While I was in Kuwait I blogged several times (once or twice), about body armor, the difficulties in getting it issued, and the fact that some service members and/of families were buying their own. I even suggested to a friend of mine headed for Baghdad that she get her own. I was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom in March of 2004. Even that late in the game it was still very difficult to get modern protective gear.
Reflecting back on my experience in the Gulf and my discussions with service members coming out of front line areas like Kirkuk, Ramadi and Fallujah, I find this latest move by the Army very interesting.
When my unit was mobilized many of us were issued Vietnam era flack vests. This protective gear was designed primary to increase survivability in the face of grenade and other sharpnel devices. Flack vest were never intended to protect the wearer from direct fire. A number of articles that I read while I was in Kuwait said that the Vietnam era vests were doing little to protect wearers even from IEDs. Interceptor type vests that include ceramic plates have proved very effective in protecting the wearer from both direct fire and IEDs.
So, the Army now claims that it will not let service members wear protective equipment privately purchased because privately purchased equipment is substandard. Sounds good but where was this concern two years ago? None of the military branches is providing to it’s members the best equipment available. The boots issued to most units are on the lower end of the scale of what’s available. In the time I spent in Kuwait where I saw many units deploying and re-deploying, I never saw a unit that was issued Donner or Matterhorn boots, which are generally accepted as best of class. The vast majority of units going in to Iraq had been issued Altama or Belleville and usually the lower end of those company’s offerings. Better, more comfortable boots were purchased by many service members at their own expense.
The military should be offering the best equipment available to its members. We’d all like to believe they are. But talk to any experienced NCO who’s done a couple tours over there and s/he will give you a list of equipment that you should buy before deploying. The inexperienced buy a lot of stuff because they think it’s cool. The experienced folks have a short list of equipment that they consider required.
In 2003 when we invaded Iraq, every member going into Iraq considered body armor required equipment. If they couldn’t get it from their branch of service, they got it some where else. It was a major point of discussion among the guys coming out and the guys going in. One of the major points of discussion is what to get and how to get it. Everyone wants Interceptors and the plates. First run plates not knock-offs or seconds. As last as March of 2004 this was still a primary topic of conversation among service members in theatre.
The military should supply the best equipment available to service members. Period. Not whatever they get from the lowest bidder.
[posted with ecto]