Marines Declining Extra Body Armor

Many Marines are choosing not to wear newly issued body armor, prefering to sacrifice additional safety for comfort and mobility. According to an AP report, only “3 or 4” men in a 35 man platoon chose to wear them.

This isn’t surprising. Even the standard issue “frag vests” are incredibly heavy and uncomfortable, especially in desert heat. While the added plates are only an extra five pounds, there’s only so much a man can carry and still do his job. My guess, though, is that this prediction is right on the money:

Many Marines, however, believe the politics of the issue eventually will make the plates mandatory. “The reason they issued (the plates), I think, is to make people back home feel better,” said Lance Cpl. Philip Tootle of Reidsville, Ga. “I’m not wishing they wouldn’t have issued them. I’m just wishing that they wouldn’t make them mandatory.”

And it’s not just politics that will make it happen but sound military judgment.

Last year, a study by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner said dozens of Marines killed by wounds to the torso might have survived had the larger plates been in use. “I’m sure people who … lost kidneys would have loved to have had them on,” said 2nd Lt. William Oren, a native of Southlake, Texas, who wears the plates. “More armor isn’t the answer to all our problems. But I’ll recommend them because it’s more protection.”

Roger that. Soldiers and Marines wouldn’t wear their helmets or carry their NBC protective masks with them, either, if the leadership did not require it. There may be situations when going with a lighter load makes tactical sense but not in a war where the primary casualty threat is the IED.

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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.


  1. Dale Cox says:

    As a current Active Duty Gunnery Sergeant I see both sides of the issue. On the one hand the armor does slow the Marine down and slow = dead on today’s battlefield. On the other we do have alot of casualties that could have been provided had they been wearing the extra armor. I believe the armor in question are the extra side SAPI plates. They weigh five pounds each for a total of 10 extra pounds. 10 pounds can make a huge difference when you’re already walking around with 50 + pounds on your body.

    James makes a very valid point that Marines, soldiers… won’t wear their helmets or other protective gear if their not ordered to.

    Unfortunately politics probably will become involved in this before all is said and done. The politicians should leave the decisions as to what will or won’t be carried or worn by personnel on the battlefield to their commanders. The commanders need to be making sound judgements based on their particular tactical situation. The NCO’s and SNCO’s then need to enforce those decisions.

    If the politicians really want to do something for us, get us better/lighter body armor not more. The way things are going now we’ll all look like a bunch of camouflaged knights without the horse to carry us around.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m with you on this one, Gunny.

    Even as a young lieutenant, a 60 pound ruck was about all I could bear for long periods and I hated wearing the frag vest, especially in the desert.

    Unfortunately, politics are important in this war. Every Marine that gets his legs blown off by an IED is not only a personal tragedy for the Marine and his loved ones but a victory for the enemy as it weakens American morale.

    Clearly, the nature of a particular patrol or op has to be taken into consideration. If there’s a lot of running and dodging, less armor might be a necessary risk. If you’re riding around in a HMMWV, then the more armor the better. I trust the gunnies and platoon commanders to make that call but not the privates and lance corporals. They’ll pick easy every time.

  3. LJD says:

    I trust the gunnies and platoon commanders to make that call but not the privates and lance corporals. Theyâ??ll pick easy every time.

    Perhaps you don’t give enough credit where it is due. The performance record of the lowliest Private in the GWOT speaks volumes otherwise.

  4. Roger Ridenour says:

    Nice sentiment LJD, but my experience in the military would tend to support the general observations of Dale and James. Soldiers are mostly “kids” to use the commonly accepted parlance. Youth is notoroious for tending to “pick easy every time” and not that good at foresight or valuing their own safety. They tend to think they’re immortals. It’s important that their leaders look out for them and enforce safety precautions.