Body Armor: Open Letter to General Conway

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April 21, 2009

Commandant of the Marine Corps

General James T. Conway

Headquarters USMC

2 Navy Annex (CMC)

Washington, D.C.  20380-1775

Dear General,

I would like to thank for your response to my letter dated 03-28-08, as well, as the time you took out of your demanding schedule. I know you and I are the same in many ways as acknowledged in your letter, but yet very different. The Command you lead and the Stars you wear are one of great responsibilities. The tasks that are put before you from day to day are not easy ones, but you have within you a Drive and Conviction to push forward no matter what, that’s why you are there.

I, in my life, do not lead a Command, but I do have a Drive and Conviction for the Troops of all branches, and my sons. When I started writing these letters back in 2006 it has never been my intent to dishonor any branch in our military or to be a thorn in anybody’s side. It has always been my outlook in life that one person can make a difference and I live by that rule. The objective here is to protect ALL the Troops with the very best Body Armor.

The first objective was to get NASA involved and this is not to say, just to kick it around and talk about it at meetings. When my wife and I went to Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico Va. in 2007 to meet with Brigadier General Brogan’s staff. I gave my concerns, thoughts and ideas, which included NASA. I was told they had never contacted NASA on this issue but were going to do it as a result of this meeting, which I thought to be a positive response.  The purpose is, to form and make One Department within NASA solely for R&D for Body Armor ONLY, and nothing else. The second is the technology of liquid body armor by Dr. Norman Wagner, to be used in the making of the soft body armor as well as the helmets. The third is to get the President, the Senate, and Congress to fund such a project which I have found to be like climbing Mount Everest, backwards, but I still have not given up on this concept, nor will I ever.

Over the years of writing to the political machine in Washington, it has been disappointing at times, but not enough to prevent me from continuing with my writing. I have found that some are disconnected with the needs of the Military and their families on the issue of Body Armor in particular.  There are some that have no idea what anguish, pain and many sleepless nights the families endure when their loved ones are deployed. But yet, they still sit on committees in which they hold the power to make a difference, and yet, they do not act, or act quickly enough when called upon.

I have found that the subject of the military with most people in general, have no idea on what anguish truly means, and don’t care. Unless you walk in our shoes, can you truly understand what our Troops and their Military families go through and the great scarifies they make every day for this great nation.

  When we have designs, redesigns and recall’s of Body Armor for several years, without making any great strides in the area of weight and protection, this is why I do, what I do, and why the families are so concerned! Have I set the bar too high for Washington on what I ask of them? I think not! This request is not one that can’t be quickly reached; we must move more rapidly and think outside the box on this one!

I truly understand the willingness of our military leaders to unfailingly fight for the best, but my concerns are not so much with the military but with the committees that tie the hands of the military on so many issues. I realize that I have made no friends, in Washington. Some may even hate me for the writing of these letters to the military and Washington, but that’s alright. If I can make a difference and save one life, then I can look in the mirror and say it was a good day and it was all worth it, no matter what people think of me! As my 1st Sergeant always said, “Respect is not given, it is Earned”, and the Troops have earned my respect many times over, past and present.

I will continue the push forward on my requests, as so many lives are on the line, so bare with me on my letters, e-mails and phone calls; I do this on behalf of all the TROOPS.

I look forward to hearing from you again and thank you for your time and Godspeed to you General, and maybe someday our paths will cross.

Americans never quit.

General Douglas Macarthur

US WWII general & war hero (1880 – 1964)

Sincerely,

Michael J. F. Bucca Sr.

Hanover, Massachusetts 

“Veteran and Father of a proud Marine”

SFTT Editor’s Note:   This is an open letter from Michael Bucca, a “veteran and father of a proud Marine,” to General James T. Conway, Commondant of the Marine Corps.   While Mr. Bucca’s suggestions to engage NASA do not necessarily represent the position of SFTT, we do agree that seeking better protective gear and combat equipment for our frontline troops should become a National Priority.   Let’s raise our voices to support these brave young men and women who defend our freedoms.   Join SFTT and add your voice to Mr. Bucca’s to get our frontline troops the best available combat equipment.

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Body Armor and the NASA Connection

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April 29, 2010

President Barack H. Obama II

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

President Barack H. Obama II:

Dear Mr. President,

I know what you’re thinking, it’s him again! Well, I’d like to say it wasn’t, however. The issue is Body Armor Design or should I say the lack of its advancement of lighter and better ballistics.

