IG Slams US Army Body Armor Testing Again!!

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In yet another scathing report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense entitled “Ballistic Testing for Interceptor Body Armor Inserts Needs Improvement,”  the IG “determined that ballistic testing and quality assurance for Inteceptor Body Armor did not have proper controls to ensure that the ballistic inserts met contract requirments.”

The IG report on shoddy US Army test procedures was released on August 1, 2011 and claims that the “Army Program Manager Soldier Equipment (PM SEQ) could provide only limited assurance that approved ballistic materials for approximately 5 million inserts on  seven contracts met the contract requirements.  Specifically, the following test procedures were not followed by PM SEQ:

  • On two contracts no testing was performed because the PM SEQ “had no protection performance concerns on the inserts;”
  • On all seven contracts, the PM SEQ did not always use the correct size ballistic insert for FATs, use a consistent methodology for measuring the proper velocity, or enforce the humidity and temperature requirements;
  • On six of the seven contracts, the PM SEQ did not require weathered and altitude tests.

The PM SEQ’s response to these glaring test deficiencies is the following:  ” . . . the size of the ballistic inserts , humidity and temperature would not affect test results . . . and the weathered and altitude tests were eliminated to expedite FAT in support of the urgent wartime requirement for ballistic inserts.

To readers of SFTT, this latest snub and blatant disregard for the IG Reports  by the Program Manager for Soldier Equipment should come as no surprise.  Nevertheless, it is hard to reconcile his cavalier approach to testing body armor plates considering the fact that the US Marine Corps X-Ray testing have concluded that battlefield.

As late as October 2010, US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Fort Belvoir insisted that “we have the best body armor by far” in response to a similar scathing report by the GAO.

For years, SFTT has campaigned to help insure that our troops have the best body armor available.  At every step of the way we have been stonewalled by the very same people entrusted to supply that equipment to our troops.  A Federal judge has asked the Defense Department to reach an out-of-court settlement on Senior SFTT Editor Roger Charles’ FOIA which provides vital information on the efficacy of ceramic body armor plates.

The sad reality is that defective ceramic plates are responsible for many battlefield casualties and deaths that could have been avoided.  How much longer does the public and our troops have to put up with these lies?

Really, imagine citing “urgent wartime requirements” for a war that has been going on for over 10 years and not testing ceramic plates  for “altitude, temperature or weathering” when the battlefied is Afghanistan.  After more than 5 years of sounding the alarm on the deficiency of military body armor, it is time to say goodbye to these hopeless bureaucrats at Ft. Belvoir and their supervisors at the Pentagon.  The safety of young men and women serving in harm’s way is far too important to be entrusted to them.

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Body Armor Lies Expose Corruption or Incompetence in Military Procurement Process

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Stand for the Troops was founded by Col. David Hackworth over 10 years ago with the very simple premise that grunts in combat deserve the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     It is a goal or expectation that I am sure most – if not all – patriotic Americans would support.    In light of recent Marine Corps testing of ceramic plates used in body armor, we now learn that roughly 5% of these life-saving plates are defective.

While one might argue that a 95% equipment reliability is pretty good, the US Army leadership has publicly insisted for years that these ceramic plates are 100% reliable and there have been no recorded deaths due to defective body armor plates.    This 5% gap is not about equipment reliability, it is a credibility gap that it so large that it undermines the integrity of the entire military procurement process and the military officers and civilians entrusted to administer these programs.

SFTT’s search for the truth regarding the testing and effectiveness of government approved body armor has been stonewalled at every step of the way by the Department of the Army and Department of Defense.  Indeed, we have documented numerous GAO, IG reports, equipment recalls and clear evidence of ceramic plate failures that suggest shoddy test procedures, improper supervision and control and lack of accountability of those entrusted with making sure our troops have the best protective gear available.   Why has our military leadership failed to level with the troops and the American public?

As late as October 2010, US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Fort Belvoir insisted that “we have the best body armor by far” in response to a scathing report by the GAO.     Really?  What hypocrisy.

Currently, SFTT Editor Roger Charles with the able assistance of the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis have sought to have forensic records of troops killed in action made public under the FOIA where there appears to be clear evidence of ceramic plate failures.  Ignoring a request from the federal district court judge to attempt an out-of-court settlement, the Defense Department continues to block the release of this information.    Why?

So insistent has been self-serving rhetoric from military officials that one concerned US Representative sent two letters to the Secretary of Defense inquiring whether rumors to the effect that medical aid and insurance would be withheld from troops not wearing government-issued body armor.  Why was this necessary?  Was it because troops knew that the government-issued equipment was defective and that there was more reliable protective gear available on the market?

