WaPo again reports on a the underprovision of protective vests for our soldiers in Iraq:

This high-tech “system” — the Kevlar vest and “small-arms protective inserts,” which the troops call SAPI plates — is dramatically reducing the kind of torso injuries that have killed soldiers on the battlefield in wars past.

Soldiers will not patrol without the armor — if they can get it. But as of now, there is not enough to go around. Going into the war in Iraq, the Army decided to outfit only dismounted combat soldiers with the plated vests, which cost about $1,500 each. But when Iraqi insurgents began ambushing convoys and killing clerks as well as combat troops, controversy erupted.

Last month, Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) and 102 other House members wrote to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to demand hearings on why the Pentagon had been unable to provide all U.S. service members in Iraq with the latest body armor. In the letter, the lawmakers cited reports that soldiers’ parents had been purchasing body armor with ceramic plates and sending it to their children in Iraq.

The demand came after Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command and commander of all military forces in Iraq, told a House Appropriations subcommittee in September that he could not “answer for the record why we started this war with protective vests that were in short supply.”

With the armor, “it’s the difference between being hit with a fist or with a knife,” said Ben Gonzalez, chief of the emergency room at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, the largest U.S. Army hospital in the country, which treats the majority of wounded soldiers.


Before approving the administration’s $87 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress added hundreds of millions of dollars for more body armor, armored Humvees, and other systems to protect soldiers from roadside bombs and ambushes.

Now, three manufacturers are working overtime to produce the 80,000 vests and 160,000 plates required to outfit everyone in Iraq by the end of the year. Assembly lines are producing 25,000 sets a month.

Commanders say the vests are changing the way soldiers think and act in combat. “I will tell you that the soldiers — to include this one — experience some degree of feeling a little indestructible, particularly in light of the fact that we have seen the equipment work,” said Lt. Col. Henry Arnold, a battalion commander and combat veteran in the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq.

“It’s a security blanket,” Stovall said from his hospital bed, awaiting a medevac flight to Germany with his hand bandaged. “If only they had a glove, I might have my finger, but I’m thankful that I’m here.”

The product of a five-year military research effort aimed at reducing the weight and cost of the plates while increasing their strength, the body armor made its combat debut last year in Afghanistan and was credited with saving more than a dozen lives during Operation Anaconda.

The camouflage Kevlar vest, which alone can stop rounds from a 9mm handgun, weighs 8.4 pounds, while each of the plates weighs 4 pounds. At 16.4 pounds, Interceptor body armor is a third lighter than the 25-pound flak jacket from the Vietnam era, but it provides far more protection.

While this is new technology and getting that many vests produced is obviously a major logistical nightmare, it’s simply baffling that we didn’t have this level of production underway a year ago, given that the Iraq invasion was a virtual certainty.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.