I have reached out many times to two Administrations of, Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and Military etc. and continue to hit a brick wall on the creation and establishment of one department within NASA. I believe this concept could be a straightforward one with the help of you, Mr. President, Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen. With this partnership, you can make all of this happen.

Mr. President, you had once stated that “If someone has a better idea, I’m listening”. Well the concept is simple, to have NASA solely dedicated one department (assemble one) for the R&D of Body Armor, nothing more and nothing less than that. This would be their ONLY task to do at NASA and nothing else. It will not work by having meeting’s or studies with NASA, or forming committees on top of committees.

I will continue to reach out to you and your Administration on this issue. When you believe in something as strongly as I do, you press on no matter what, as you well know Mr. President. I realize you are a very busy man, and that there is never a good time for such a request. I feel that I must reach out for your help on my request. I’m hoping that you concur and push this forward. In closing, I am not a man of power or influence; however I’m a man of determination and conviction for all our troops.

I look forward to hearing from all of you, and thank you all for your time.

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

Abraham Lincoln

16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

Sincerely,

Michael J. F. Bucca Sr.

Hanover, Massachusetts

“Veteran and Father of a proud Marine”

Editor’s Note: We appreciate Mr. Bucca for sharing his letter to President Obama with SFTT. His letter reflects the views of many concerned parents  whose sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  SFTT and its members and volunteers pledge ourselves to continue our campaigns to make sure our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

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GAO Recommendations on Body Armor Testing

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To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

 

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

 

[NB: DOD quietly dropped its opposition to this GAO recommendation and an “independent experts’ review” of Army/DOD ballistic test protocols has started. One retired Army general was assigned to the panel, raising some doubt as to just how “independent” this panel truly is.]

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

[NB: Quoting from footnote 1, page 77 of the GAO report: “… the most current Army Test Operating Procedure for testing body armor had not been updated since 1975. Test Operations Procedure (TOP), 10-2-506 Ballistic Testing of Personnel Armor Materials. So there it is in all its unvarnished ugliness — another key indicator of just how little the Army’s Leadership and defense contractors value the American Grunt. For testing life-or-death gear, i.e., personal protective equipment, use a 35-year old set of test protocols. Then, when forced by public pressure to address the issue, in typical Washington fashion, appoint a panel, a commission, “to study” the issue. How long will this study will take, and how many warriors will fall on the killing fields while the scandalous situation is being “studied” are two issues blithely ignored in this GAO report.]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the GAO Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Body Armor Testing: What the GAO found

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During Preliminary Design Model testing the Army took significant steps to run a controlled test and maintain consistency throughout the process, but the Army did not always follow established testing protocols and, as a result, did not achieve its intended test objective of determining as a basis for awarding contracts which designs met performance requirements.

In the most consequential of the Army’s deviations from testing protocols, the Army testers incorrectly measured the amount of force absorbed by the plate designs by measuring back-face deformation in the clay backing at the point of aim rather than at the deepest point of depression.

The graphic depicts the difference between the point of aim and the deepest point.

GAO Body Armor Test Explanation

[NB: So, there it is — GAO is telling the Congress that after two and one-half years, Army testing failed, and failed so abysmally that $121 Million in protective plates already produced and in warehouses awaiting distribution were designated unsafe to issue because their qualifying tests were unreliable.]

Army testers recognized the error after completing about a third of the test and then changed the test plan to call for measuring at the point of aim and likewise issued a modification to the contract solicitation. [NB: Yes, you read this sentence correctly. After having the error pointed out to them, Army test officials decided the “fix” was to change the test plan/requirements so that this flaw would be consistent throughout all testing!!]

At least two of the eight designs that passed Preliminary Design Model testing and were awarded contracts would have failed if measurements had been made to the deepest point of depression. The deviations from the testing protocols were the result of Aberdeen Test Center’s incorrectly interpreting the testing protocols. In all these cases of deviations from the testing protocols, the Aberdeen Test Center’s implemented procedures were not reviewed or approved by the Army and Department of Defense officials responsible for approving the testing protocols. After concerns were raised regarding the Preliminary Design Model testing, the decision was made not to field any of the plate designs awarded contracts until after First Article Testing was conducted.

