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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Body Armor Follies, Redux 
Michael Moss actually does some good reporting in the New York Times:
A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.

The ceramic plates in vests currently worn by the majority of military personnel in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.


Don't know why that study would be secret. It's not too hard to figure out that if the plates are good, then bigger plates would have provided more protection.

And it also stands to reason that assuming the distribution of fragmentation is random, increasing the size of the plates by 20% would also stop 20 percent more fragmentation, etc.

But there is a balance: You can't slap so much armor on an infantry soldier that he can't climb on the truck to get to the mission, and you can't slap so much protection on a soldier that he can't tie his own bootlaces. Also, if you wrap too much crap around a soldier, he can't effectively fire his weapon. (The sight on an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is hard to use even without body armor!)

It's clear to me that a little more armor, in retrospect, would have been better. More armor would be better for people in some MOS's, too, such as truck drivers and others with a limited combat role. But Marines fighting house to house in close-quarters combat could easily be overladen with gear, and lose the ability to climb in a window (you don't want to use the obvious point of entry in a house fight) or become so encumbered that they can't execute a flanking movement fast enough to cut off and kill a small unit occupying a house or bunker with an exposed flank.

That balance is very hard to find, and you never get it exactly right.

My own unit didn't get the SABI plates until a month or so into our Iraq rotation. When we did, I never wore the crotch protector or the neck protector. Side protection wasn't available as far as I knew. If it was, I probably would have worn it as long as I could still get in or out of the Humvee.

But the neck protector interfered with shouldering and aiming a rifle, for me, and I figured my best defense was to be able to get off an aimed shot and practice better marksmanship than the other poor bastard on the other side. (Fortunately for both of us, I never had the opportunity to fire an aimed shot in anger).

As for the crotch protector, well, I just thought they looked stupid. And we can't have that, can we? Yeah, I was dumb. So what else is new.

I never saw anyone wear them on the side, but they weren't made of the same solid plating the chest and back protectors are made of, anyway.

Bottom line: Sure - lets get the troops the best protection their missions will allow. But let's also know when to stop, lest we wrap them in so much crap that they become paralyzed like the French knights at Agincourt.

Splash, out

Jason

Comments:
Jason,

Perhaps the NYT can print helpful diagrams, too. With captions in Arabic and Pashtun if it's not too much to ask.
 
I wore the crotch protector. It did a great job of preventing burns from the coffee as I drove between Kabul and Pol-E-Charkhi.
 
I've been reading this blog for a while. tis refreshing to get the boots-on-the-ground point of view. As average Joe, I've never laid eyes on body armor. I cannot imagine working and fighting in that environment with the stress and strain.

Thanks.

P. S. If it were called a codpiece I bet more GIs would ware it. Just saying.

Kelly
 
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