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Monday, March 13, 2000

suits unfit for battle

About 1,800 bad suits are
found at Schofield, another
94 at Hickam

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Flawed chemical-protective suits have been identified in supply lots at Hickam Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks, and either have been turned in or will be used for training only.

About 1,800 defective chemical-warfare suits were found at the 25th Infantry Division's stockpile, said Army spokesman Capt. Rich Spiegel. "This represents only 9 percent of our stockage."

Schofield Barracks has a sufficient stockpile of chemical protective equipment "to ensure that all of our soldiers would be protected in a contingency operation or other real-world deployment," Spiegel said.

At Hickam Air Force Base, spokeswoman Bette MacTaggart said 94 suspect suits were identified and "pulled off the shelf."

The damaged suits will be clearly marked "for training purposes only," she said.

Both she and Spiegel said defective suits are commonly used for training.

The Army ordered replacements after removing the defective suits from its stockpile in December and February, Spiegel said.

"One lot (of the damaged suits) will be used for training," he said. "The other is being held pending instructions from the Defense Logistics Agency."

The agency told all military services on Feb. 3 not to use suits manufactured in 1989 and 1992 by Isratex Inc. of New York.

A similar alert was issued in December. More than 780,000 protective suits were supplied to the Army and Air Force at a cost of $49 million.

Isratex has since gone bankrupt.

The questionable suits reportedly have holes and tears, which the Pentagon's inspector general said would prove fatal to the wearer during a gas or germ attack.

Sailors and Marines here were not affected since none of their protective clothing is manufactured by Isratex. Hawaii Army National Guard and Army Reserve officials also said no defective suits were issued to their soldiers.

The chemical-protective suit is worn over a regular uniform, and its plasticized outer surface is supposed to inhibit the penetration of chemicals. In addition to the overgarment, the protective system includes a rubber hood and gas mask, rubber gloves and boots.

Military regulations require suits to be tested annually after they reach their five-year shelf life.

The suits are sealed individually in plastic bags when the garments are removed to ensure that their charcoal filters will function at maximum efficiency.

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