Honoring my father, Col. Lowell E. May (USAF)

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As a small child, I remember sitting down with my father leafing through a scrapbook of pictures that he had taken in North Africa during WWII. While the scrapbook was sadly lost in a fire, I vividly recall that many photos of his fellow B-26 Martin Marauder pilots and crewmen had crosses inked-in beside them.  My dad patiently explained that these brave men had lost their lives in the war and this was his way of honoring their memory. 

While he rarely talked about his combat experiences, I do recall him telling me that 60 of the 200 aircraft that had made the trip across the Atlantic to North Africa had been lost at sea due to mechanical failure, lack of fuel or some other non-combat related cause.   While my dad passed away many years ago, I still recall his sadness that these brave young men had unnecessarily perished because their equipment was not tested properly.

Now some 60 years later, it is difficult to believe that our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan still don’t have adequate protective gear.  When will our military leadership wake-up to insure that our troops have the proper equipment to have a fighting chance to come home alive and in one piece?   

Richard W. May


Remembering P.F.C. Theartis Watts, Jr., (USMC)

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Theartis Watts was an 18-year old rifleman in my Marine infantry platoon in Viet Nam in 1968. He was a big-city kid from Philadelphia with an incredible knack for finding delicious Vietnamese fruits and vegetables to augment our C-rations, and he had one of the most brilliant smiles I’ve ever seen. When he smiled, which was often and in the most dire circumstances, his entire face lit up. Theartis won a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for conspicuous gallantry on April 13, 1968 in a nasty firefight a few kilometers east of Hue City. When my platoon sergeant and his radioman were killed, Theartis took over the radio and established comm with our company commander. Since my radioman had been wounded, and his radio rendered inoperable by enemy machine gun fire, Theartis’ action to secure an operable radio, while under heavy enemy fire was critical to making higher headquarters aware of the severity of our tactical situation.


After I transferred out of the platoon, Threartis remained behind. It was in this position on August 17, 1968, that he led a night-time patrol of Marines in an area south of Da Nang. When in their ambush position, Theartis detected a group of shadowy figures approaching. Under his Rules of Engagement, he was authorized to open fire without further action, but due to ongoing problems with RVN Popular Force (local militia loyal to Saigon) patrols wondering into Marine-only areas, Theartis challenged the approaching group. The response was immediate bursts of automatic weapons fire from the group, which proved to be a hard-core VC patrol.


Theartis was fatally wounded in the first bursts, but his Marine patrol was able to return fire from their concealed positions and secure the ambush site, forcing the VC patrol to flee. Theartis knew well that by issuing this challenge when he could have just opened fire on the unidentified figures he was taking upon himself the risk that by giving up the element of surprise he would both forfeit the Marines’ tactical advantage and put himself at mortal danger.


P.F.C. Theartis Watts gave his life in an attempt to insure that no friendly Vietnamese forces would suffer another “friendly fire” encounter as long as this 18-year old Marine was in charge.


[ See  here for Theartis Watts, Jr. on the Virtual Wall. ]


Contributor:  Roger Charles


Levin, McCain Request Review of Body Armor Systems

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By Roger Charles

President’s Note:

Well, folks, sometimes things move much faster in Washington than experience would lead one to expect. This happened Monday and yesterday (May 21 and 22) when Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain, Chairman and Ranking Minority Member respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee short-circuited the public dispute between the Army acquisition mafia and NBC News about recent NBC reporting (assisted by SFTT and DefenseWatch) that showed Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin performed “significantly better” (the words of retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing) than the DOD issued Interceptor Body Armor system in the first-ever comparative “shoot-off.”

SFTT/DefenseWatch have had as our final objective on the body armor issue for over a year and a half: “best-available” body armor for America’s frontline troops, and as the first intermediate objective we have called for full and fair ballistic tests of all feasible body armor systems to determine what is truly “best-available.” Once such testing takes place, America’s Grunts and their families and friends will finally have a definitive answer to the question as to what body armor these great defenders of freedom should be wearing on the killing fields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Continue Reading →


Webb & Clinton Call For Investigation Into The Effectiveness Of Body Armor Issued To Our Troops

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Washington, DC – In light of recent media reports suggesting that a particular body armor system may offer better protection than the system currently being used by our service members, Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) — both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee — today called on Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker to initiate a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to reassess the body armor systems currently being issued by all the military services and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing U.S. troops in combat.