During First Article Testing, the Army addressed some of the problems identified during Preliminary Design Model testing, but GAO observed instances in which Army testers did not follow the established testing protocols and did not maintain internal controls over the integrity and reliability of data, raising questions as to whether the Army met its First Article Test objective of determining whether each of the contracted designs met performance requirements. The following are examples of deviations from testing protocols and other issues that GAO observed:

  • The clay backing placed behind the plates during ballistics testing was not always calibrated in accordance with testing protocols and was exposed to rain on one day, potentially impacting test results.
  • Testers improperly rounded down back-face deformation measurements, which is not authorized in the established testing protocols and which resulted in two designs passing First Article Testing that otherwise would have failed. Army officials said rounding is a common practice; however, one private test facility that rounds told GAO that they round up, not down.

[NB: So, a private test facility rounds BFD up, benefiting the soldier while the U.S. Army rounds BFD down, benefiting whom? If you guessed “contractors,” you got it right. Yet, the Army and the Pentagon continue to chant their mantra: force protection is our number one priorityforce protection is our number one priority. True, combat is inherently dangerous and unpredictable — but adding risks and hazards by issuing sub-standard protective gear grounds this mantra into a hollow and empty phrase.  Especially if you allow this chant to accompany media reports of a fallen warrior’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery or upon arrival of a flag-draped coffin at Dover AFB — “force protection is our number one priority…”.  It is simply an outrage that in the second decade of the 21st Century, American grunts still get the short straw when it comes to personal protective equipment?]

  • Testers used a new instrument to measure back-face deformation without adequately certifying that the instrument could function correctly and in conformance with established testing protocols. The impact of this issue on test results is uncertain, but it could call into question the reliability and accuracy of the measurements.
  • Testers deviated from the established testing protocols in one instance by improperly scoring a complete penetration as a partial penetration. As a result, one design passed First Article Testing that would have otherwise failed.

With respect to internal control issues, the Army did not consistently maintain adequate internal controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of test data. In one example, during ballistic testing, data were lost, and testing had to be repeated because an official accidentally pressed the delete button and software controls were not in place to protect the integrity of test data. Army officials acknowledged that before GAO’s review they were unaware of the specific internal control problems we identified.

As a result of the deviations from testing protocols that GAO observed, four of the five designs that passed First Article Testing and were certified by the Army as ready for full production would have instead failed testing at some point during the process, either during the Preliminary Design Model testing or the subsequent First Article Test. Thus, the overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain. Although designs passed testing that would not have if the testing protocols were followed, independent ballistics experts have not assessed the impact of the deviations from the testing protocols to determine if the effect of the deviations is sufficient to call into question the ability of those designs to meet requirements.

[NB; This sentence merits VERY close attention. GAO has raised the crucial issue of whether, for this life-or-death equipment, in use by DOD for over ten years, there is a problem with “the ability of those [protective plate] designs to meet requirements,” There is no dispute that in this sample of the five designs tested, four designs actually failed!! Notwithstanding that U.S. Army test officials certified these 4 failed designs as ready for full production.]

Vendors whose designs passed First Article Testing have begun production of plates. The Army has ordered 2,500 sets of plates (at two plates per set) from these vendors to be used for additional ballistics testing and 120,000 sets of plates to be put into inventory to address future requirements. However, to date, none of these designs have been fielded because, according to Army officials, there are adequate numbers of armor plates produced under prior contracts already in the inventory to meet current requirements.

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Why the GAO Study on Body Armor Testing?

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The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts.   The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army’s awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing.

Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.

[NB: To this day, we are not aware of any plans Congress has to direct an independent, transparent, “expert ballistics evaluation” of the personal protective plates issued to America’s frontline troops.  A Member or either the House or Senate Armed Services Committee must introduce directive language into the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY  2011” calling for requirements provided in the GAO report that will re-set appropriate testing protocols. For the benefit of congressional staff reading this report, GAO is pointing out that if Congress wants to know the full extent of the flawed testing, DOD and the Army must bring in outside experts to make this determination. Again, this takes legislation.  Stop and think for a minute about the full implications of this seemingly simple statement. GAO is not explicitly stating that the Army and DOD do not have the requisite engineers, or technicians. GAO is saying in classic read-between-the-lines Washington-speak that the Army/DOD consortium cannot be trusted to conduct an honest, scientifically-objective test. That the GAO felt the need to issue this blatant appeal for outside intervention is a sad commentary on the quality of our government’s commitment to ensuring our frontline troops wear only the “best-available” personal protective equipment. For those who have lost count, these frontline troops are approaching their ninth anniversary on the killing fields and the Army/DOD team has yet to demonstrate that it can conduct a reliable, repeatable ballistic test. BTW, GAO understandably did not address the issue of previous tests, but given the significant flaws identified by GAO in this two-and-one-half year investigation, any logical reader can justifiably question the validity of earlier tests. These questions include both the test protocols and the actual conduct of the tests (the competence and integrity of the testers). ]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Military Body Armor Supplier Files for Bankruptcy

