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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Flaws in M2 and M4 Expose Troops in Afghanistan

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Article first published as Deficient Guns Expose Troops in Afghanistan on Technorati.

On the heels of the General Accountability Office (“GAO”) report of the improper testing of body armor supplied to U.S. troops and the recall of 44,000 defective military helmets manufactured by Federal Prison Industries, comes equally discouraging news of serious deficiencies in the M4 carbine and M2 Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”) supplied to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In a report entitled “Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Take back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (11/09),” Army MAJ Thomas P. Ehrhart concludes that the M4 carbine as presently configured is not the proper weapon for the Afghan terrain. Bullets fired from M4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often at a distance of 2,000 to 2,500 feet.

Also discouraging is the alarming report from the Department of Defense (“DoD”) Inspector General (“IG”) that documents the blithering incompetence inside the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) is supplying spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun. The M2 .50-caliber HMG is better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

Senior Investigative Reporter Roger Charles of Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) reports that the “DLA did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure appropriate and effective contracting procedures related to contract quality assurance, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and oversight of contractor deliveries.

Specifically, contractors provided at least 7,100 non-conforming parts on 24 contracts.

  • DLA did not adequately process 95 of 127 product quality deficiency reports.
  • DLA did not deliver 60 spare part kits on time to support a U.S. Army program to overhaul 2,600 M2 machine guns and provided non-conforming parts in kits
  • DLA did not pursue adequate compensation from contractors who were significantly late in providing critical parts on 49 contracts.

The DoD IG inquiry was sparked by troops who cited “slow to no response” in receiving spare parts for this critical weapon to engage the enemy at distances beyond the range of the M4.

The slew of reports detailing inadequacies in the military procurement process indicate that these problems are truly systemic and require a total overhaul.

It is absolutely unacceptable that our military and political leaders seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way with the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive and in one piece. These alarming studies show that we have a serious problem in our military procurement system and unless Americans raise their voice and say “enough,” it is likely to continue that way.

Read more: http://technorati.com/politics/article/deficient-guns-expose-troops-in-afghanistan/#ixzz0q9M0kHwF

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PC Jihad Doctrine for US Troops at War

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In an eye-opening article published by American Thinker, two reporters sadly report that “political correctness” is now being applied to battlefield situations.  In an article which must be read in its entirety, authors Janet Levy and Nidra Poller conclude that “the highest levels of government enforce a policy on the military which effectively prevents consideration of the enemy doctrine of jihad.”

Please note that these two authors clearly have a political viewpoint that is not necessarily shared by SFTT, nevertheless, their comments and analysis do raise an important dilemma on how to motivate and lead troops in combat without offending the enemy.   Found below are some of the more interesting observations which I encourage SFTT readers to read in its entirety:

“At a recent briefing on cyber-terrorism in Washington, D.C., a former Navy SEAL repeatedly apologized for any statements in his lecture that could be misconstrued as anti-Muslim. He carefully qualified every negative reference to Muslims or Islam as excluding the vast majority of “peaceful[,] law-abiding” Muslims. The level of caution displayed by a military officer who had recently returned from a tour in Iraq and had served at a high level of military intelligence was disconcerting. The former SEAL wholeheartedly — perhaps unwittingly — accepted the role of “dhimmi,” an inferior who, under the provisions of Islamic law, does not have the right to self-defense.

“How could a member of an elite division of the U.S. Navy who had withstood arduous military preparation be fearful of merely offending Muslims? How does this mentality influence his effectiveness as a soldier and officer? His action in combat?

“Our citizens at home and our troops on the battlefield are disarmed by a narrative that imposes respect for a political-religious system that seeks their subjugation and death. As we saw with the former SEAL, our troops are taught that they must not openly expose the ideology of Islam, its goals and strategy. They risk their lives not to defeat the enemy and liberate local population, but to facilitate the consolidation of Islamic states governed by shari’ah law. Instead of combating jihad, they empower it!

“The war effort has been repackaged as a combination of Peace Corps, social work, and outreach to the Muslim community. Military personnel, held to strict one-way standards of religious sensitivity, are told that their mission is to build trust in the local population. This self-defeating strategy has gutted the rules of engagement, shackling our soldiers on the battlefield. Instead of fighting to kill, soldiers worry about facing charges and imprisonment for offending, harming, or frightening the enemy. Misplaced vigilance jeopardizes their own safety. Soldiers are punished not for cowardice or fraternizing with the enemy, but for lack of kid-gloves respect. Petty Officer Julio Huertas faced charges for allegedly punching and kicking Iraqi jihadist detainee Ahmed Hashim Abed, accused of the grisly murder of four American contractors whose mutilated corpses were hacked to pieces, burned, and strung up in Fallujah. In normal times, Huertas would have been hailed as a hero for capturing an archenemy. Colonel Alan West (currently running for Congress) was accused of “aggravated assault” for firing a pistol in the air to scare an Iraqi detainee into giving information on planned ambushes of his troops in Tikrit. Instead of being commended for protecting his men, Colonel West was forced into early retirement to avoid court-martial.