“For several years, I have heard reports from active duty troops and military experts that Dragon Skin body armor is more effective than that currently being used,” said Senator Webb. “We owe it to those who are in harm’s way to examine conclusively whether this is true.”

“With United States troops risking their lives daily in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best equipment possible,” Senator Clinton said. Continue Reading →


Army 4-Star (Ret): Dragon Skin “Significantly Better” Than Interceptor In First-Ever Comparative Test (Conducted By NBC News)

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President’s Note:

Tonight, May 17, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has aired their first piece dealing with the body armor controversy. Tomorrow morning, Today will air a piece, and Sunday night, Dateline NBC will air a longer piece, with much more detail about the comparative test NBC News conducted — the first true comparative test of Interceptor Body Armor and Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin (SOV 3000 Level IV).

We at SFTT/DefenseWatch are very pleased at the outcome — Dragon Skin performed as expected, and at a level substantially superior to that of the Interceptor ESAPI (Level IV) plates. Gen. Wayne Downing, a retired 4-star (and consultant to NBC News), who observed the comparative test, reported that Dragon Skin performed “significantly better” than Interceptor’s ESAPI plates.

It is now up to the American public — to all who appreciate the service and sacrifice of America’s Grunts — to demand that these great servicemen and women be provided the “best-available” body armor. Continue Reading →


West Pointers At The Heart Of The Body Armor Scandal

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By Roger Charles

Those readers of DefenseWatch who have followed SFTT’s efforts over the past year and a half to get honest and completely transparent comparative testing of all available both armor, including, but not necessarily restricted to both Dragon Skin and the currently issued Interceptor Body Armor system, know that from time to time there’s been a tad — okay, maybe more than a tad — of anger in my writings on this subject. After all, it’s truly an issue of life-or-death importance to America’s Grunts.

This column is however, written much more in sadness and sorrow than in anger.

West Point graduates have contributed so much, for so many years, to the defense of our great nation, and in other areas as well. Two have been presidents.

But, it is on our country’s many battlefields over the last two centuries that The Long Gray Line has earned the respect and gratitude that distinguishes West Point from all other institutions in our nation.

Two of the warriors that Hack respected most are West Point grads who continue to serve their country by being members of the SFTT Advisory Board: Lt. Gen. Henry E. “Hank” Emerson USA (Ret.), Class of 1947, and Lt.Gen. Harold G. “Hal” Moore, USA (Ret.), Class of 1945. Their records of distinguished and heroic performance as combat leaders speak for themselves, and need no repeating here.

Consequently, to have discovered that several West Pointers have played key roles in ensuring that inferior body armor continues to be issued to our great troops is a particular and sharp disappointment to this writer.

Before I get into the specifics of who are these “disappointments,” and what just what were their roles in continuing the status quo when undeniable evidence proves a better body armor is available, I want to quote from an email received just this morning.

Like the combat leadership achievements of Hank Emerson and Hal Moore, this email speaks for itself. I will identify the sender as a father of an sergeant of infantry, with one combat tour in Iraq behind him, and another tour coming up later this year. (Due to this father’s diligence, SFTT has recently obtained some amazing information that will be shared with our readers in the next few weeks. Stand by.)

Mr. Charles,

It amazes me that I could get this information and nobody else could!

I am nobody from nowhere, except I will fight doggedly for what I deem to be right! This is a fight that I am willing to take as far as I can! If any of my actions help rectify this injustice and help our troops get better and safer equipment I am deeply gratified!

The sad fact as we both know is that Soldiers die in war, but we have Soldiers dying needlessly because we have the technology to better protect them!  I am so proud of my Son and his service to our country, I can hardly put into words!  The military experience and his time he served in Iraq, (with all of the negative experiences he had while there), I believe have made him a better man and a true leader!