In short, there is no end to the Beltway shuffle designed to keep a seemingly corrupt and, most certainly ineffective military procurement process hidden from public scrutiny.  How much longer do we need to endure this blatant cover-up?

Let’s face it.  The X-Ray machine has been around for over a hundred years.   Didn’t it ever occur to those silver-tongued bureaucrats to test for cracks in the last 10 years while there has been so much public inquiry into the effectiveness of our military body armor?

Call it what you will, but the lives of young men and women in uniform are at stake.  The time for Beltway spin and self-serving double-talk can no longer justify jeopardizing the safety of our brave heroes.

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Cracks in Body Armor Plates undermines US Army Credibility

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In what should come to no surprise to readers of SFTT, the Marine Corps has confirmed that government-issued ceramic plates used in body armor are flawed.   In an article published in the Marine Corps Times, James K. Sanborn reports that the US Marines are using X-Ray machines to detect “cracks” in the ceramic plates used in body armor.

According to Master Sgt. Mateo Mathis, operations chief at Program Manager Infantry Combat Equipment in Quantico, Va., So far, 40,000 plates about 5 percent of the 40,000 ceramic plates that have been subjected to the X-Ray tests have been found to have cracks.

Comments SFTT Editor Roger Charles

In this article the Marine Corps admits that the ceramic plates issued to only not perfect, but “about 5%” have “life-threatening flaws,” or as it prefers to call them, “cracks.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: if 95% of the plates X-rayed are not defective, that’s a hell of an accomplishment, and our troops and their families should feel good about this life-saving gear.

Why then does the Department of Defense continue its specious claims that the “success rate” on the battlefield is 100%.

That remains the case and this article doesn’t retract any previous claims that the ceramic plates issued to its Marine (and Navy corpsmen) have never failed, not a single time. That bit of honest disclosure is not there.

The key issue of whether these defective plates were in that condition when they left the manufacturers’ facilities or were made defective by use in combat theaters would seem to be a perfect issue for examination by the U.S. Congress. Don’t hold your breath — after nearly 10 years of non-stop combat, this obvious question was not been asked.

The article does quote one Marine trainer, “Plates are more easily damaged than many Marines realize… if the plate is dropped from 2- or 3-feet high, it could crack.”

As SFTT has previously written, the American public is expected to believe by some miracle all the defective plates are somehow discovered by these wonderful X-ray machines before there is a single impact from an enemy bullet. What are the odds?? (And what about the 8 or 9 years before the Corps had the X-ray machines?)

Left unsaid is how accurately the X-ray machines detect all cracks that could result in failure of the plate. For example, what size cracks are below the sensitivity of these X-ray machines, and do those smaller cracks lead to plate failure?

So, what appears on the surface to be an article of unmitigated “good news,” is somewhat less than that when placed into context of the continuing unanswered questions about Quality Control/Quality Assurance as practiced in the case of protective ceramic plates worn by America’s frontline troops.

Roger Charles

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Are ceramic plates safe in US body armor?

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SFTT reads with great interest that the US Army has awarded Ceradyne an order worth about $10 million for later in Q2, with completion estimated to be by Q3.

While one would not normally question our miliary leadership in making sure our troops have the very best protective gear, we still are seeking resolution to SFTT’s request for information on the reliability of ceramic plates used for body armor that was filed 18 months ago under the Freedom of Information Act;

“Well over a year ago,  SFTT filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain  forensic evidence of the reliability of am beginning to wonder if any of the beltway bureaucrats really care about the well-being and safety of our troops in the field.”

SFTT and the American public are still waiting for an answer to our FOIA, but it’s business as usual for the beltway desk jockies who continue to award multi-million dollar contracts for equipment that may be flawed.   Don’t our troops and the American public deserve answers?

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Military Body Armor Tests: Incompetence or Corruption?

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In yet another glaring example of sloppy body armor test procedures, the Inspector General says that the US Army “cut corners” when testing body armor according to Richard Lardner of the AP.  This is not the first time – nor is it likely to be the last – that SFTT and major news organizations have reported on the systemic failure of the US Army and DoD to follow established test procedures when evaluating protective gear fielded by our young men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Granted, military vests cost the taxpayers only $434 million, but wouldn’t be nice to think that the military officials who our troops and their families rely upon to provide them with effective body armor would insure that this vital piece of protective gear is properly tested?  

