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News Flash: The Battle over Body Armor


Is a manufactured controversy impeding the fielding of improved body armor?

The body armor controversy is heating up again. The military is being accused of malfeasance but I believe that certain manufacturers have been more successful at manufacturing controversy than body armor:

The Army was pressured into launching a new solicitation for body armor designs after lawmakers held hearings on Capitol Hill to delve into the debate surrounding Dragon Skin, which is made by Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor. An NBC News investigative report in May claimed that the flexible Dragon Skin armor was far more protective than the current Interceptor system, which uses two rigid ceramic plates to stop armor-piercing bullets.

The Army came out swinging before the NBC report aired, claiming Dragon Skin had catastrophically failed several make-or-break tests it had conducted—the same kinds of tests used to certify all body armor systems submitted to the Army for fielding.

Many of our senior military leaders have sons and daughters who regularly go into combat wearing body armor. For that matter, I’ve seen some of our generals in Iraq out on the battlefields, wearing body armor. I’ve seen 4-star General David Petraeus and 3-star Ray Odierno out there. Lieutenant General Odierno’s son lost an arm in the war. Top Command Sergeant Majors constantly circulate the war. I’ve seen CSM Neil Ciotola out there. Ciotola circulated all over the Iraqi battlefields with soldiers.

I’ve driven about 4,000 miles up and down Iraqi roads with CSM Jeff Mellinger, who at the time was the senior enlisted soldier for Coalition forces in Iraq. CSM Mellinger was involved in dozens of fights. Directly involved. Right there in the thick of it. I’ve seen him twice changing his own Humvee tires between Baghdad and Mosul. On very dangerous streets. In his body armor.

These soldiers are very familiar with body armor. Their cohorts, friends, and in many cases their sons and daughters wear that body armor into combat. These leaders know their gear.

In my extended time embedded with troops, I also have come to know body armor.

Pinnacle contacted me in late 2005 to offer a discounted set of Dragon Skin body armor. After buying it for about $4,000, I tried it on, tried to work with it, and quickly concluded that I had just wasted $4,000. Dragon Skin is heavier and difficult to wear. In fact, without wasting time on details here, bottom line is that I believe the wearability issues with Dragon Skin could prove lethal to many soldiers. I went back to my old Interceptor body armor, the same that many of our soldiers wear and have used the Interceptor for the better part of another year in the war.

While everyone waits for another round of tests, I’ll sell my Dragon Skin to the highest bidder.


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