Army Bans Non-Military Issued Body Armor

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U.S. Army Lt. Craig Giancaterino in Iraq i

U.S. Army Lt. Craig Giancaterino searches for insurgents in the Al Jazeera Desert of western Iraq in a photo released March 27, 2006. The Army banned soldiers from wearing non-military issued body armor. Reuters/Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters/Reuters
U.S. Army Lt. Craig Giancaterino in Iraq

U.S. Army Lt. Craig Giancaterino searches for insurgents in the Al Jazeera Desert of western Iraq in a photo released March 27, 2006. The Army banned soldiers from wearing non-military issued body armor.

Reuters/Reuters

The U.S. Army says it has banned the use of body armor that is not issued by the military. Army officials say any soldier wearing commercially purchased body armor will have to turn it in and have it replaced by authorized gear. Military officials said they cannot guarantee the commercial gear's safety.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. The army says soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear any body armor other than that provided by the military. The issue of protective body armor has been a point of contention for many soldiers in Iraq and their families. In the early days of the war, some 40,000 troops did not have adequate protective gear, and so obtained their own.

Now that's changed, as NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

One mantra in the military is adapt, improvise and overcome. That's what many U.S. soldiers in Iraq have had to do regarding their protective body armor. When the military didn't issue them any, they had their families purchase some and send it to them. Six months ago, the military began reimbursing the troops and their families. Now the Army says those days are over.

Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel William Wiggins says the Army now has all the body armor it needs for the troops. And so it's not authorizing the use of any commercially made protective gear.

Lieutenant Colonel WILLIAM WIGGINS (United States Army): We believe that we have the very best body armor available for our soldiers today. Anything that is purchased outside of Army issue, we do not want to have our soldiers wearing that. We're concerned about the protection of a soldier and we want to make sure they have the best body armor available.

NORTHAM: The Army-issued body armor system is called the Interceptor, which is designed by the military. The most popular brand the soldiers have been buying is called the Dragon Skin, which is produced by a California company called Pinnacle Armor. The military and Pinnacle Armor argue over whose product is best. Murray Neal, the CEO of Pinnacle Armor, says the Dragon Skin is a flexible body suit, which allows a soldier to move easily. Neal says the Interceptor System is ineffective and doesn't protect soldiers as well as the Dragon Skin system does.

Mr. MURRAY NEAL (CEO, Pinnacle Armor): I consider it somewhat criminal when people knowingly continue to hide a system that is better than what's out there, have had people die because of the inadequacies of a system that's in place and continue to perpetuate it.

NORTHAM: The military says that the Dragon Skin's capabilities do not meet Army requirements and that aggressive advertising campaigns by it and other body armor companies are fueling public concern. Paul Rykoff, with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says he understands the backlash from the public. But Rykoff says it's right not to allow soldiers to use whatever equipment they want.

Mr. RYKOFF: The Army is reasonable to enforce a standard. They need to enforce continuity and standards. You know, you couldn't have everybody going out and buying their own bullets, you couldn't have everybody buying their own hardware.

Mr. NORTHAM: Rykoff says his organization gets reports from troops in Iraq every day. And that most of the soldiers say the Army's issued armor is top of the line. If anything, there's too much armor weighing the soldier down. So Rykoff says the military has come a long way since the first two years of the war.

Mr. RYKOFF: They definitely have at least the minimum standard and that's a tremendous improvement. But it does have to be a constant evolution. The enemy threat will evolve and we need our equipment to evolve as well.

NORTHAM: Rykoff says to do that the military should broaden its base of contractors to develop better, more innovative equipment.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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