ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. soldiers in Iraq could be wearing an extra 5 pounds of armor as soon as next month, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said Wednesday.

Officials announced last week that the Army would send more than 230,000 side-panel inserts for soldiers’ interceptor body armor and that the Marines already had begun shipping 28,000 inserts for their vests.

Soldiers should start getting the side armor in February, Harvey told reporters. Each side plate weighs 2½ pounds, he said.

The Marines already have sent more than 9,000 plates to Iraq, with the remaining plates expected to be delivered by April 2006, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Jeff Landis said.

U.S. Central Command ultimately will decide if U.S. soldiers have to wear the extra body armor, said Lt. Col. Thomas Collins, Harvey’s spokesman.

Commanders requested the extra armor in September after it became clear that servicemembers were dying from wounds to their sides, mostly inflicted by roadside bombs and other such devices, Collins said.

It took three months to design and test the side armor, Harvey said.

Harvey did not have statistics on how many soldiers have died from such wounds because explosions generate many wounds and it often is difficult to determine which is fatal, Collins said.

The statistics Harvey had showed U.S. troops are not vulnerable to gunshot wounds without the extra armor, Harvey said.

“We have looked through casualty reports, and approximately 5 percent of the KIA are from gunshot wounds, and we have found — in the last three years of casualty reports, we found one gunshot wound to the side, only one,” Harvey said.

Still, Harvey listed three reasons why he feels it is in soldiers’ best interests to wear the extra armor: “[First is that] one (KIA) is too many; two is [because] of all the publicity, we have to be careful of the adaptive enemy; and three, there’s injuries, and if we can prevent injuries, that’s worth it.”

Harvey said the Army has a good record of getting extra armor to soldiers.

It also has sent 170,000 sets of deltoid plates to Iraq, Collins said.

Some anti-war advocates claim U.S. troops still need extra body armor.

Tammara Rosenleaf, of Military Families Speak Out, is planning a bake sale next week to purchase deltoid and side armor for her husband and other troops in the 4th Infantry Division.

She said her husband does not know when he and his fellow troops will be issued the extra armor.

“Hopefully, this will light a fire under the government or shame them, whatever it takes to get them to resolve this the way it’s supposed to be resolved,” said Rosenleaf, whose husband declined to comment.

Charlie Anderson, a former sailor attached to I MEF during the initial invasion of Iraq, said it is a “disgrace” that soldiers have to wait a month to start getting the extra armor.

“There was a study released last week showing that, of 93 Marines killed between March 2003 and June 2005, [74] of them could have been better protected by side- covering body armor,” said Anderson in an e-mailed response to questions.

Anderson, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said he, too, plans to hold a bake sale to help purchase extra armor for U.S. troops.

In an e-mailed response to questions, an Army official called the anti-war groups holding bake sales for armor “misinformed.”

“Every soldier in harm’s way has a set of Interceptor Body Armor and a Deltoid Auxiliary Protector,” the official said. “Interceptor Body Armor is the best military body armor in the world.”

Landis cautioned Marines’ loved ones against buying body armor and other gear because they may not be up to Marine Corps standards.

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