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Point Blank Solutions Inc.,  who claims to be the leading manufacturer of body armor,  filed for bankruptcy protection on April 14, 2010.   Citing Court filings, Reuters reports that the Florida-based (Pompano Beach) company “supplies more than 80 percent of the U.S. military’s soft body armor vest requirements . . .”  

Claiming mounting legal bills in the trial of former CEO David Brooks – currently on trial in New York for securities fraud and other related crimes – Point Blank Inc. and three affiliates  filed for Chapter 11  protection in US Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.  Tom Hals reports that  “former CEO, David Brooks, was listed as the company’s largest shareholder with a 22.6 percent stake. The company has also been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the subject of a shareholder lawsuit, and spends about $600,000 a month on legal fees, according to court documents.”

The South Florida Business Journal reports that Point Blank CEO and Chairman of the Board, James Henderson issued a news release stating that “We have won several key contracts, paid down a substantial amount of our debt and realigned our business to return to profitability.  Without a financing facility and with mounting legacy expenses, however, we had to take this step to reorganize.”

The South Florida Business Journal goes on to report that “in 2007, Point Blank sued its former CEO  (Brooks)  for the return of more than $4 million and other company assets.  Also, in 2008, the company settled a class action lawsuit and a shareholder derivative suit for $34.9 million in cash and 3.18 million shares of its common stock.”

Formerly known as DHB Industries, Point Blank was also cited for supplying body armor to the Marines in 2004 that didn’t meet specifications.  As reported by Nathanial Helms for Defense Watch, “as early as July 19, 2004, according to memos obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found ‘major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank.’ One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements.   Faced with a severe shortage of body armor the Army decided that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements would be sent to troops overseas anyway, according to court records. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor.”   Despite the fact that Point Blank had been consistently supplying the U.S. Marines with substandard equipment, on July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.”  Go figure. 

It does seem grossly negligent that the US Army and Defense Department continues to employ contractors whose very public financial problems, questionable integrity and lax quality standards should be allowed to bid upon body armor contracts let alone supply our troops with critical protective gear.   SFTT, families of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the media have been questioning US military body armor procurement practices for years.   At every step of the way, we have been stonewalled. 

The October 2009 GAO report recommending independent body armor testingconfirms what everyone knows:  there is something rotten in the State of our military procurement process.   Why should our frontline troops and their families continue to suffer because our military leadership has for so long turned a blind eye to this situation?  Will the bankruptcy of Point Blank finally bring about needed changes? 

If past history is any indication, our military leadership will coddle Point Blank through their bankruptcy reorganization.   Our military leadership needs to make a clean break with Point Blank and get our troops the body armor they deserve.  Let’s hope they do, but we will be vigilant.

Richard W. May

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Unreliable Body Armor Tests Place US Troops at Risk

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For those who have been following my summary for SFTT of the October 2009 110-page report on the GAO report to Congress entitled Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding, (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf) I salute you. While one tries to remain as objective as possible, this damning report by the GAO proves conclusively that our military leadership has not been candid with the American public.

As a retired military officer, I wish I could take for granted that our military leadership will do everything possible to insure that our frontline troops have the best possible combat equipment to accomplish their mission and return from combat safely and in one piece. But, based on my previous investigative reporting, now confirmed by the October, 2009 GAO body armor report, there is no question in my mind that our brave young men and women do not have properly tested body armor. I fear for their safety and well-being.

The GAO report and my persistent inquiries to get to the bottom of this disgraceful body armor testing process should rock every citizen’s core belief in the integrity of the military chain of command.  This uneasy feeling in my stomach has now been compounded by the DOD and US Army “spin” on the GAO findings.

The GAO has now documented (with empirical data backing up their claims) what the Army, with Secretary of Defense concurrence, actually did to test body armor: They consistently failed to follow established test procedures and gave a “pass” to protective gear that would have failed normal testing procedures!