As readers of SFTT are aware, SFTT has chronicled a litany of military procurement and testing failures of those entrusted with providing our troops with best combat equipment possible.

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

Congressional Inquiry into Defective Military Helmets and no-bid contract awards

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

Well over a year ago,  SFTT filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain  forensic evidence of the reliability of ceramic platesused by military troops killed in action with wounds to their upper body.  At every step of the way, SFTT has been stonewalled by DoD lawyers.  It is clear that our military brass doesn’t want the “truth” to get out, because it is fearful that “we (the public) wouldn’t be able to handle the truth.”  Indeed, I am beginning to wonder if any of the beltway bureaucrats really care about the well-being and safety of our troops in the field.

Given the level of scrutiny this flawed body armor has received over the past four years, there are only two possible explanations: gross incompetence or corruption.  The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army have an obligation to publicly discipline those responsible for engaging in flawed tests and those that defended these test procedures when presented with incontrovertible evidence that test results were seriously flawed.    In a civilian court of law, I would expect nothing less than a charge of  manslaughter.    It’s time to rid our military procurement system of sycophants and untrustworthy officers and civilian contractors who seem to have more interest in their next promotion or their pocket-book rather than the troops who defend our country so valiantly.

In a cycle of budget austerity, let’s get rid of these self-serving bureaucrats.  Enough is enough!

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Can US troops wear third-party body armor?

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As previously reported on SFTT – ! You can find more information about generic medications here.

In August 2007, Arkansas Fourth District Representative Mike Ross sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army requesting clarification.  Secretary of the Army Pete Geren formally acknowledged in September that insurance and medical benefits would not be withheld if combat injuries (or death) were sustained while a service member was wearing unauthorized body armor.  Nevertheless, Secretary Geren went on to add that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In order to clear up any possible misunderstanding, Arkansas Representative Mike Ross again sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting further clarification.  In a letter dated what appears to be November 2, 2010, Clifford L. Stanley on behalf of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) responded as follows:

QUOTE  (Bold highlights added by SFTT)

Dear Representative Ross:

Thank you for your letter dated October 13, 2010, regarding the upcoming deployment of the Arkansas’ 39th Brigade Combat Team and the impact of body armor worn on benefits.  This issue falls under the purview of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), and I have been asked to respond.

As you allude to in your letter, rumors regarding Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SOLI) payments and Department of Defense medical care as it relates to battle injuries or death when wearing commercially procured (Dragon Skin) body armor arise on occasion.  Eligible benefits and medical support associated with SGLI or the Department of Defense (DoD) are paid or provided if a member is injured or killed in action while wearing commercially purchased body armor.  The DoD Will not discriminate, as it relates to military health care, between Service members who wear government issued or commercially purchased body armor.

Title 38, United States Code, is the statutory authority for the portfolio of SGLI products (SGLI, SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI),  Family SGLI, etc.) for which the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is responsible.  Department of Defense staff consulted with VA and reaffirmed that wearing unapproved body armor, in and of itself, does not disqualify members for SGLI or TSGLI payments. Additionally, the question of privately purchase body armor is addressed on the VA’s myths and rumors website (web address follows):  http://www.insurance.va.gov/SGLISITE/SGLI/mythsRumors.htm.

Medical benefits, as with SGLI payments, are not contingent on the type of body armor worn by Service members.  The Services do not seek reimbursement for medical expenses connected to members wounded in combat when wearing commercially procured body armor.

Thank you for your concern in this matter, and for your support of the Service and family members of the 39th Brigade Combat Team.

Sincerely,

Clifford L. Stanley

UNQUOTE

A facsimile of Mr. Stanley’s letter on third-party body armor may be downloaded from the SFTT website.

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Did A.J. Hughes Screw the Troops?

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In a solid piece of investigative reporting, WHEC of Rochester, New York reports that local firm A.J. Hughes Screw Products may have supplied defective screws for combat helmets.

I-Team 10 Investigative Reporter,  Brett Davidsen, reports that the now defunct A.J. Hughes Screw Products was sub-contracted by Gentex Corporation to make parts for Army and Air Force helmets.   According to court filings unearthed by WHEC investigative reporters,  A.J. Hughes was subcontracted to supply screws that attach the chin strap of the Advanced Combat Helmet.   Apparently, the screws didn’t meet specifications and the US Army found that ” in extreme environmental conditions, the non-conforming screws corroded pre-maturely.”

