Exhausted from wearing 50 pounds of body armor and other gear, Lance Cpl. Arturo Gomez, catches his breath before continuing with a training exercise.

Exhausted from wearing 50 pounds of body armor and other gear, Lance Cpl. Arturo Gomez, catches his breath before continuing with a training exercise. (Antonio Rosas / USMC)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps has heard enough complaints from Marines that their body armor was too heavy, too hot, and slowed down their movements.

On Friday, Marines Corps headquarters authorized its lieutenant colonels to decide what body armor their units can wear on a mission-by-mission basis.

A headquarters spokesman said they are responding directly to those lessons from the field.

“It absolutely came from the operating forces, in recognition that one size can’t fit all, and that in order to achieve greater operational effectiveness, we needed to provide our commanders a lower lever [of authority],” said Maj. Tom Wood.

Marine Sgt. Felipe Acevedo welcomed the move to give O-5s the decision-making power. He remembers well the long hours in Iraq and the burden of the load on his back. And from his first tour to his second, that load only got heavier as more body armor was added.

“Your back definitely feels the pain, and it goes all the way down to your feet after about an hour,” said Acevedo, who is now assigned to U.S. Marines Forces Europe in Stuttgart, Germany.

Previously, the decision on personal protection equipment, or PPE, was made at the colonel, or O-6, level.

“That was deemed to be a little bit too slow and cumbersome. With the [regimental combat teams] that have pretty fast battle space, and just a number of disparate units with different requirements, different mission profiles, in different locales — that RCT commander at the O-6 level was not at an optimum spot to make the decision on what level of protection his Marines should be wearing. So we’re going to ratchet this down one level and push it down to that battalion and squadron commander,” said Wood.

To help commanders decide, within weeks the Marine Corps will announce an easy-to-read set of standardized, pre-selected options, known as “armor protection levels,” or APLs.

Commanders will be able look at a chart and quickly decide from three to six levels of protection depending on what is best for the unit and mission.

A field test of PPE options was completed at the end of March, and one more is required before a final decision.

The greatest advantage to any change would be speed, he said.

“What you’re going to see is, undoubtedly, the ability for the average Marine to move quicker and enhance his tactical mobility, and thereby the unit can move from point to point quicker with the commander making the decision on what that Marine should be wearing.”

None of the changes trumps any leader’s orders for a minimum amount of armor.

The decision could prove significant in Afghanistan beyond the lighter-quicker issue, giving Marines interacting with friendly communities the ability to not look like they’re expecting a firefight.

Talking with reporters two weeks earlier, Wood also said the service was beginning to see some long-term back, shoulder, and neck injuries caused from carrying packs.

Wood said the average infantry rifleman carries 90 to 100 pounds outside the wire, including armor, helmet, uniform, boots, MREs, water for a four- to 12-hour patrol, extra batteries and of course weapon and ammunition.

Future weight would depend on the items included.

Wood said the Marine Corps will continue to try to develop lighter equipment but change has come too slowly.

“For years we’ve talked about ceramics, composite plastics … that would provide equitable, if not greater, ballistic protection that our current lead-based SAPI [Small Arms Protective Insert] plates and Kevlar weave vests. None of those industry leads have come to fruition at this time.”

Stars and Stripes reporter John Vandiver contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now