“Our troops are in double jeopardy: facing the enemy on the battlefield and the eventual jihadist in their ranks. Federal guarantees of religious freedom and non-discrimination prevent the rejection of Muslim recruits and, as we saw with the Fort Hood jihadi Major Hassan, can protect a Muslim soldier from being discharged for obvious, repeated misconduct. No precautions are taken, despite calls by the likes of U.S.-born Anwar Al-Awlaki pushing Muslim soldiers to kill their comrades. Rather than risk being seen as “Islamophobic,” officers risk the lives of their servicemen and women.

“Military personnel don’t revolt; they follow orders. How long can we expect them to follow orders from a commander in chief who does not honor his obligation to send them into battle under the best conditions? If they were civilians, would they obey orders from such an irresponsible leader? Would policemen risk their lives to maintain law and order if they were hobbled with such rules of engagement?

“The dangers faced by military personnel today stand in sharp contrast to the safe, comfortable living conditions of the general population, cushioned from distant battlefield realities, living in material abundance, and exempt from the draft. Our troops cannot prevail without material and moral support from our nation. But this support is stifled by a lethal narrative that criminalizes war, glorifies underhanded jihad fighting, and embraces subversion on the home front.”

Author’s Comment:  Clearly, our troops are under great stress and this new “moralistic” mind-set only makes their mission more complex and life-threatening.  I do not subscribe to many of the arguments and implicit suggestions of authors Levy and Poller; however, ambiguity in combat leads to the loss of lives.   Asking our troops to operate in a theater of war and expect them to behave like Peace Corps volunteers is simply absurd.   The military mission needs to be clarified – both for the troops in the field and the American public.   Don’t ask our young men and women in uniform to become the victims of political, social and religious debate that is best hashed out in college dorm rooms.  Keep the mission simple or these brave heroes will be coming home in a casket.   If we can’t keep the mission simple, bring the troops home now!

Richard W. May

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Army Tests 2,000 “Potentially Cracked” Ceramic Body Armor Plates: Where Are Results?

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Buried inside the devastating Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) October 2009 report on the Pentagon’s inability to demonstrate “overall reliability and repeatability” in body armor tests is this intriguing statement:

“Testing was halted for other high-priority tests involving 2,000 plates from Iraq that were identified as potentially cracked by nondestructive testing performed by the Army.” [Footnote 14, page 12,  GAO-10-119 Warfighter Support.]

Whoa . . . these are the very same ceramic protective plates that the Pentagon claims have never failed. Never.  Never  ever! Not a single time.  Not once in the past eight and one half years of combat in Afghanistan; not once in the past seven years of combat in Iraq.

By the way, this is the same GAO report that led to more than $121 million of ceramic plates being withheld from issuance to our frontline troops due to testing flaws that resulted in these plates not being certifiable as meeting the government’s performance specifications.

So, what gives?

Here’s just a bit of the back story on this battlefield miracle that sees no US grunt getting shot at (and hit) while wearing a ceramic protective plate before it develops cracks.  Bear with me while we examine the tortured logic behind the Pentagon’s incredible claim of “no failures” by going through the sequence of events leading to the discovery of “potentially cracked” plates.

STEP ONE:

Action:  Protective plate issued to trooper.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  100% pristine, perfect condition (no cracks, according to Army and DoD).   [Editor’s Note: Each plate is issued with “HANDLE WITH CARE” stenciled on the strike face. “HANDLE WITH CARE” for gear to be issued to frontline infantry?  If any reader knows of another item of personal gear issued to frontline troops with a similar label, please contact the SFTT Editor.]

STEP TWO:

Action:  Troops wear plates in combat operations until plates are selected for X-ray tests.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of plates develop cracks, in spite of “HANDLE WITH CARE” warning.

STEP THREE:

Action:  Nondestructive X-ray examination by Mobile X-ray system.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  X-ray system detects cracks in plates not detectable by visual inspection.  [Editor’s Note: Percentage of all plates X-rayed that were designated “potentially cracked” is unknown.]

STEP FOUR:

Action:  “Potentially cracked” plates pulled from use and 2,000 sent back to US for “priority tests.”

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of “potentially cracked” plates failed tests.

STEP FIVE:

Action:  Pentagon and Army press offices continue to claim “zero failures” for ceramic ballistic plates.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Frontline troops continue to wear plates that are not “potentially cracked” until discovered to be so by X-ray system.

