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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Picking up the Torch for Col. David Hackworth

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My valiant, wonderful husband, Colonel David (Hack) Hackworth, one of America’s greatest heroes and most valor-decorated soldiers, died in my arms two years ago this past May (Editor’s note:  This was written by Col. Hackworth’s wife three years ago on the second anniversary of his death).  During the last weeks we shared, he thought not a wit about himself; and his love for me burned so brightly I still feel surrounded by that awesome warmth.  But he worried too about the frontline troops he spent his life protecting and particularly about Soldiers For The Truth (“SFTT”), the foundation we started together.  So I promised Hack I’d pick up the torch and keep SFTT viable – and continue our commitment to get the kids out at the tip of the spear the best leadership, training and equipment.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  In spite of the major stories we broke – such as the lack of up-to-date body armor or none at all when the troops first went back into Iraq or the unarmored hummers or Abu Ghraib, which pointed so clearly to flaws in both training and leadership – most people we addressed when we tried to raise awareness and funds found it difficult to accept that our soldiers and Marines weren’t getting the right stuff with which to wage war.  Even though we eventually came to expect the disconnect, we always found it hard to compute — but that was because for many years we were often first to report outrages like the Tillman cover-up in our weekly column DEFENDING AMERICA, which Hack would also discuss every week on TV and radio.  To disbelieving ears, of course, but he kept getting booked because he had better pundit credentials than most and good TV-Q, probably because he was as quick and deadly with words as he’d been in battle.

Only recently have I noticed that we’re gaining more traction and I suspect it’s mainly because the Walter Reed debacle so deeply shocked and touched the nation.  Suddenly we were all confronting what Hack had warned us about on Larry King when we first went into Iraq:  in spite of all our vows to the contrary, we’ve allowed ourselves to be sucked into another Vietnam with far greater potential fall-out.  Sure, because of medical and technological advances, we won’t have a black granite wall listing 58,000 fallen warriors; but depending upon how much longer we’re stuck in Iraq, we’re likely to have far more than 58,000 wounded, many grievously.

Excellent organizations offer countless services to take care of the troops, from entertaining them in Iraq to helping them and their families when they come home.  The USO, Wounded Warrior, Fisher House and so on.  But no organization except SFTT is dedicated day in, day out to being there for our stalwart warriors as they stand tall for their country out in the shifting sands of the Valley of the Shadow of Death — to try to prevent them from being killed or wounded in the first place.

As we entered last spring the fifth year of this terrible war, SFTT will formally announce the new Basic Five campaign to get America’s frontline troops the best available of the five most essential items of personal combat gear so they have the best possible chance to complete their assigned missions and make it home alive and in one piece in a plane seat instead of a body bag or on a stretcher.  Doesn’t it seem criminal that the richest nation in the world, which spends more than the rest of the world combined on defense, can’t budget responsibly enough to provide its sons and daughters with a helmet that will prevent many more of the endemic, life-altering head injuries?  With the same better body armor the generals choose – and wear hidden under their uniforms?  With a rifle that’s not a jammer like Jessica Lynch’s M-16 and that’s at least as effective as the AK-47, the terrorists’ weapon-of-choice?  With a sidearm that’s reliable and deadly in tight situations?   And with boots capable of going the bloody distance?

No wonder Hack died worrying about the troops.  But if more Americans stay mindful of the dreadful consequences of war and help SFTT carry Hack’s torch, we can together “SUPPORT THE TROOPS WITH MORE THAN LIP SERVICE” and make sure more of our brave volunteers survive whatever lies ahead.

Eilhys England

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Severe Clear debuts in NY

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Severe Clear, a documentary based primarily on footage shot by Marine First Lt. Mike Scotti on his Mini-DV, shows Marines in combat during the early days of combat in Iraq in 2003, opened today in New York City.