The DOD seems to be invoking the “bigger picture” argument to cover-up their blatantly flawed test procedures. Make no mistake, our front-line troops is simply a “low-threshold asset” to the DOD as it considers its military procurement priorities.  Specifically, GAO has documented how the DOD and the US Army collaborated to control test protocols and tests that weaken, degrade and gut “factors of safety” to levels demonstrably below the “threshold operational requirement” that they claim define their own standards.

And, if after reading the GAO report and SFTT’s previously posted analyses, the reader has any lingering doubt about the Army/DOD clear bias in favor of contractors, here’s one more GAO quote dealing with the specific issue of whether to measure Back Face Deformation (BFD) at deepest point or at point of aim: The DOD stated that “this decision was made by Army leadership in consultation with the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because this would not disadvantage any vendor.”

There you have it. The “smoking-gun” admission that the default-driver for Army acquisition decisions regarding body armor is not what’s best for our frontline troops; it’s “not disadvantaging any vendor.”

Why would the Army leadership overrule its technical experts and it’s direct line-supervisor on such an issue? The GAO comments only that it “did not independently assess all factors being considered” by the Army leadership when it made this stupefying decision. (Might Congress want to make just such an independent assessment?)

The DOD and the US Army, trying to defend the indefensible make this incredulous statement about their joint commitment to providing the best personal protective equipment to America’s frontline troops: “Inherent in this process was consideration by the DOD to incorporate into the contractual requirements, where appropriate, factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement.”

Please note the “where appropriate.” Behind this seemingly innocuous admission lies the Army’s startling acknowledgement that military procurement practices take precedence over the lives and safety of the brave men and women serving in harm’s way!! I can’t imagine that this callous disdain for our brave heroes will go down to well with the American public.

Now, folks, in 46 years of watching spin and a wide variety of world-class mendacity from the Department of Defense, this statement about “factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement” just may qualify as their all-time twisting of the truth. The in-your-face falsity would be farcically funny, were it not for the tragic reality that young Americans, the best our great nation can produce, have died and continue to die wearing sub-standard, inferior body armor.

Please consider these Body Armor Facts:

  • The DOD has $121 million of body armor plates sitting in warehouses, plates that GAO identified as having been wrongly designated as “passed” following flawed, unreliable DOD testing, and
  • These flawed plates will not be issued to US military forces.

In the three specific instances from the GAO report cited in previous articles on the SFTT, where the choice involved a trade off between increasing risk to the Soldier or increasing risk to the contractors, the Army (fully supported by the Department of Defense) selected the option that increased risk to the Soldier, while decreasing risk/cost to the contractors!

The critical unanswered question is: Will Congress follow up on the GAO report and demand accountability from our military leadership?

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, you might want to ask your own congressional representatives how they stand on this issue. I have attached links below to help you contact your US Senator and US Congressional Representative.

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Senators

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Congressional Representatives

This is a matter of life and death. We owe it to our heroes to Sound Off!

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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Should US Troops Wear Body Armor?

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There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians.   This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.

I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way:  Send in the Peace Corps.   It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.

Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety.  Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command. 

Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor

QUOTE

Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor.  “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.

That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.”  Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.

Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers.  Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”

UNQUOTE

Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal.   Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded.    As Alice in Wonderland said:  This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Richard W. May

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Basic Five B.E.S.T Campaign to Support the Troops

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Ever since its inception, Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) has been focused on insuring that our frontline troops have the best possible equipment to accomplish their mission and come home alive safely and in one piece.  Our campaigns have been based on providing our troops with the “Best Equipment to Support the Troops,”  often referred to as our “B.E.S.T.” Campaign strategy.   While much of our recent investigative reporting has been focused on body armor, SFTT will soon be extending its investigative reporting to cover the BASIC FIVE combat equipment items necessary to properly equip our brave heroes serving in harm’s way:  Body Armor, Helmets, Rifles, Sidearms and Combat Boots. 

 

BODY ARMOR TO WARD OFF LIFE-THREATENING INJURY

When it comes to saving lives, the Military’s standard-issue body armor has been independently tested and shown to be significantly inferior to body armor worn by knowledgeable high-ranking officers, top civilian officials, their body guards, contractors in Iraq, Special Forces with discriminatory funds and others with the luxury of choice.

