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George's War On The Cheap
Oops, did your kid or somebody you love die in Iraq? If they did, maybe their death could have been prevented -- if only they'd had the proper equipment. Michael Moss writes in The New York Times of a Pentagon study linking fatalities to body armor:

A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such 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 now worn by the majority of troops 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.

Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields "would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome," according to the study, which was obtained by The New York Times.

For the first time, the study by the military's medical examiner shows the cost in lives from inadequate armor, even as the Pentagon continues to publicly defend its protection of the troops.

Officials have said they are shipping the best armor to Iraq as quickly as possible.

Better late than never, huh?!

The vulnerability of the military's body armor has been known since the start of the war, and is part of a series of problems that have surrounded the protection of American troops. Still, the Marine Corps did not begin buying additional plates to cover the sides of their troops until September, when it ordered 28,800 sets, Marine officials acknowledge.

The Army, which has the largest force in Iraq, is still deciding what to purchase, according to Army procurement officials. They said the Army was deciding among various sizes of plates to give its 130,000 soldiers, adding that they hoped to issue contracts this month.

Additional forensic studies by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's unit that were obtained by The Times indicate that about 340 American troops have died solely from torso wounds.

Military officials said they had originally decided against using the extra plates because they were concerned they added too much weight to the vests or constricted the movement of soldiers. Marine Corps officials said the findings of the Pentagon study caused field commanders to override those concerns in the interest of greater protection.

"As the information became more prevalent and aware to everybody that in fact these were casualty sites that they needed to be worried about, then people were much more willing to accept that weight on their body," said Maj. Wendell Leimbach, a body armor specialist with Marine Corps Systems Command, the corps procurement unit.

The Pentagon has been collecting the data on wounds since the beginning of the war in March 2003 in part to determine the effectiveness of body armor. The military's medical examiner, Dr. Craig T. Mallak, told a military panel in 2003 that the information "screams to be published." But it would take nearly two years.

The Marine Corps said it asked for the data in August 2004; but it needed to pay the medical examiner $107,000 to have the data analyzed. Marine officials said financing and other delays had resulted in the study's not starting until December 2004. It finally began receiving the information by June 2005. The shortfalls in bulletproof vests are just one of the armor problems the Pentagon continues to struggle with as the war in Iraq approaches the three-year mark, The Times has found in a continuing examination of the military procurement system.

More at the link above.

Posted by aalkon at January 8, 2006 7:29 AM

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It's biased crap like this that makes it impossible to trust anything the NYT writes. Here's an AP article saying that soldiers in the field don't want more armor:

There is a trade-off between providing more protection and hindering mobility but both are critical for survival.

Posted by: nash at January 8, 2006 9:01 AM

Nash, that article offered a few soldiers' opinions that decreased mobility from too much body armor could be a problem. I blogged a while back about soldiers' families funding their protective gear. Let's hope that's no longer the case. But, if the protective gear is too bulky, why aren't we racing to redesign it? Why isn't it top priority? Oh, because it's other people's kids, for the most part, over there (not those of wealthy senators, congressmen, and others high placed in government)?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 8, 2006 9:09 AM

Nash- Maybe that's true so far as the armor goes, but the broader question is whether the troops are being given the resources and leadership necessary to achieve our goals. The answer is probably not.

(To call this enterprise a 'war' to be 'won' belittles the delicacy of the task. If it was just a matter of killing people, we could be outta there by next weekend.)

This is a fascinating piece:

For all his faults, I've always been impressed with Rumsfeld, even when he was the youngest SecDef back in the 1970s. He's never been afraid of Kissinger, a strong mark in his favor: In the darkest days of Nixon and Ford, this gave us hope that Kissinger's realpolitik might not last forever, as it often threatened to. He had a few other charms as well. But this Washington Post piece gives us the first glimpse of history's view of the guy, and we see that he's just a technocrat making tough choices.

And the core choice under discussion here is how much wealth Americans are willing to throw at this problem, and the military generally. As a politician Rumsfeld can't tell the truth out loud. He doesn't have enough chess pieces to play aggressively across the board, but he doesn't want to be known as the guy who let Europe or Asia go to Hell while fighting in Mesopotamia.

SEEMINGLY TANGENTIAL BUT QUINTESSENTIALLY RELEVANT POINT #1: In this short interview, Hitchens has finally returned (after three years) to the line of reasoning by which he and a few others convinced me that the invasion was a good thing to do:

Short version: We were *already* in Iraq.

SEEMINGLY TANGENTIAL BUT QUINTESSENTIALLY RELEVANT POINT #2: A lot of argument about this war has Vietnam as the source. Those of us who remember the first news of the My Lai massacre know how it distinctly tarnished the boomers. We'd taken great pride during Social Studies class as we learned how America had defeated the Nazis. Then we opened up the paper and saw that the monster was in our young hearts, too.

When reading about people doing horrible things, I like to imagine being one of the heroes who did the right thing. Years later came word that one hero in My Lai was named Hugh Thompson, Jr. He died on Friday. I'd assumed it would be on the front pages of all the papers, but no. Do your own Googling to learn more about him, because the definitive book or article hasn't been written, but here's a starter link:,_Jr.

If you're the sort of person who's been making a lot of gassy talk about the war, and you have a couple bucks in your pocket for flowers, Mr. Thompson's services will be held on Wednesday afternoon:

Delhomme Funeral Home
(337) 235-9449
1011 Bertrand Dr
Lafayette, LA 70506

Posted by: Crid at January 8, 2006 10:27 AM

Posted by: Mad Hungarian at January 8, 2006 10:44 AM

Great post, Crid.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 8, 2006 12:06 PM

"But, if the protective gear is too bulky, why aren't we racing to redesign it? Why isn't it top priority?"

Amy, you have unrealistic expectations. Remember how there was a huge push for passenger-side front airbags until they found out that they killed small adults and children sitting in the front seat? Moving ahead too fast is just as bad as going to slow.

There are people who have dedicated their careers to developing systems to keep soldiers safe. You think they take their job any less seriously than you take yours?

Posted by: nash at January 8, 2006 2:38 PM

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