Severe Clear, which I have not seen, was reviewed today in the New York Times and vivdly describes combat conditions during the early days of the assault on Baghdad by Lt. Scotti’s unit.  The documentary, drawing largely from Lt. Scotti’s video sequences and his journals, was directed by Kristian Fragas.

Stephen Holden, who reviewed the documentary, comments that “More than the battle scenes filmed with a jiggling, hand-held camera, the profane, hyper-macho banter and roughhousing among the men in Lieutenant Scotti’s unit are what make you feel part of the experience. So do his complaints: about the awful food, lack of adequate body armor, and the endless sand. At least at the start, the troops share a righteously gung-ho fighting spirit.”

Certainly, this documentary appears to be far more realistic than the staged but vivid film sequences in The Hurt Locker, which won Oscars for “Best Film” and “Best Direction.”   It appears that Severe Clear has only been released in one theater in New York City.  I would appreciate any reviews and comments from SFTT readers who have seen the film.  Severe Clear carries an “R” rating.

As Roger Charles points out in his detailed analysis of the October 2009 GAO report recommending “Independent Testing” of body armor, I am fearful that not much has been done to improve the body armor for our troops since Lt. Scotti and his fellow Marines served in Iraq some 7 years ago.

Richard W. May

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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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Flawed Army Test Procedures for Body Armor

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I had previously reported that the GAO had found that the Army’s practice of incorrectly rounding down back-face deformations (“BFD”) would have caused two body armor designs that passed First Article Testing to “have failed if the measurements had not been rounded.”   This is just one of many testing anomalies  chronicled in the 110 page GAO report entitled:  Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.

Not satisfied with the advantage granted contractors by rounding down BFD, the Army and DOT&E team found another blatantly suspect maneuver that placed Soldiers at higher risk while decreasing the risks and costs to contractors.   This  scheme involved the question of where to measure Back-Face Deformation (“BFD”)?  Seems like it’s a non-issue:  Take the measurement at the deepest point of the depression in the clay backing. 

GAO thought so, and said:   “According to original testing protocols, back-face deformation, was to be measured at the deepest point of the depression in the clay backing . . .  According to Army officials, the deeper the back-face deformation measured in the clay backing, the higher the risk of internal injury or death.”  

Not so fast.  The Army and DOT&E team decided that what counted, and what should determine where the measurement of BFD was taken, was the point of aim for the test shot.  They bandied about some convoluted trigonometric gobbledygook involving “plate curvature variances,” degrees of obliquity, and “the reference plane across the diameter of the indentation.” (There’s more, but I will spare the reader. For those so inclined, see pages 16-21 of the GAO report for the Army DOT&E technical bunkum, and the GAO’s devastating rebuttal on pages 78-84.)

GAO makes this additional point:    “Army Research Laboratory and [Department of Justice]-certified laboratories use the benchmark process of measuring back-face deformation at that deepest point, not at the point of aim.”

There is it is:  Both the Army’s own premier research laboratory, and the Department of Justice agency responsible for testing all domestic law enforcement equipment, both require that BFD be measured at the deepest point.

When you add the “Rounding Down” practices previously reported  to the “pick your point of impact” practiced by Army testers, you have test results that are simply a joke.  Unfortunately, for our brave young men and women serving in harm’s way, this is no laughing matter.

For those keeping score:  Contractors – 2   Soldiers – 0

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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Flawed Body Armor Tests: “Rounding” Measurements

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The October, 2009 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report to Congress, entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,”  confirms deviations from approved US Army testing protocols, “the majority of which seem to make the testing easier to pass and favor the vendors . . .”   One glaring example of this skewed testing in favor of military suppliers are “Rounding” Measurements of Back-face Deformation (“BFD”).

When a test bullet strikes the target ceramic ballistic protective plate and does not penetrate the plate, the impact of the strike can make a depression in the clay backing placed behind the plate to simulate the plate being worn on a torso.  In the ballistic testing world, this depth of this depression is called BFD, and the degree of BFD is can be cause for assigning a “limited failure” or even a “catastrophic failure” to that specific test plate, depending on the measured BFD.  (Visualize the depth of the BFD to the clay backing of a test plate and then visualize having your sternum or spinal column depressed by 1.7 inches to 1.9 inches to get an idea of why BFD  is a “BFD”.)