Yep.  The Pentagon and the Army would have the mothers and fathers of America’s Grunts believe that every plate with cracks is magically detected by X-raying before ever receiving an enemy shot.

Anyone interested in this issue might query your elected representative and ask them to obtain the results of the “high- priority tests” of 2,000 “potentially cracked” plates as cited in the October 2009 GAO report.  Sound Off now and make sure that our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reportor and Editor SFTT

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M4 rifle faults in Afghanistan prompts debate

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Bob Owens, a Blogger for Pajamas Media, writes a very interesting article on the recently discredited M4 carbine now used by US troops in Afghanistan.  In an article entitled: Fox News Gets It Wrong: M4 Rifle Works Fine; the Problem Is the Cartridge, Mr. Owens argues persuasively that the problem is not with the M4 which he characterizes as being “long in the tooth,” but in the relatively weak 5.56mm caliber bullet used in this weapon. 

Mr. Owens goes on to suggest that “the 6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) was designed explicitly to overcome the shortcomings of the 5.56 cartridge. Just as importantly, it was specifically designed to work with the Army’s existing M4 rifles. It outclasses the AK-47s cartridge in every measurable way.”  Now I am not a ballistics or weapon’s specialist – in fact, the most lethal weapons in my arsenal are a knife and fork – but clearly something is amiss with the weapon and/or cartridge currently being used by our troops deployed in Afghanistan.  This was confirmed in a detailed US Army study on the effectiveness of the M4 by Maj. Thomas Ehrhart.

Mr. Owens then goes on to say that “the story that Fox News missed is a simple one: why hasn’t the Army begun upgrading it’s 5.56 M4 rifles to the more powerful 6.8 SPC cartridge? It offers superior performance at every range, with less recoil and weight than the heavier and older M14. No doubt there will be logistical hurdles to overcome in making such a transition during a time of war, and such transitions aren’t inexpensive, but they require almost no retraining and provide our soldiers with a distinct edge over their enemies.

Our media should be asking generals to explain why our soldiers are still using weapons in a caliber that was known to be suboptimal in many situations nearly half a century agoOur soldiers should have the best tools to complete their mission.”

Indeed, this is the question that SFTT, our troops and many concerned families have been asking our military leaders and those entrusted with providing our troops with the “best tools to complete their mission” and come home alive and in one piece.   Is it because we don’t want to undermine the complex trade and military supply agreements with other NATO countries to produce a “NATO-standard” weapon with “NATO-standard” cartridges?  I hope someone has the answers, because our military leaders don’t seem to know and, perhaps, don’t even care.

Richard W. May

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Congressman Carney and defective military helmets

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Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA) has rightfully asked that defective military helmets now produced by UNICOR or Federal Prison Industries (“FPI”) be turned over to private enterprise.  In yet another stunning indictment of a thoroughly incompetent, ineffective and some might argue corrupt military procurement system, the Department of Justice recently launched an investigation into the recall of 44,000 military helmets which failed to meet required military test procedures.   The contract was awarded to ArmorSource LLC, who in turned subcontracted the work to Federal Prison Industries. 

According to a Pennsylvannia Politics news release,  the Army apparently awarded Federal Prison Industries a contract to produce 600,000 Advanced Combat Helmets in 2007, more than half of the Army’s needs.  “This contract was awarded on a non-competitive basis to FPI pursuant to a provision in the U.S. procurement regulations that gives FPI the first right of refusal on contracts with the U.S. government.”

The article goes on state that in 2008 “FPI was awarded another ballistic helmet contract, this time for the delivery of 100,000 Lightweight Helmets for the U.S. Marine Corps. This represented 100 percent of the Marine Corps needs and effectively shut out private industry from supplying this product. Congressman Carney’s office has learned that under both of those contracts, Federal Prison Industries has failed to pass first article testing, the process to ensure the equipment meets specifications. Both contracts are now more than 18 months past due without a single acceptable helmet being delivered. And based upon information received from the U.S. Department of Justice, FPI’s production of helmets is under investigation.”

SFTT has not yet been able to confirm the allegations detailed by Congressman Carney’s office, but certainly the broad scale of this investigation is disturbing, but hardly surprising given the lax supervision and controls in our military procurement process.   It would be most interesting to know who the beneficial owners are of ArmorSource LLC and whether they have the “right” to subcontract work to third parties under US military contract awards.

Also, I understand that Congressman Carney believes that there are least two well-qualified firms in Pennsylvannia able to step in to produce the military helmets.   Since the private sector has proved to be as equally incomptent and negligent as FPI in producing combat equipment to specifications, I am hopeful that that “reliable” testing and vetting occur before any new contracts are awarded.  I am sure that Congressman Carney would place our National interests ahead of any parochial interests to insure that our young men and women have the best combat gear possible.

Richard W. May

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