As a result,  the Army recalled about 37,000 of the helmets that were issued to soldiers and airmen. U.S. Army Project Manager of Soldier Protection Colonel William Cole said, “Instead of protecting the soldiers the way it should, there’s a potential you could have a ballistic failure where either there would be a penetration, or more likely, a part of the bolt that would break off and impact the soldier’s skull.”

Retired Army General John Batiste was commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq. “Our troops in harms way deserve the very best…the best equipment that money can buy that we can provide them to protect their lives.”

As SFTT is quoted in the article, this is not the first time defective equipment has been furnished to our frontline troops.   In fact, defective  helmets were recalled when irregularities were found in the manufacture of combat helmets subcontracted to the Federal Prison Industries.    Even more egregious, are DoD efforts to hide the efficacy of body armor issued to US troops.  In fact, SFTT has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to obtain access to autopsy records which may prove that defective body armor and cracked ceramic plates may have been a factor in their deaths.

While “the Army says no one was ever injured as a result of the faulty screw,” how can one be sure?  Those in charge with the procurement process insist that our troops have the best equipment.  Furthermore, they claim that there has never been a failure which contributed to injury or death caused by a defective “screw” or “ceramic plate.”   If true, why do military officials stonewall every public effort to get the facts?  If DoD and military leaders would be more straight-forward with the public and the troops they lead, we would be in a far better position to truly provide our troops with the” best equipment money can provide.”

I-Team 10 investigation: Screwed up Army helmets

Posted at: 11/24/2010 4:53 PM | Updated at: 11/24/2010 7:17 PM

By: Brett Davidsen | WHEC.com

Did a local company put U.S. soldiers at risk?

A.J. Hughes Screw Products was sub-contracted to make parts for Army and Air Force helmets but I-Team 10 has learned that one of the executives from the company is now the target of a federal criminal investigation.

In a war zone, specially designed helmets can be the difference between life and death. But a local company that provided parts for the Army’s advanced combat helmets is under investigation for using lesser quality parts.

Retired Army General John Batiste was commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq. “Our troops in harms way deserve the very best…the best equipment that money can buy that we can provide them to protect their lives.”

A Pennsylvania company called Gentex Corporation was contracted by the U.S. Army to make the helmets. Gentex sub-contracted with A.J. Hughes Screw Products of Rochester to manufacture the screws that attach the chin straps and other parts.

Now, A.J. Hughes is facing allegations it cut corners by using screws that did not meet government requirements.

U.S. Army Project Manager of Soldier Protection Colonel William Cole said, “The fact of the matter is we put out a very specific specifications on what the material has to be and they didn’t follow it.”

As a result, last year the Army recalled about 37,000 of the helmets that were issued to soldiers and airmen. The Army found that in extreme environmental conditions, the non-conforming screws corroded pre-maturely.

While the risk may have been minimal, the Army says the helmets were not as safe as they should have been. Col. Cole said, “Instead of protecting the soldiers the way it should, there’s a potential you could have a ballistic failure where either there would be a penetration, or more likely, a part of the bolt that would break off and impact the soldier’s skull.”

A.J. Hughes is no longer in business. But I-Team 10 has discovered the federal government is preparing criminal charges against the former vice-president of the company, Gregory Tremaine of Spencerport.

Felony information was filed in U.S. district court last week. It accuses Tremaine of making false claims causing the U.S. government to be over-billed by $130,000. The court documents say Tremaine signed certificates of compliance attesting to the fact that the screws met Army specifications.

I-Team 10 went to Tremaine’s home twice to speak with him about the allegations, but no one was there. And his attorney declined to comment.

Gentex has already taken civil action, accusing the screw maker of malicious conduct. It won a default judgement of more than $672,000 when no one from A.J. Hughes responded to the lawsuit.

General Batiste said, “Rochester is a lot of great things and one of them should be the center of ethics and integrity. And this is an example, maybe, where we don’t measure up.”

I-Team 10 also contacted an organization called Soldiers for the Truth whose stated objective is to get the best equipment for the troops the government can provide.

A spokesperson for the group echoed General Batiste’s sentiment but added that unfortunately, this is not the first case of defense contractors not living up to their promises.

As for how the sub-standard screw discovered, the problem was actually discovered by the helmet company, Gentex, when they noticed the screw appeared different. They notified the Army and ultimately provided replacement helmets for the troops at no cost.

The Army says no one was ever injured as a result of the faulty screw.

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Military Procurement: A Question of Trust

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In a fascinating article by Staff Writer, Andrew Higgins, the Washington Post published an article on November 1 which chronicles the background of an unusual $3 billion fuel contract awarded by the US Department of Defense (“DoD”) to companies whose ownership is apparently not well known to the government.  The article, entitled “Kyrgyz contracts fly under the radar.”

