On January 6, 2006, the New York Times reported on a secret Pentagon study that found that as many as 80 percent of the Marines who had been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor.
This story came after reports that soldiers felt it necessary to purchase their own armor from private companies due to the Pentagon's shoddy war planning.
However, in March 2006, the Department of Defense banned service personnel from using non-DoD procured armor, leaving our service men and women with only one option: to use body armor purchased from manufacturers contracted by the Pentagon.
Given that some of our troops obviously didn't trust the body armor they were being given, in April of 2006 I sent a letter to the Department of Defense's Inspector General (DOD IG) requesting a review of the Pentagon's procurement processes for body armor.
I received the report this week...almost two years after my original request.
Its contents were pretty astonishing.
The Inspector General's Report
The report was limited to Army and Marine Corps body armor contracts and orders valued at $5.2 billion and awarded between January 2004 and December 2006.
It indicated that the Marines followed proper regulations for procuring body armor units from contractors known as Federal Acquisition Requirements (FAR).
All the contracts for the Marines had undergone and passed what is known as a First Article Test.
Basically, the First Article Test is supposed to determine three things: whether the armor meets operational requirements, whether the armor satisfies contractual obligations, and whether the armor performs in a simulated working environment.
Translation: First Article Testing is done to ensure that the body armor sent to our troops actually works.
The Inspector General found that the Marines had adequately performed this test for the body armor sent to its troops.
But what about the U.S. Army?
Body Armor Testing and the United States Army
During a press conference on May 21, 2007, Program Executive Office Soldier Brigadier General Mark Brown, who oversees the procurement process for the US Army, made a very clear statement about First Article Testing for equipment procured for our troops fighting overseas.
Speaking about First Article Testing he said, "it's the exact same test protocol that we put every single body armor producer through that is in the employ of the U.S. Army today."
He went on to say that all of the "...body armor producers of the U.S. Army in their employ passed this live-fire test protocol with zero-failures. Zero failures is the correct answer. One failure is sudden death and you lose the game."
Pretty clear stuff. He said that all of the contractors for body armor had undergone and passed a live-fire First Article Test with "zero-failures."
However, that's not what the Inspector General's report had to say.
The DoD IG report found that nearly half of the Army's contractors did not perform this most basic test on the body armor before it was sent to our troops fighting overseas.
In 13 of 28 contracts and orders, Army contract officials did not require or perform First Article Testing (FAT).
That's nearly half of all the contracts for body armor and worth almost $3 billion in taxpayer funds!
What does all that mean?
That means American taxpayers were charged $3 billion for body armor that has been under-tested.
More importantly, that means our Service members fighting in Iraq are using body armor that has been under-tested.
It is the responsibility of the Army to ensure that every piece of equipment is properly tested, especially a fundamental life and death product such as body armor.
For a soldier in the field, the only thing standing between their vital organs and the enemy's fire is their body armor.
I am extremely concerned that the Army is effectively gambling on the quality of the body armor that is essential to the safety and security of our troops.
By under-testing armor, the odds are increased that our service men and women will receive a faulty product.
What Are We Going To Do About It?
I have called on the Army to fire any and all individuals responsible for failing to adequately protect our troops and allowing them to go into harms way without properly tested body armor.
I will meet with representatives from the Army to discuss the findings in this report, the fundamental causes for these serious failures, and the Army's plans to correct the problems.
That's what I'm going to do right now. But let me tell you what I'm not going to do.
I am not going to let this get swept under the rug.
The safety and security of our troops is on the line and we have an obligation to ensure that those individuals sacrificing so much for our country have equipment that is scrupulously tested and certain to actually work.
It's the very least we can do.