Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Point Blank Rage: the Body Armor Scandal

Nathaniel Helms of Soldiers for the Truth brings us this bit of information concerning the ongoing body armor scandal.
Two deploying soldiers and a concerned mother reported Friday afternoon that the U.S. Army appears to be singling out soldiers who have purchased Pinnacle's Dragon Skin Body Armor for special treatment. The soldiers, who are currently staging for combat operations, reported that their commander told them if they were wearing Pinnacle Dragon Skin and were killed their beneficiaries might not receive the death benefits from their $400,000 SGLI life insurance policies. The soldiers were told to leave their privately purchased body armor at home or face the possibility of both losing their life insurance benefit and facing disciplinary action, they said.

Not surprisingly, these two soldiers asked remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from their superiors in the chain of command.

On Saturday, another soldier affected by the ban told Helms that U.S. Special Operations Command had issued a directive banning "all" commercially available armor.
The soldier reiterated Friday's reports that any soldier who refused to comply with the order and was subsequently killed in action "could" be denied the $400,000 death benefit provided by their SGLI life insurance policy as well as face disciplinary action.

At issue is the inferiority of standard military issue Interceptor OTV vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor to Dragon Skin and other commercially available body armor.
Last week DefenseWatch released a secret Marine Corps report that determined that 80% of the 401 Marines killed in Iraq between April 2004 and June 2005 might have been saved if the Interceptor OTV body armor they were wearing was more effective. The Army has declined to comment on the report because doing so could aid the enemy, an Army spokesman has repeatedly said. [Italics added.]

It sounds like this Army spokesman has picked up on the standard Rumsfeld Pentagon double talk. A casual observer might question whether sending soldiers into battle with inferior armor isn't the thing that aids the enemy, and whether talking about the problem might not actually fix it and defeat the enemy.

Of course, we've become so used to denial from the Pentagon and the administration's supporters we don't expect honesty.

According to Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press, Senator John Warner R-Va claims that he's satisfied the military is ensuring the troops have adequate body armor. "Everything that can be done, is being done," he says.

Marine Major General William Cato says, "We're fielding the best body armor and equipment available, we think, in the world today, and as we have the opportunity to upgrade the equipment, we do that."

And of course, renowned military affairs expert Michelle Malkin says the body armor situation is totally hunky dory, so I guess that's the last word on that.

The Bomb That Keeps On Ticking

Ms. Malkin also quotes General Cato as saying, "There is nothing more important to the Marine Corps than protecting Marines."

That's big pill to swallow in light of an article filed last May by Christian Lowe of the Army Times.

Lowe reported that in July of 2004…
The Marine Corps issued to nearly 10,000 troops body armor that government experts urged the Corps to reject after tests revealed critical, life-threatening flaws in the vests.

In all, the Marine Corps accepted about 19,000 Interceptor outer tactical vests from Point Blank Body Armor Inc. that failed government tests due to “multiple complete penetrations” of 9mm pistol rounds, failing scores on other ballistic or quality-assurance tests, or a combination of the two.

The ballistics expert who initially rejected the vests was James MacKiewicz, who works at the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. MacKiewicz has 18 years of experience with ballistics and armor systems.

The Defense Contract Management Agency concurred with Mackiewicz's assessment and recommended the vests be rejected.

But the Marine Corps program manager in charge of acquiring and fielding the vests overrode those recommendations. Lieutanant Colonel Gabriel Patricio and Sandra Hatfield, Point Blank's chief operating officer. Over the course of ten months, Patricio waived and accepted over 20 lots of tactical vests that had not passed government tests.

Patricio did not do this solely on his own authority. The waivers were approved by none other that Major General William Cato. In a written memo, he said…
I concurred with the program manager’s decision to waive the 11 lots in order to rapidly replace the PASGT flaks with a superior, advanced body-armor system. Due to the massive deployment associated with [Operation Iraqi Freedom], this was considered to be an urgent need, and was deemed to be in the best interest of deployed Marines at that time.

One might be tempted to forgive Patricio and Cato for sending Marines rejected modern body armor to replace Vietnam era flak jackets as a choice of the lesser of two evils. However, any sympathy they may warrant has to be tempered with the fact that field commanders were not informed about the flaws in the Interceptor vests.

The Marine Corps eventually recalled over 5,000 of the flawed vests, but only under pressure of imminent publication of an eight-month investigation on the story by the Marine Corps Times.

As author Lowe describes at length, the history of acquisition horseplay and finger pointing between Point Blank and the government goes back to 2003, when ballistics inspector MacKiewicz first drafted memos warning of a problem with the Point Blank's vests. But questions about Point Blank's product had arisen elsewhere a year earlier.

Trevor Aaronsen of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times reveals that in 2002, 900 out of 1,000 Point Blank vests sold to the New York Police Department were found to be defective by New York Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau.

But even more alarming, in Lowe's view, were the indications that the company knew it was shipping defective products.

Next: The War Profits of Point Blank CEO David H. Brooks

10 comments:

  1. What do you think is behind the Pentagon's intransigency here? Is it purely a question of cheapness, or is it bullheaded ignorance ("I said it, so it must be right!")? Or are they that immersed in a fantasy world?

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  2. Anonymous6:57 PM

    You know, it just cannot be that damn difficult to produce effective body armor. To knowingly sell defective equipment and to knowingly purchase defective equipment and then to knowingly ship the troops over "protected" by defective equipment ... how do these jerks live with themselves?

    Kerstin

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  3. Doug and Kerstin,

    We're talking about the contracting patronage games being played by Cheney, Rumsfeld, etal.

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  4. Meribeth6:02 AM

    Correect me if I'm wrong. Wasn't the word/concept "Values" used heavily by this administration?

    Knowingly sending men into battle with defective equipment. Then blowing it off.

    Threatening our soldiers if they bring their own body armor.

    More lies, more hiding, more dodging, more and more death from irresponsibility and greed.

    These people have made a tidy profit...so much for values

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  5. Speaking of greed, I'll be talking about how much money the company made later on.

    Jeff

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  6. sometimes i think that its no wonder other countries hate us. (by us, i mean our gov't) If they know all the same facts we do...

    So much for allthose family values and all that crap eh? The administration cares for nothing other than oil and money. and thats it. whats a few thousand lives? Just fodder.

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  7. Family values is part of the propaganda. All they care about is power.

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  8. This really pisses me off. I have friends over there, and even if I didn't it would still piss me off. Grrr.

    Jeff: stopped by because I thought you might be interested in this NYTimes op-ed by a former Sec'y of the Navy. It is well written:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/18/opinion/18webb.html?ex=1295240400&en=f3e1d4d15ea5ed71&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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  9. ROFL:

    "renowned military affairs expert Michelle Malkin"

    I like that one!

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  10. Thanks for the link to the Webb piece. He's always been a pretty classy guy.

    One of the very few secretaries I know of who quit because he disagreed with the administration.

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