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Soldiers Prohibited From Wearing Non-Standard Body Armor

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2006 – U.S. soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq are prohibited from wearing non-standard-issue body armor, a senior Army officer told reporters here today.

Parents of soldiers serving in overseas combat zones "ought to feel comfortable with the fact and know ... that we have provided the best body armor that is available anywhere in the world," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army secretary's deputy assistant for acquisition and systems management.

Claims of superiority voiced by some manufacturers whose body armor isn't certified for soldiers' use are just claims, Sorenson said at a Pentagon news conference. Such equipment, he said, hasn't been tested or evaluated. "They have not passed the rigor that we put into standards determining whether something is safe, effective and suitable," Sorenson said. "And, until such time that they can do that, we will not give them, if you will, the 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.'"

Sorenson referred to an Army safety message dated March 17 that directs commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure their soldiers wear only Army-tested and -approved body armor. Commanders have 30 days after receipt of the message to conduct inspections to see that soldiers are in compliance, according to the message.

The message also cautioned commanders that some soldiers might be wearing a specific brand of non-Army-certified body armor that hasn't undergone standardized testing procedures, a commercial body armor called "Dragon Skin," made by Pinnacle Armor.

Sorenson confirmed that Dragon Skin currently is not authorized for soldiers' wear. The manufacturer has received Army funding to develop lighter-weight body armor. However, that system has yet to be subjected to Army certification tests.

Plenty of standard-issue body armor is available for soldiers serving in overseas combat zones, Sorenson said. In fact, more than 200,000 sets of tested and authorized body armor, he said, have been forwarded to U.S. military theaters of operation.

Some soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have complained about the heavy weight of the body armor now being issued. Sorenson said the Army continues to address such soldier concerns. Providing soldiers more comfortable and effective body armor "is what everybody is interested in," he said.

Meanwhile, the Army continues to examine "all types of composites, all types of materials" in the search for better body armor, he said. "So, this is just a constant evolution. And, if someone finds the 'holy grail' (of body armor), then we'll be right there to back up the dump truck and buy it," Sorenson said.

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