For the testing reported on by this GAO inquiry, for a first test shot a BFD greater than 43 millimeters (1.7 inches) but less than 48 millimeters (1.9 inches) is evaluated as a “limited failure,” while a BFD “greater than 43 millimeters on a second shot” also qualifies a “limited failure.” Any BFD on any shot equal to or greater than 48 millimeters is evaluated as a “catastrophic failure.”

During these Back-Face Deformation Tests (“BFD”), the GAO noted:  “Army testers rounded down back-face deformation measurements which is not authorized in established testing protocols . . .”    Take a deep breath, and read that sentence again.   The Army and the DOT&E had a choice when it came to rounding (if they wanted to do it at all). They chose to round down.   Here’s an example cited in the GAO report:  On one shot with a BFD measured as 43.306, the Army recorded the 43.306 mm BDF as a 43 mm BFD, and the shot went from “failed” based on empirical data, to passed (with no penalty).  

GAO wrote about the overall test sample (of 14 shots) from which the immediately preceding BFD data was taken:   According to official test data, only 7 of these 14 shots were failures (50 percent). This is due to the Army’s practice of incorrectly rounding down back-face deformations during First Article Testing [phase 2].  One shot that resulted in a back-face deformation of 43.306 was officially rounded down to 43 and not penalized, but had Army testers [and their DOT&E overseers] followed the protocols and not rounded this result down, 8 of the 14 shots would have resulted in penalties.

The result is crystal clear: When presented with an opportunity to select an option that could have decreased risk to Soldiers while increasing risk/cost to contractors, the Army and DOT&E chose the opposite. DOD chose the option that increased risk to Soldiers while reducing risk/cost to contractors.

 Pouring salt into the Army/DOT&E festering sore, GAO wrote:  “. . . officials we spoke with from one private industry ballistics testing facility said that their practice was to always round results up, not down . . . As a result of rounding [down], two designs passed First Article Testing that would have failed if the measurements had not been rounded.”

If you are keeping score:  Contractors – 1   Soldiers – 0

Unfortunately, there is more to these consistently contrived test procedures that I will report in subsequent news articles for SFTT.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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GAO Report Slams Body Armor Test Procedures

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The October, 2009 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) Report to Congressional Requesters, titled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” contains this devastating observation:

“Due to these deviations [from approved testing protocols], the majority of which seem to make the testing easier to pass and favor the vendors, we continue to believe that it is necessary to have an independent external expert review the results of First Article Testing and the overall effect of DOD’s deviations on those results before the plates are fielded.”

The GAO study confirms what SFTTand others have been saying for several years:  Flawed test procedures and the failure of the US Army to apply their own test protocols fairly and impartially has likely resulted in inferior body armor for US troops serving in harm’s way.    No wonder the Pentagon and its congressional enablers have tried to pretend that the report says something different from what GAO wrote into the official record.

In subsequent News updates for SFTT, I will cite specific examples as to why the GAO report is so devastating to the US Army and the Department of Defense and how contractors have generally been favored to the detriment of the safety of our frontline soldiers.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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SFTT Website Now Live

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After several months of redesign, the SFTT website is now back online to spread the message that we can all help to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear. 

Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation founded by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training.   SFTT is a non-partisan, apolitical foundation to provide our brave defenders and those who care deeply about them with a national platform that spotlights critical issues directly affecting their chances of both winning battles and surviving combat.

We are deeply thankful to Inguna and Gvido Trepsa of Ante Merdiem Design for their tireless effort to design a compelling and state-of-the-art website to support SFTT’s campaigns to support our front line troops. 

Learn how you can add your voice to the thousands of other that care deeply about the enormous sacrifice these young men and women make each day to defend our country.

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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 →

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