Generals summoned to Capitol to discuss armor
WASHINGTON — Army and Marine officials insist that troops are being outfitted with the most current and best body armor available, despite a report that suggests more add-ons to servicemembers’ standard protection could have saved lives.
“Recent news articles would lead one to believe that we’re not taking force protection seriously, or we’re slow to respond, or we’re fielding inadequate equipment,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, director of force development for the Army.
“That is not true. The equipment (troops) have today is better than what they had yesterday, and what they’ll have tomorrow will be even better.”
Members of the House Armed Services Committee summoned the military officials to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to respond to a study of Marines killed in Iraq conducted by military officials. The report was finished last summer, but was not released publicly until The New York Times wrote about it last month.
In the report, 74 of 93 fatal wounds were attributed to areas of the shoulders and torso not covered by the military’s standard body armor.
But study author Cmdr. Craig Mallak of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s officer said that research was simply a forensic analysis of the dangers facing troops, and not to assign blame for the deaths.
He told committee members that the study provides only one view of the overall armor issue. Military officials said the research does not take into account heat, mobility, discomfort and other factors that could make the extra protection more of a liability than a benefit to the troops.
Marines have already fielded about 9,000 side armor inserts for troops in Iraq, and have promised to have another 28,000 available to troops by April. Army officials said they’ll put 230,000 side panel plates in Iraq by the end of the year.
Maj. Gen. William Catto, commander of the Marine Corps System Command, said officials are constantly adapting and upgrading the armor to respond to information gathered from combat units, and the need for the side armor add-ons only came to light last summer. Within a month the corps fielded about 500 for field testing, and began mass production of the plates within three months.
Catto also blasted The New York Times for publishing details about armor vulnerabilities in their article on the Marine deaths’ study, calling it an irresponsible move that put all U.S. troops in Iraq at risk.
That riled several members of the committee. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., called the paper reckless and bent on an anti-Republican agenda, while Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, suggested the report might “rise to the level of treason.”
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said he will ask committee staffers to investigate possible punishment against the Times.
In a e-mail response to a Stripes query, the Times reporter, Michael Moss, said that he has “in past articles omitted specific information relating the ballistic threats. But as with all reporting on the war, it is a difficult enterprise to balance the potential harm with the potential benefit that stems from public disclosure.”