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'Full Battle Rattle' Saving Lives in Iraq, Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2003 – Any TV news report from Iraq or Afghanistan shows American service members wearing "full battle rattle."

Wearing the battle rattle has saved lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

One famous case was that of Army Spc. Jason Ashline. The young specialist was part of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. His unit was part of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in November 2001.

His squad leader Sgt. Raul Lopez picks up the story: "We were taking a lot of small arms and indirect fire," he said. The unit moved to get to a more protected area.

"As we were pulling away, we started taking it real heavy," Lopez continued. "In that period of three to four minutes I started to roll down the hill. My guys were right behind me. Ashline ended up taking a round directly over his heart in his body armor."

"As soon as he was hit, I was in shock," Lopez said. "I couldn't believe I saw it happen a foot and a half in front of me."

The impact knocked Ashline back, and Lopez grabbed him by the back of his body armor to drag him down the hill. "As I was dragging him down the hill, he was saying 'I think I'm all right,'" Lopez recalled. "I got him out of the direct line of fire and ripped his vest open to look for blood. To my surprise I couldn't find an entry wound."

The interceptor body armor system had stopped a 7.62 mm round. The round had passed through three layers of Kevlar and mushroomed inside the ceramic plate. But Ashline was alive and after another sergeant Ryan Brown retrieved the specialist's weapon, he was back in the fight.

Army officials said that from Afghanistan there are about 25 soldiers who are walking around alive today because their body armor stopped rounds. DoD officials said there are no firm statistics on the situation from Iraq, but that anecdotal evidence suggests the body armor has saved lives there.

"Everything we're getting from Iraq and Afghanistan is overwhelmingly positive," said Dan Power, a spokesman for DHB Industries Inc., the parent company of the maker of the system.

What service members call battle rattle is a two-part system, said David Nelson, the deputy product manager for clothing and individual equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va. "One component is the soft vest that covers the torso the shoulders and the back," he said during a phone interview. "It's made of soft material, a mixture of Kevlar and Twaron."

These are sown together in sort of a sandwich fashion inside a nylon camouflage-pattern shell. The nylon vest has attaching points for load-bearing equipment. On the back of the vest is the grab handle that Lopez found so helpful in dragging Ashline.

The second component of the system is ceramic plates that fit in pockets in the front and back of the vest. These plates protect the heart and lungs.

The vest itself will stop bullets from hand guns and fragmentation from indirect munitions such as mortars and hand grenades, said Norm Fanning, Nelson's coworker. The plates added to the mixture will protect against rifle and machine gun rounds.

The total weight of the system is 16 pounds.

Fanning said the Army is always looking to modernize the system and make it more effective. "We're looking at ways to lighten vest even more," he said. The office is testing new ballistic fibers to see if they can't save some weight. They are also looking at alternative materials for the ceramic plates so they are less susceptible to damage if dropped.

The current price for the vests is $585 a copy. The plates run approximately $500 per plate.

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