- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

HUSAYBAH, Iraq (AP) — Extra body armor — the lack of which caused a political storm in the United States — has flooded in to Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.

Marines already carry loads as heavy as 70 pounds when they patrol the dangerous streets in towns and villages in restive Anbar province. The new armor plates, although only about 5 pounds per set, are not worth carrying for the additional safety they are said to provide, some say.

“We have to climb over walls and go through windows,” said Sgt. Justin Shank. “I understand the more armor, the safer you are. But it makes you slower. People don’t understand that this is combat, and people are going to die.”

Staff Sgt. Thomas Bain shared concerns about the extra pounds.

“Before you know it, they’re going to get us injured because we’re hauling too much weight and don’t have enough mobility to maneuver in a fight from house to house,” said Staff Sgt. Bain, who is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “I think we’re starting to go overboard on the armor.”

Since the insurgency erupted in Iraq, the Pentagon has been criticized for supplying insufficient armor for Humvees and too few bulletproof vests. In one remarkable incident, soldiers publicly confronted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the problem on live television.

Hometown groups across the United States have since raised money to send extra armor to troops, and the Pentagon, under congressional pressure, launched a program in October to reimburse troops who had purchased armor with their own money.

Soldiers and their parents spent hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on armor until the Pentagon began issuing the new protective gear.

In Staff Sgt. Bain’s platoon of about 35 men, Marines said only three or four wore the plates after commanders distributed them last month and told them that use was optional.

Top military officials, including Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, acknowledge the concerns over weight and mobility but have urged that the new gear be mandatory.

“That’s going to add weight, of course,” Mr. Harvey said. “You’ve read where certain soldiers aren’t happy about that. But we think it’s in their best interest to do this.”

Marines have shown a special aversion to the new plates because they tend to patrol on foot, sometimes conducting two patrols each day that last several hours. They feel the extra weight.

In Euphrates River cities from Ramadi and Romanna, lance corporals to captains have complained about the added weight and lack of mobility. But some commanders have refused to listen. In the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, for example, commanders require use of the plates.

Last year, a study by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner said dozens of Marines killed by wounds to the torso might have survived had the larger plates been in use.

“I’m sure people who … lost kidneys would have loved to have had them on,” said 2nd Lt. William Oren, who wears the plates. “More armor isn’t the answer to all our problems. But I’ll recommend them because it’s more protection.”

Some Marines have chosen to wear the plates, particularly those in more vulnerable jobs, such as Humvee turret gunners. But many think the politics of the issue eventually will make the plates mandatory.

“The reason they issued [the plates], I think, is to make people back home feel better,” said Lance Cpl. Philip Tootle. “I’m not wishing they wouldn’t have issued them. I’m just wishing that they wouldn’t make them mandatory.”

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