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A Marine Humvee gunner in Fallujah wears the new Kevlar sleeves being issued to some units in Anbar province. The sleeves are designed to protect gunners — the most exposed crewmembers of a Humvee — against shrapnel. “This isn’t going to get hot at all,” quipped one Humvee gunner, not looking forward to the peak of summer in Iraq.

A Marine Humvee gunner in Fallujah wears the new Kevlar sleeves being issued to some units in Anbar province. The sleeves are designed to protect gunners — the most exposed crewmembers of a Humvee — against shrapnel. “This isn’t going to get hot at all,” quipped one Humvee gunner, not looking forward to the peak of summer in Iraq. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

A Marine Humvee gunner in Fallujah wears the new Kevlar sleeves being issued to some units in Anbar province. The sleeves are designed to protect gunners — the most exposed crewmembers of a Humvee — against shrapnel. “This isn’t going to get hot at all,” quipped one Humvee gunner, not looking forward to the peak of summer in Iraq.

A Marine Humvee gunner in Fallujah wears the new Kevlar sleeves being issued to some units in Anbar province. The sleeves are designed to protect gunners — the most exposed crewmembers of a Humvee — against shrapnel. “This isn’t going to get hot at all,” quipped one Humvee gunner, not looking forward to the peak of summer in Iraq. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

A U.S. Marine near Fallujah wears the new side armor plate for military body armor. All Marines operating in western Iraq should now have the plates, officials said.

A U.S. Marine near Fallujah wears the new side armor plate for military body armor. All Marines operating in western Iraq should now have the plates, officials said. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Several months after a military study found U.S. Marine Corps deaths in Iraq could be reduced by wearing side inserts in body armor, all Marines in Anbar province have been issued the gear.

And while many Marines say they’d rather go without the plates — trading a bit of security for more mobility — most acknowledged that after a few days, they hardly noticed the addition.

“When you’ve got all this weight on there already,” said Cpl. Matt Page, gesturing to an array of ammunition magazines, pouches, clips, lights, knives and radios attached to sets of body armor, “what’s a few extra pounds going to hurt?”

The average Marine’s combat load includes around 50 pounds of protective equipment, officials said. The extra side plates add about 5 pounds.

According to Capt. James Le, the Regimental Combat Team 5 supply officer, by mid-January, almost all of the line companies in the regiment had been issued the plates. Within two months, every Marine in the regiment — some 4,000 servicemembers — had been issued a pair.

The side plates became required gear for everyone operating under Marine command in western Iraq, he said. And though some Marines complain about the order, “If it saves lives, it’s worth the weight,” Le said.

The internal Pentagon report, first published by the New York Times, found that up to 80 percent of fatal torso wounds suffered by U.S. Marines in Iraq could have been prevented by better body armor.

The amount of protective equipment now being issued to Marines is a far cry from what it was for older Leathernecks.

“When I first came in, all you had was a helmet, a flak jacket and a gear harness,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joe Grabbert, a 15-year veteran of the Marines who is now serving in Fallujah. “The stuff that’s standard issue now is comparable to what [the Army’s] Delta [Force] and the [Navy] SEALs were using in the mid-90s.”

Even some Army units operating under the command of the Marines in western Iraq have been issued the side plates. The 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, an Army Reserve unit from Pennsylvania, has so far been issued around 200 sets of side plates, officials said.

Because the unit — which operates in Habbaniyah — includes tanks, some of the soldiers don’t need and aren’t issued the plates. The infantry soldiers rotate the sets of plates when they go on missions.

New protective gear continues to be issued to Marines in western Iraq. The latest gear are sets of Kevlar sleeves designed to protect against shrapnel. The sleeves go from the shoulder down to the wrist and are surprisingly heavy.

“This is the latest thing, my RoboCop arms,” joked one Humvee gunner.

“This isn’t going to get hot at all,” he deadpanned.

Currently, temperatures are pushing 100 degrees. In the summer, they may reach 120 or more.

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