 

HELMETS

Standard-issue helmets which ignore current human factors engineering and are far from optimally effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries, the Iraq war’s signature injury. 

 

RIFLES THAT AREN’T JAMMERS

The CAR-4 standard-issue rifle is a modified version of the M-16, which our troops have complained about since Vietnam. Forty-five years later, impractical maintenance requirements still contribute to all-too-common jamming, a fatal flaw on the battlefield.

 

MILITARY SIDEARMS THAT SHOOT STRAIGHT

The standard-issue 9 millimeter pistol has reliability and trust problems. The bottom line: it has too often failed to stop a determined opponent.

 

COMBAT BOOTS THAT FIT THE MISSION

The standard-issue combat boot—designed to be all-purpose—is a footwear failure. When America commits to “boots on the ground,” the troops should have mission, climate and terrain-specific gear that can go the distance.

Like our ongoing investigation into body armor, it is clear that our frontline troops have deficient combat equipment and our military leadership has done little – if anything – to properly equip them for their hazardous mission.  Over the coming weeks and months we will provide you with some of our preliminary findings and I am convinced that you too will share our outrage at how our troops are presently outfitted for combat.

 I still vividly recall David’s and my outrage over Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s cynical and uncaring response to Army Spc. Thomas Wilson plea for better equipment:  “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”    We were outraged for the rest of Hack’s life and I still am!!!!

Paraphrasing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “Troops go to war with the military leadership they have – not the leadership they deserve!” It is sad to say that almost 6 years later, our military leadership hasn’t yet to take the necessary steps to provide our frontline troops with the equipment they deserve. Shame on you Secretary Rumsfeld and shame on our military leaders who continue to sidestep the safety of our troops.

Eilhys England

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DOD Body Armor Testers Ignore Protocols

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In previous news articles for SFTT, I had reported on the rather cavalier (“incompetent”  or “negligent” might be better words) treatment given to body armor testing by the DOD and the US Army.  When in doubt (and there should be no doubt when lives are at stake!), these body armor testers consistently skewed test results in favor of contractors to the detriment of  soldiers in combat who have no legal alternative than to use “approved” military-issue protective equipment.

For years, SFTT has consistently argued that US Army and DOD test procedures have been compromised by less than impartial testing and these arguments have now been confirmed by the GAO which in October, 2009 issued it’s damning indictment of US Army test procedures  to Congress:  “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.”

In yet another example of their flawed test procedures, the GAO reports on how DOD testers interpreted “partial” body armor penetration.    The GAO observed  the penetration of small debris through a plate that the DOD testers had counted as only a partial penetration.  Test protocols require that penalty points be assigned when any fragment of the armor material inbeds in, or passes into, the soft under garment (Kevlar backing) behind the plate.

The GAO observed small fragments from the armor three layers deep inside the Kevlar backing, and noted that this shot should have received 1.5 penalty points, causing the tested body armor to have failed phase two testing (First Article Testing).

DOD testers counted the shot as only a partial penetration, contending because no Kevlar fibers in the backing were broken, it did not meet criteria for being counted as a complete penetration of the plate.   When GAO pointed out that the requirement for broken fibers is consistent with DOD’s approved, written test protocols, they acknowledged that the criterion for broken fibers was “not described in the testing protocols or otherwise documented . . . ”

That’s right.   When GAO pointed out that the written test protocols did not require “broken fibers,” the DOD testers admitted that GAO was right, and still improperly assigned the test shot as only being a “partial penetration”!

And in case you have not already guessed, this blatant denial of DOD’s test protocol was effectively bypassed by DOD testers who effectively wrote their “own test standard protocol.”  This allowed a contractor’s armor to pass Phase 2 Testing when it should have been evaluated as a failure.

The GAO study notes that this armor design was also one of the designs that would have failed had BFD been measured at the deepest point of the depression, rather than at the point of aim, during the Phase One (Preliminary Design Model) tests.

So, this particular contractor essentially required two “waivers” from DOD testers for their product to be given a passing evaluation. Not a problem for the DOD testers; the design got a “pass,” and were it not for the GAO oversight, these plates would have been issued to our frontline troops.

Still keeping score?:  Contractors – 3,  Soldiers – 0.

As a retired military officer, it pains me to see grown men quibbling over body armor test procedures and interpretations of test results.  When the lives of men and women serving our country in hazardous combat zones are at stake, there can be no room for error.  Our heroes deserve better.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

Review the GAO Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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