Friday, October 3, 2003

Some isle troops
lack new armor

The Army says all Schofield
soldiers going to Afghanistan
will get the vests soon


Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003

>> A total of 7,000 troops from Schofield Barracks will deploy to Afghanistan next year in two waves of 3,500 soldiers. A story on Page A6 of yesterday's morning edition incorrectly stated that 700 troops would deploy in waves of 350.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

Not all of the 700 Schofield Barracks soldiers who are destined for combat duty next year in Afghanistan have been issued the military's new Interceptor body armor that can stop rifle bullets.

However, Army spokeswoman Capt. Kathy Turner said yesterday that all of the deploying 2nd Brigade soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division will have the 16.4-pound vest before they leave Hawaii.

"Some of them already have it," said Turner, who has been issued one. "Others don't. It all depends on the unit."

Nationally the lack of Interceptor body armor has been such a problem, the Los Angeles Times reported this week, that a Pennsylvania mother bought one and sent it to her son, a military policeman in Iraq, to replace the Vietnam-era flak jacket he was issued.

The New York Daily News reported this week that angry constituents have been writing their congressional representatives to complain that their sons and daughters were sent to Iraq without the latest protective body armor. The paper said as many as 30,000 soldiers in the region are without the new armor.

Turner said she didn't have a percentage of Schofield Barracks soldiers who have been issued the new Interceptor vests. She said that by the time the first contingent of 350 Tropic Lightning soldiers leave for Afghanistan in February for six months they will be properly outfitted. The soldiers will replace soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division.

Standard flak jackets cannot stop bullets from AK-47 assault rifles, commonly used in Iraq and Afghanistan, military officials acknowledge.

The Interceptor vests were developed in the late 1990s and are made of layers of Kevlar with pockets in the front and back for ceramic plates to protect vital organs. The Los Angeles Times reported that these vests -- one-third lighter than the old ones -- have stopped machine-gun bullets, shrapnel and other ordnance.

In 1998, Interceptors were available and issued to armies around the world. However, the U.S. military treats the replacement of body armor as any other "general-issue item." Thus, five years ago military brass decided to exchange new for old vests over 10 years. The military recently moved to increase production, the papers said.

In his $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan, now pending before Congress, President Bush included $300 million for body armor and $177 million to upgrade Humvees with chassis armor.

The Interceptor vests cost $517 each, about $100 more than the old flak vests, the New York paper said. It quoted David Nelson, the Army's deputy manager for clothing and individual equipment, as saying three manufacturers were ready to go into production around the clock once Congress approves funding.

At the same time, Turner said she didn't know if the Tropic Lightning soldiers will take their Humvees to Afghanistan.

Turner said Schofield Barracks officials are still working on the details of the Afghanistan deployment and have not determined whether they will be taking 25th Division Humvees or use the ones left by other units.

Last week, Gen. John Keane, the Army's vice chief of staff, told a congressional committee that the Humvee funding would allow the military to "up-armor" the vehicles, which have become prime targets of remote-control roadside bombs in Iraq.

The money would provide armor plating for the soft sides and undercarriages that would protect the driver and three crew members from shrapnel and small-arms fire. Keane said there are about 800 armored Humvees in Iraq, but he wants 900 more.


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