Posted on Januarry 9, 2006
Just between you, me and the lamppost, it’d be hard to find an individual in the military less qualified to speak on the topic of body armor than your correspondent. We didn’t much go in for it, in the TACAIR community, trusting instead to speed of horse and maneuver, high technology and low cunning.
And yet, when I read this article in the NYT last week, claiming that: *
A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That 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.
I had to admit to being a little suspicious. Because this fits so neatly into the Timesweltanschauung – the troops are noble, but (fill in the blank) deluded, poorly led, mismanaged, under-equipped, stuck in a hopeless situation, etc . OK, fine – deeply suspicious. There are very few things in my area of expertise, such as it is, that MSM outlets cover with anything like precision, and as I said, the thrust of the article seemed to me as much agenda-driven as revelatory.
But then again, some things are true, even if Times reporters write them and after all, who was I to say?
Nobody, which was why I found this consideration of the article, and the issue, so illuminating:
Wow, now if that’s not loaded I don’t know what is. To start off with, no, our body armor is not perfect. It has its vulnerabilities which I won’t get into for obvious reasons, but overall it does a remarkable job of protecting soldiers, marines, airmen and everyone else who wears it. Body Armor has saved numerous lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and it will continue to do so, especially as it is modified to better meet the threat we face. However, there are limitations as to how much armor you can add onto an individual and maintain his effectiveness as a soldier: when I step out the gate I am wearing on my person body armor, a kevlar helmet, my M4 rifle with a few hundred rounds of ammunition, my M9 sidearm with another hundred rounds of ammunition, 2-3 quarts of water, a portable radio, night vision equipment, and numerous other odds and ends. Butt naked to full combat load probably adds about 40+ pounds to my frame, give or take a grenade.
Somehow the issue reminds me of a story coming out of the days of Vietnam-era attack aviation. A couple of engineers were reviewing the history of aircraft that had landed badly damaged by anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. The junior engineer turns to the senior guy and says, “You know, there’s a real pattern developing here of aircraft taking hits to the horizontal tail and on the trailing edge of the wings. Maybe we should put more armor there?”
The senior engineer, concerned as always with the impact of adding weight to an aircraft design disagreed, chiding the junior guy gently, “No, you’re seeing the pattern exactly wrong. All of the battle damage you see is from aircraft that returned. It’s the places where you’re seeing no damage that we need more armor. Those aircraft didn’t make it back.”
Maybe there’s a systematic issue with US Army and Marine Corps body armor, and maybe there isn’t. But even if they covered up every last bit of flesh but one, leaving only a hole for the trooper to breathe through, that hole would be a vulnerability, meaning that most of the soldiers who died would die from being hit there. And according to the Army guy quoted above, the weight of all the extra gear could well negate the wearer’s fighting capability.
But you know, here’s what really got me thinking: It shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t have to wonder. This kind of reporting, if it were true, is exactly what major media outlets should be pushing. It’s the kind of antiseptic light shining that self-serving bureaucrats – and I’m not such of an ingénue as to believe that none such exist, although fewer I suspect than people conditioned by Hollywood movies might think – would try to hide from, protecting their own rear-echelon rears through denial and obfuscation at a price paid in blood by those engaged forward.
But their relentless political point scoring, defeatism, bloody-minded and exclusive focus on disaster and patently agenda-driven framing of the news has so utterly demolished the line between reportage and opinion that the NYT (and others) have essentially zeroised their own credibility. In an attempt to make a positive difference in the world – and it’s not their motives I distrust, only their judgment – they have through naked partisan animus so clouded their own moral potential as to deny them the ability to do any good whatsoever.
And that’s a shame.
(H/T Greyhawk for the source link)
** Original link gone; changed – Ed.