Thursday, January 19, 2006

I'm not armored against this

OK. I'm finding myself deeply conflicted by a story that's currently... well, by a story currently not really in the news. It's covered, in passing, by a couple of sources. They make a quick reference to it, and then they go away. They ignore it.

The only people who are really interested is a couple of bloggers, and me. And, really, the entire armed services of the United States. But do they really matter? (Except as a prop for a couple of politicians who pretend to care about them, I mean...)

Oh, I'm sorry. Did that sound cynical? Damn it. I've got to stop that.

But maybe there's a reason for my attitude.

Body armor has come a long way over the last couple of centuries. The average soldier wanted all the protection he could get for a while, and the early armor, which could protect pretty well against a sword, was what he wanted. Big iron breastplates and chunks of metal that were strapped all over his body.

But, as the sword was replaced by the gun, those pieces of iron just didn't do the trick. And as the gun became more prevalent, less people wanted to hang heavy chunks of metal all over their body: it slowed them down, and really didn't do a thing to keep them safe.

But people kept trying to invent something that might work. The Vietnam-era flak vest was popular for several decades (I had one when I entered the Air Force), but it mostly protected against flying debris from a bomb. Nobody thought that it would stop a bullet, but we wore them for years anyway.

Several versions came and went, but finally, as time went on, we ended up wearing the Interceptor body armor. It was an advancement. It claimed to stop the largest round used by any military, and we were happy with that.

Of course, then we went into Iraq. First we didn't use as many troops as we needed, and then we started over-using and abusing the Reserves and National Guard. Regardless, we didn't have enough armor to go around. And after a while, a bunch of people started buying their own armor, assuming that the Department of Defense cared about them and would reimburse them for the money that those poor bastards spent trying to save their own lives.

Well, that didn't work. A lot of the survivors discovered that the military was in no hurry to repay them for the armor that they bought out of their own pockets. Apparently, somebody in the Pentagon realized that it cost less to pay for a funeral than to reimburse a soldier for body armor.

I'm sorry. Did that sound cruel and unreasonable? Well, here's the truth of the matter. A bunch of soldiers bought a higher-quality armor than the Interceptor vests that the military had been supplying them, and the Pentagon got cranky.

These soldiers had bought a product called Dragon Skin, and the military was apparently upset that it seemed to work as well as it was supposed to. In fact, soldiers were ordered to leave their Dragon Skin behind when they deployed to Iraq; the word had also come down from on high that soldiers who were killed in combat while wearing any armor that the military didn't give them, would not be paid benefits from the military life insurance policy that they'd been paying into since they entered the military.

Isn't that just adorable? And here's the cool part. Daily Kos looked into it, and noticed that the primary supplier of body armor to the military just happened to be a major Republican donor.

Is this just a coincidence? Hell, I don't know. I only know one thing.

When I was deployed to Iraq (we were the first relief team in after the invasion), we wore Interceptor vests. So I was there, on the ground, wearing the crappy vests that studies are now showing wouldn't have protected me if a bullet had come my way.

Does this bother me? Hell, I'll leave that for you to figure out. In the meantime, I'm finding that I'm suddenly happier that I made it home.

And so are my wife and kids.

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