Interceptor Body Armor: End of a Chapter, Stench Remains

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A colleague at Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) sent me an email a few days ago informing me that David H. Brooks, the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, died on Thursday at the age of 61 in a prison in Danbury, CT.

david brooks and co

David Brooks and co-defendant Sandra Hatfield, photo source unknown

Convicted in 2010 of insider trading and “fraudulently enriching himself” with company funds, Mr. Brooks was a contractor who supplied bullet-resistant vests and other body armor to the military and other law enforcement agencies.   In particular,  DHB Industries and its successor, Point Blank Industries, supplies Interceptor Body Armor to the U.S. Army.

Interceptor Body Armor

My colleague has been following this tragic story for approximately ten years from the perspective of “boots on the ground” who rely on government-issued protective gear to insure their safety.

As readers of SFTT are aware, senior U.S. Army officials have consistently claimed that the U.S. has “the best body armor in the world” and that there have been no battlefield fatalities as a result of defective body armor.

Of course, none of these outrageous claims are true, but the U.S. Army apparently went one step further arguing that medical and survivor benefits might be withheld if personnel were wounded or died if they were not wearing mandated government-issued body armor.

There have been many GAO and IG reports condemning flawed testing procedures by the military on body armor, but little was done to correct these deviations from well-established testing protocols.   After the stench of incompetence and, perhaps corruption, could no longer be contained, in 2009 the military brass decided to kick the process into a higher sphere of bureaucratic red tape: the National Research Council.

Since then, there have been periodic recalls of defective ceramic plates, despite repeated claims by the military brass that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Clearly, if the ballistic tests were flawed (and they were), then it follows that our Soldiers were not adequately protected.

In fact, for any military officer in authority to assert that that our troops were “properly protected” despite repeated IG and GAO claims to the contrary should – in my opinion – be Court-martialed.

Of course, we know that will not be the case as subsequent actions by the Beltway spin-doctors showed.

Roger Charles, editor of SFTT,  filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to have the autopsy records released on 103 military personnel who had sustained fatal wounds to the torso.  Some of these bodies were shipped back with their body armor strongly suggesting that the body armor was flawed.

Although Mr. Charles received a favorable ruling by a Federal Judge to have the records released in 2010, those records continue to remain secret as a result of continued legal gymnastics by Defense Department lawyers.  Ir is unlikely that these records will be released anytime soon.

As someone who has served in the military, I find it difficult to believe that our military leaders would expose the brave young men and women in uniform to hostile fire without the best possible protective gear.   Sure, everyone knows that military equipment may sometimes be compromised, but we would expect after action follow-up to insure that improvements are made to improve reliability.

In the case of Interceptor Body Armor, I find little evidence of a sincere effort by military leaders to deal with this problem.  Rather than face up to faulty test procedures and clear evidence of deficiencies in the body armor, our Beltway military leaders tried to spin a tale to convince Congress, the public and the men and women who serve our country that they were wearing the best protective gear.

These frauds know it was a lie. Anyone with common sense knows it is a lie. Many serving in harm’s way knew it was a lie.   Frankly, continued denial by our military leaders that consciously misled our troops on the effectiveness of body armor disqualifies them from a position of leadership.   You know who you are.

Now, you can continue to deny responsibility in the coverup, but try explaining your complicity to grieving family members who have lost a loved one through your gross incompetence and lies.

While Mr. Brooks death in prison closes one chapter in this painful saga, the stench of self-serving incompetence, dishonesty and possibly corruption continues to foul the air.

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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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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 Helmet Sensor Data: What does it show?

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Two years ago, sophisticated sensors were implanted in military helmets of some 7,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The purpose of the sensors was to evaluate the extent of concussions and  brain trauma injuries caused by IEDs and other combat related incidents.  According to the military video shown below, data from these sensors was downloaded monthly to a computer terminal  and then forwarded to a “secure” data center in Aberdeen, MD for analysis.

 

To date, SFTT is not aware that the Department of Defense (DOD) has shared any of this information with the public. However, the recent decision by the military to award a new helmet sensor contract to BAE Systems strongly suggests that we are dealing with no trivial issue.  Indeed, the recent release of the comprehensive US Army report entitled Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention and increased media attention at the extent of brain trauma injuries within the military would argue that greater public disclosure is well-advised to deal with this growing problem.

As recent history shows, the US Army and DOD are unwilling to share relevant data with the public that might suggest that the equipment provided to our brave warriors is deficient.   In fact, Roger Charles, the Editor of SFTT, was obliged to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to obtain forensic records of troops killed with upper torso wounds to evaluate the effectiveness of military-issue body armor.   A  federal judge in Washington, D.C. recently ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.  For Roger Charles and those in SFTT who have followed this issue for several years, it is unlikely that the US Army will open their kimono and confirm what most already know:  the body armor issued to our troops was not properly tested and is most likely flawed.

Full disclosure is generally the “right” decision and it would be useful for the US Army to share the helmet sensor data with the public to help address a growing problem for the men and women who have served in harm’s way and their families.   The American public can handle the truth!

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U.S. Government Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

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Thanks to superb pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge has issued his ruling on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor. The ruling was characterized in the following way by a news service covering legal issues:

U.S. Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

 (CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.   (For the complete Courthouse News article, see: http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/08/16/29630.htm )       

As supporters of SFTT know, we have, to no avail, for several years requested that these records be reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies of the US Congress. It was only after this baffling refusal that SFTT’s editor requested the records under the FOIA. To no one’s surprise, DOD denied SFTT’s request.   Under the brilliant guidance and with the incredible support of Kirkland & Ellis’ NYC office, SFTT’s editor filed a new request, and that request was basis for the complaint in federal district court upon which the judge issued this ruling.    

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”       

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

 

So, why has DOD not released the responsive records, i.e., the Firearm Wound Charts and body armor description sheets?

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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