It is an indescribable feeling to be able to say that your Son is your hero!  And mine is! He is a true Patriot!

Editor’s Note: Some text has been deleted.

A Justifiably Proud Father

Now, back to the sad spectacle of four West Pointers who have failed to live up to the transcendent motto of their famous alma mater, “Duty-Honor-Country.”

The following is a list of the four “ring-knockers” who have contributed to this sad and scandalous state of affairs wherein inferior body armor is issued to our warfighters. They’ve made their contributions either by their active obstructionism, making them knaves, or by their permitting the abuses and corruption by others to continue, which makes them at best, incompetent fools.

Major General Jeffrey A. Sorenson, West Point Class of 1973, who has been exposed for his bald-faced lies by DefenseWatch. (See: Sorenson’s Mission — Kill Dragon Skin ) Here’s the official DOD announcement of his recent nomination for promotion to Lieutenant General and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, U.S. Army, for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. He is currently serving as Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Washington, D.C.

Brigadier General (Retired) James R. Moran, West Point Class of 1979, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from its inception on June 7, 2002, until his retirement in the summer of 2006.

Brigadier General R. Mark Brown, West Point Class of 1977, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from the summer of 2006 through the present.

Colonel (Retired) John D. Norwood, West Point Class of 1980, former Project Manager for Soldier Equipment under PEO-SOLDIER, from 2003 until his retirement in the summer of 2006. He is currently a new Vice President of the Aerospace & Defense Group of Armor Holdings, one of the principal manufacturers of Interceptor Body Armor. The products listed under the Aerospace & Defense Group includes a listing for “Individual Equipment,” and under that is “Body Armor”.

Note that the key roles played by these four West Pointers during the period that DefenseWatch has identified and brought to public attention the unconscionable situation of our troops wearing clearly inferior body armor, when substantially better body armor in the form of Dragon Skin was, and is, available.

It’s also worth pointing out that three of the four are General Officers, signifying that the institution of the U.S. Army finds them to be its “best and brightest.” That may have some relation to the lack success we’ve seen in Iraq when it comes to dealing with IED’s, suicide bombers, shortage of up-armored Humvees, shortage of “V”-hulled vehicles, etc.

Hack and I talked often about West Point, and the split-personality nature of its graduates — either the best, or the worst (with a fair share of mediocre thrown in). But, given the sacred responsibility granted these graduates — the defense of our nation and the stewardship of its most precious resources, young soldiers –much should be expected.

And those who are care more about self-promotion than selfless service to our country must be identified and purged from positions where their actions result in the needless death and maiming of the best among us, of those young Americans who stand guard on the ramparts of freedom.

Hack identified to his wife (and now CEO of SFTT, Eilhys England Hackworth), two particularly pernicious characteristics that West Point seemed to imbue — a sense of elitism, and a reluctance to speak out against another ring-knocker, regardless of the issue.

It is this omerta-like reluctance to speak truth when it might harm a fellow graduate that caused me to write this piece. I’m hopeful that somewhere out there is at least one West Point graduate who will contact me at SFTT — and it can be off the record — with an explanation of why our Army continues to foist inferior body armor on our great troops when better is available.

For those in the know to remain silent in the face of such corruption will only prolong the day of reckoning, and lengthen the casualty lists grown far too long already.

SFTT President Roger Charles is an Annapolis graduate, a retired USMC Lt. Col. who commanded an infantry platoon in I Corps during the Vietnam War, is the winner of the prestigious Peabody Award for news coverage, and was a protégée’s of the late Col. David H. Hackworth.


Government Accountability Office (GAO) Investigating Why America’s Grunts Continue To Bleed & Die In Second-Rate Body Armor

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By Roger Charles

As you read this Update, please keep in mind SFTT’s Final Objective: the “best-available” body armor for all of America’s Frontline Troops.

DefenseWatch readers are all too painfully aware that the Pentagon currently issues demonstrably inferior body armor when superior body armor is available, and that based on extensive research, SFTT believes “Dragon Skin” (manufactured by Pinnacle Armor of Fresno, California) is the “best-available.”

