best.

Many have long argued that our troops need state-or-the-art liners and self-adjusting padding inside military helmets to cushion or dissipate the energy of a hit that lessen the sudden movement of the head that causes concussions.   Why can’t our brave soldiers be afforded the same level of protection that we give to NFL and college football players?  The technology is available if only the US Army would care to look rather than staunchly defend the safety of current military helmets.


Historical Convergences

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Hack has said that his favorite book was “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It is one of my own as well. There was an other famous writer of that time named Lao Tzu. I am certain that Hack knew him as well.

Lao Tzu was the founder of Taoism. When he became old and infirm, he refused to write his “testiment”. So that others could not pervert his legacy, and use it to their benefit. Alas, before he left China to die, he relented, and wrote the 88 verses of the Tao Te Ching.

Since that time, a full-scale religion (the anti-thesis of his teachings) has come to be.

My fear, is that this same thing will happen to the simple words of Col. David Hachworth.   His main concern was that  ground troops should be both appreciated, and supplied.  That they should be recognised for what they were…… the deciding factor in ANY military contest..

I pray, that you in charge of his “legacy”, will not follow in the footsteps of the “followers” of Lao Tzu.  You have in your hands, the legacy, of one of, if not THE greatest example of American military manhood. Balls to the wall, all the way!  Please handle it with due care and attention.

See that is not corrupted. Nor made into something that Hack would drop his BDUs and shit on.

Brian W. Brannon


Taliban snipers test body armor and helmets

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A recent article by Terri Judd of London-based The Independent entitled “Sharp rise in Army deaths from small arms fire prompts inquiry into Taliban snipers,” suggests that troops may not have the proper helmets or body armor to deal with the changing tactics of the Taliban.   

According to the article, “commanders in Afghanistan are examining whether a sharp rise in troops being killed by gunfire is a sign that a better trained or equipped Taliban is targeting soldiers with snipers.   More soldiers have been killed by small arms fire in the past four months than in the whole of any previous year. While deaths by bullet accounted for just 13 per cent of those killed in combat in 2009, that figure has risen to almost 40 per cent in recent months.”  Many of these deaths are attributable to single shots from sharpshooters, or even trained snipers.

American General James Conway recently told the US House Armed Services Committee: “Right now, the biggest threat in Marjah is not necessarily the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) for our killed in action. It is the sniper that takes a long-range shot and can penetrate our protective equipment, particularly the helmet.”

Some of those interviewed for this article suggested that it was too early to tell if the high incidence of deaths caused by small arms fire signals a change in enemy warfare tactics, but if so we need to place increased emphasis on upgrading body armor and helmets to deal with this new threat.


US Army Body Armor Recalls: A matter of trust

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In the midst of yet another example of deficient body armor, the US Army continues to insist that body armor and body armor plates supplied to US troops are safe.    In late January,  Secretary of Army Pete Geren stated that ‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers, their confidence in their equipment, and America’s confidence in their Army.”

He went on to say that “out of more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the Army, the DoD IG (Department of Defense Inspector General)  is questioning three of them. DOT&E (Department of Defense’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation), the government’s preeminent independent expert, says the plates passed those three tests. And let’s not forget, since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. That body armor has saved the lives of thousands of Soldiers.” 

Perhaps so Mr. Secretary, but the real question is how many lives have been lost or soldiers seriously wounded are attributable to defective and/or improperly tested body armor?   This specious argument by Secretary Geren is equivalent to Toyota’s management saying that they have manufactured thousands of “safe” automobiles and only a few have defective brakes. 

The assertion by Secretary Geren that the DOT&E is “the government’s preeminent independent expert” suggests a lack of responsibility or accountability by the US Army in the testing of body armor.  As we well know from the October, 2009 GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” and the DoDIG Report, the DOT&E is not the “independent expert” called for by the GAO.   Quite the opposite, the DOT&E is complicit in shoddy test procedures.

The latest recall of ceramic body armor plates further calls into question the integrity of US Army test procedures and, indeed, the credibility of military leaders who continue to insist that “‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers.”  The DoD IG and GAO reports suggest otherwise.


More Body Armor Plate Recalls

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In what is now becoming a regular occurrence, the US Army is recalling body armor plates that may have failed to meet manufacturing specifications.

According to the June 14th news release, the US “Army recently issued a message for all troops and units to inspect their body armor, specifically the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI, in search of a specific model that was not made according to contract requirements.”

The US Army claims that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Nevertheless, they are recalling the plates “to receive replacement plates under warranty” with the manufacturer.

According the US Army News release, “the nonconforming plates were produced by Armor Works, who have provided 150,000 ESAPI plates, about 10 percent of the Department of Defense’s total supply. Of these 150,000, about nine percent (13,500) were not made according to specification.”   Found below is information on how to identify defective ESAPI plates manufactured by Armor Works.

How to Identify Defective Body Armor Plates

ESAPI plates that should be turned in to the Central Issue Facility for replacement will display the contract number SPM1C1-08-D-1023 along with one of two design codes – DD3V2 or MP2.

The contract number and design code are both located on the data tag on the back of the plate. The contract number is in the upper right corner of the data tag, and the design code is the last three to five characters of the DOM/LOT number.

It should be noted that SFTT recently asked the US Army to let the public know the test results of 2,000 potentially cracked ceramic plates which the US Army has steadfastly stated that there has never been a single  incidence of cracked ceramic plates.   Could it be that clear evidence of “cracked ceramic plates” now exists and these deficient ceramic plates were sufficient to demand a recall?   Also, for the US Army to suggest that the recalled plates passed all ballistics tests seems to overlook the scathing report by the Government Accountability Office which recommended independent testing of military body armor.


Weapon Jamming Reported in Afghanistan

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SFTT has had a single report from a credible source that a unit in Afghanistan has problems — jamming — with their government issued magazines for their 5.56mm weapons.    These single-spring magazines are jamming in Afghanistan firefights and some believe these government-issued magazines are inferior to the double-spring magazines currently available  commercially.

These problems appear to be due to the single-spring magazines not having sufficient force to work when exposed to sand, dirt, etc. — that is common during normal tactical conditions encountered in a firefight.  The commercially purchased magazines provided by family/friends back in the U.S. have a double-spring design, and the additional force provided by the second spring results in far fewer jams.

SFTT is asking for readers to actively inquire from contacts with frontline troops to see if this problem is an isolated one, or whether it is more widespread.   Please respond to the Editor of SFTT with as much detail as you can provide: specific weapon, tactical situation, etc. (Confidentiality is guaranteed to all respondents. SFTT will require information sufficient to  confirm validity of reports.)

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter

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