Pfc. Joe Piotrowski, with the 6th Iraqi Army Division Military Transition Team, 4th Infantry Division, dons his Improved Outer Tactical Vest on March 14 before a mission in Baghdad. He said the new vest is more comfortable than the Interceptor Body Armor and has a better carrying system for his equipment.
Insufficiently tested body armor triggered a sweeping investigation. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/U.S. Army/Flickr)

In a 51-page Aug. 1 report, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General found that the Army did not properly test body armor before sending it into the field in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Associated Press reports that more than 5.1 million pieces of body armor were rushed into action at a cost of $2.5 billion, and most — if not all — of the body armor escaped testing for minimum safety standards.

Body armor or hillbilly armor

Defense contracts awarded between 2004 and 2006 for ballistic inserts were found to include either defective body armor plates or plates that were the wrong size. The harsh environment and temperatures in Iraq and Afghanistan made extracurricular field tests impossible, so potentially a few million U.S. Army troops were forced to use the body armor in trial-by-fire scenarios.

As The Moderate Voice reminds, reckless safety testing has been an issue in the U.S. military before. In December 2004, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Army specialist Thomas Wilson. Wilson asked Rumsfeld why U.S. soldiers had to dig through scrap heaps on the field of battle in order to assemble “hillbilly armor” for themselves and their Humvees. Rumsfeld’s response was accurate, if catastrophically inappropriate:

“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Army claims improvements have already been made

The U.S. Army responded Tuesday to the Inspector General report by saying that improvements to the body armor testing process were made during the IG audit.

“All Inspector General recommendations to improve the testing processes have been implemented. … The Army continues to work with the test community for test improvements to provide the best body armor possible to the soldier,” said an Army press report.

Inquiries made by 13-term Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York since January 2006 are believed to have prompted various IG investigations of body armor effectiveness. Past studies found that as many as 80 percent of U.S. Marines in Iraq who were shot in the upper body died because of defective body armor plates.

“This needs to be told,” Slaughter said. “At the least, we should have some confidence that in the future, more diligence is taken.”

Body armor testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground

Sources

Associated Press: http://wapo.st/paLZcn

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/pentagon-army-body-armor-study_n_929067.html

The Moderate Voice: http://bit.ly/rhNgLB

Office of Inspector General: http://www.dodig.mil/

Politico: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/61542.html

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