According to the article, “Congressional investigators have spent six months digging into single-source Pentagon contracts, the possibly illegal diversion of Russian fuel and Kyrgyz claims of backroom deals, which have soured ties with a crucial U.S. ally.  The below-the-radar rise of Mina Corp. and Red Star Enterprises – whose ownership, operations and even office locations are shrouded in secrecy – shows how nearly a decade of war has not only boosted the bottom line of corporate behemoths but also enriched unknown upstarts.  In just eight years, Mina and Red Star – both registered in Gibraltar and run by the same people – have come from nowhere to become a key link in the U.S. military’s supply chain. They have beaten out established rivals to supply nearly a billion gallons of jet fuel to a U.S. Air Force base here in Kyrgyzstan, a vital staging post for the Afghan conflict, and also to American warplanes at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.”

“The companies themselves, however, are largely invisible. In dealings with the Pentagon, they have used addresses in Toronto, London and Gibraltar, each apparently little more than a mail drop. Edelman, the former bar owner, who now lives in London, is so elusive that even congressional investigators probing the jet fuel deals have not managed to talk to him. He did not comply with a July subpoena from the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, according to people close to the probe.”

At issue is not the contract per se nor the fact that the owners are apparently unknown to Congressional investigators (let alone the American taxpayer who funds these contracts), but the arrogance demonstrated by the Defense Department in defending contracts without due diligence and/or competitive bidding.

“The Pentagon and State Department ignored widespread Kyrgyz public perceptions of contract corruption engendered by a fundamental lack of transparency,” said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., chairman of the subcommittee that conducted the probe. “Supplying vast quantities of fuel is an extremely sensitive endeavor with significant political, diplomatic and geopolitical ramifications. It is not merely a logistics matter.”

The White House, alarmed by the unintended consequences of the fuel deals, is pushing for greater transparency, said a senior administration official. “There has been a giant fight with [U.S. Central Command] over this,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Readers of SFTT are all too familiar with the underhanded contract awards and veil of secrecy that surrounds our military procurement process.  It seem like every other month, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) is launching an investigation into some facet of our procurement process. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the military continues to insist that our troops have the best equipment possible.  When will our military leadership apply the same standards of discipline and integrity that they demand of our frontline troops and begin to overhaul the military procurement system?  It is a cancer that undermines the credibility of our military leadership.

It is simply a question of TRUST!  Our troops and our taxpayers deserve more from our military leadership.

See just a sample of related SFTT articles on our broken procurement process:

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

Congressional Inquiry into Defective Military Helmets and no-bid contract awards

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

If you share our concern, TAKE ACTION now and become a Member of SFTT!

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Military News you may have missed: Oct 30, 2010

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What Budget Cuts? Massive Military Trade Show in DC

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The Washington Post reports on a 

Key Highlights:

  • Walk around the trade show floor and you’ll find the usual big-name defense contractors at their booths. BAE had outfitted an MRAP (mine-resistance, ambush protected vehicle) into an ambulance. Not far away, SAIC showed off a software system that can use “avatars” to train soldiers on the customs of foreign cultures.  Passersby marveled at the heavy doors and wheels of three gigantic armored trucks and vehicles brought in by Oshkosh Defense of Wisconsin. Others tried on boots, made with nylon and Gore-Tex lining, that can withstand extreme heat and cold. W.L. Gore & Associates, the company that makes the boot, had brought in a simulation box for interested customers.
  • “It’ll give you the feeling of going through the desert and then up into the snow all in two minutes,” said Mary Hopkins, an associate with the Elkton, MD-based firm, explained to a man as he tried on the boots and stood in the simulation box.  Unlike during past shows, when there was always a sense of excitement about the business opportunities made possible by the government, a feeling of anxiety prevails over this year’s event. The Pentagon is pushing to in-source more of the work that has been typically done by contractors in recent years. There’s worry about what will happen as the Pentagon’s top brass pushes defense companies to produce weapons systems more efficiently, within budget and on time.

SFTT Analysis:

 

SFTT meticulously reviewed every vendor listed in the AUSA brochure to confirm SFTT’s B.E.S.T. Campaign items – Body Armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, Rifle, Sidearm, and Boots – suffice to say that only Body Armor (Point Blank, Inc) and Sidearm (Beretta) are represented; zero on the Advanced Combat Helmet or the Rifle; and a marginal vendor peddling boots.  Enough said.

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