It is important to emphasize that SFTT wants all feasible body armor alternatives fully & fairly tested. (If there is a “better” body armor than Dragon Skin out there, we want to hear about it, and hear about it quicky because lives of America’s Grunts are at stake.) Continue Reading →


President of Pinnacle Armor Responds to Four Questions about NIJ Certification, & Related Issues

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President’s Note: Over the holidays I thought that Defense Watch should provide some additional information on Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin body armor and the recent certification by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that the Level III version of Dragon Skin had passed their test. Given complicated schedules on both ends, I decided the best approach was to submit four written questions to Murray Neal, the President of Pinnacle Armor, and give him the chance to respond via email. What fallows is both background information and technical data that will allow you, the reader, to better place into context what has prevented Dragon Skin from gaining such certification sooner, the major technical issues, and what the immediate future should bring.

Let me take this chance to ask each and every reader to remember those stout-hearted troops who have placed their lives and their futures in harms way in defense of our great nation. They deserve the best-available body armor, and, God willing, are now closer to getting it. Continue Reading →


US Needs Military Leaders Who Make Waves

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Was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the only one in the Pentagon that helped propel the American war in Iraq into disaster? While many have also pointed fingers at the White House, there are more profound sources of the problems. Congress should look deeper, such as at the three- and four-star Army commanders, who have much to explain. Straus Military Reform Project  Adviser Col. Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, Ret.) explains in a commentary published by Defense News this week. This commentary by Douglas Macgregor was originally published by Defense News on Nov. 13, 2006.

By Douglas Macgregor

Iraq is disintegrating to the point where the Bush administration can no longer conceal the truth that American ground forces are islands of impotence in a sea of sectarian violence and civil war.  In fact, the climate of hatred against Americans cultivated by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and his division commanders, generals who transformed a minor insurgency in the summer of 2003 into an Arab rebellion against the American military presence in April 2004, has now spread to the Shiite south.

How did this happen? In his book, “Fiasco,” Tom Ricks explains that generals steeped in a military culture that exalts masses of men and firepower used a meat cleaver when a scalpel was needed — a strategic catastrophe from which American policy in Iraq has never recovered.  At the center of this tragedy stands Gen. John Abizaid, presented three years ago to the American public as the general fluent in Arabic with the perfect military resume.

Years of sterling service in the light infantry of the peacetime garrison Army earned Abizaid universal approval from the influential community of retired four stars, the men who selected all of the generals commanding in Iraq since the war began. For the Bush defense team, he seemed like the perfect choice.  Yet, when Abizaid took command in the summer of 2003, he did nothing to change the destructive pattern of raids, checkpoints and intrusive patrols, actions that created far more enemies among the Arabs than they killed or incarcerated. 

His response to the shameful revelation of Abu Ghraib was tepid. Sanchez and his generals escaped accountability. When Fallujah exploded in April of 2004, providing Abizaid with a tailor-made opportunity to dominate the enemy psychologically, Abizaid advised inaction.  Then, in the summer of 2004, in an unprecedented move, another four-star general, George Casey, was assigned to command in Iraq, effectively giving Abizaid political cover. Still in overall command, Abizaid could either deny responsibility or claim credit, depending on changing conditions.

To date, other than holding seminars on Arab culture for visiting members of Congress and the administration, it’s hard to know what decisive action Abizaid has taken. Insisting that Americans allegedly win all the battles despite the daily U.S. death toll, and, in 2006, that Iraq is on the verge of civil war are patronizing statements of the obvious. What can be said of Abizaid is that he is an intelligent, hard-working person, anxious not to offend anyone, especially his superiors. And therein lies the problem.

Frustrated with generals who were unable to win a single battle in the first years of World War II, Britain’s Winston Churchill wrote angrily to the chief of the Imperial General Staff, “We must not confine appointments to high command to men whose careers have excited no hostile comment.”  Churchill knew his defeated generals were amiable men who made no waves. Eventually, he axed most of them and Britain’s situation changed.

Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara did not embrace Churchill’s philosophy. Taking the generals provided by the military’s system of cronyism, Johnson and McNamara simply elevated the most sycophantic officers to four-stars, men willing to be media props for their civilian masters in return for further promotion and reward in lucrative civilian jobs after retirement.

Sadly, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chose the path of Johnson and McNamara, and that has made all the difference.  Tactical blunders have strategic consequences and the generals have blundered badly in Iraq. In war, military strategy is supposed to reduce the probability of armed conflict, to persuade those who might fight not to fight, and when necessary, to win at the least cost in lives and treasure. In Iraq, the top generals achieved the opposite outcome.

Democrats, celebrating their control of Congress, should be thorough and judicious in their investigations of why the military occupation of Iraq has gone so terribly wrong.  They should question the accepted wisdom of the retired and active four stars that flooding Muslim Arab Iraq with hundreds of thousands of Christian Europeans in U.S. and U.K. uniform would somehow have salvaged the disastrous decision to govern Iraq with American soldiers and Marines.And they should embrace the critical need for military reform to establish a professional system of general officer selection that rewards character, competence and intelligence, not just compliance with bad ideas in return for promotion.

But whatever the Democrats do, they should reject the current schoolboy excuse we hear from active and retired generals that “Rumsfeld made me do it.”  Douglas Macgregor is a retired U.S. Army colonel, decorated combat veteran and author of books on military reform.  He writes for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, Washington. Author(s): Col. (Ret.) Douglas A. Macgregor, USA


Letter From Proud Marine Father To Congressional Rep’s RE: Dragon Skin

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Editor’s Note: We frequently get questions from readers, “What can I do to help get our kids the best-available [fill in the blank].” Well, here’s what one reader, and proud father of a US Marine, did on his own initiative. Below is an excerpt of his letter.  I think it’s worth sharing. s/f, Rog

An article “11 U.S. Troops Die Inside Iraq” in the October 19 newspaper prompts me to write you. The article goes on “So far, 70 American troops have been killed in Iraq this month. If the death toll continues at this rate, the monthly tally would be the highest since November 2004.”

Many have died due to IED’s and small arms fire. Recent tests have indicated there is a superior body armor (Dragon Skin from Pinnacle Armor) available which not only is effective against small arms fire, but also shrapnel from IED’s. (Note: Dragon Skin is used by President Bush’s Secret Service detail.) It is important that our troops get the best commercially available body armor!

An impressive 6-minute video from “Test Lab” on the History Cable Channel reveals two important tests on this body armor and beyond these is another recently conducted at the Stanford University Medical Center which showed Dragon Skin to have excellent bullet stopping performance and weigh 50% less than conventional body armor.

A January 7, 2006 article in the New York Times covered a “Pentagon Study Links Fatalities to Body Armor.” That study found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor.

I am sure you are aware of much of the controversy concerning body armor since this report was issued. Two testimonies which I’d like to discuss are as follows:

Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, director of the Force Development Office, said on June 15 before the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee – “The Army’s number one concern is the protection of the Soldier. [snip] Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) remains a centerpiece program for the Army,” “Our IBA is the best military body armor in the world. [snip] We are convinced that our Soldiers are wearing the best possible equipment right now. Commanders in the Theater of operations have the means to give their Soldiers the highest levels of protection known to the Army today.”

At the same hearing, Maj. Gen. William Catto, commanding general of the Marine Corps Systems Command, testified: “Today, there is no commercial product more capable than the equipment being issued to our Marines by the Corps.”

I and others contend that the commercially available Dragon Skin body armor is more advanced and provides much better protection than the Interceptor Body Armor currently issued to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on these facts, I strongly recommend:

1) Rescind the Safety Of Use Message (SOUM) 06-017 “Discontinue Use of Unauthorized Body Armor, Dragon Skin

2) Allow soldiers to purchase/and use Dragon Skin and provide a financial reimbursement for that purchase (up to $1,000 or an appropriate amount)

3) Provide for accelerated procurement and distribution of Dragon Skin body armor to troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you for taking the time to read and take action on this important topic!

Very truly yours,

Jeffrey Mathews, PE

“Proud, but Concerned Father of a U.S. Marine”

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