United States Marines in Iraq gave their new body armor a failing grade for usability in March, and many don’t plan to wear it. They complain it is too heavy and cumbersome. Several battlefield conditions were overlooked in the design of the armored plates, called small-arms protective inserts or side SAPIs. The lapse in ergonomic thinking could be explained by the pressure and haste to provide US troops with more protection.
Staff Sergeant Thomas Bain of Buffalo, New York, sees the side SAPIs as an additional battlefield hazard. “Before you know it, they’re going to get us injured because we’re hauling too much weight and don’t have enough mobility to maneuver in a fight from house to house,” he told the Associated Press, which reported the story. Added weight represents a particularly aggravation for Marines as they generally patrol on foot for hours at a time, carrying up to 70 pounds of weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, night vision goggles, food and water. They say the load is unbearable during the country’s searing summers.
Soldiers have complained in many news stories since the war began in 2003 that they don’t have enough body protection. At one point they confronted US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the problem on live television. Families and sympathizers lit a fire under Congress, which in turn pressured the Pentagon and White House. March showed the first results. Some of the 28,000 body armor sets promised by the Marine Corps have arrived. The Army hopes to have 230,000 sets in service this year.
In 2006 a study by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner said dozens of marines killed by wounds to the torso might have survived had the larger plates been in use, but a month after the release, only three or four Marines from Bain’s 35-man platoon were wearing the plates.
Sources: AP; USA Today; ABC.