WASHINGTON – Soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear body armor other than the protective gear issued by the military, Army officials said Thursday, the latest twist in a running battle over the equipment the Pentagon gives its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army officials told the Associated Press that the order was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested commercial armor from private companies – including the popular Dragon Skin gear made by California-based Pinnacle Armor.
“We’re very concerned that people are spending their hard-earned money on something that doesn’t provide the level of protection that the Army requires people to wear. So they’re, frankly, wasting their money on substandard stuff,” said Col. Thomas Spoehr, director of materiel for the Army.
Murray Neal, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, said he hadn’t seen the directive and wants to review it.
“We know of no reason the Army may have to justify this action,” Neal said. “On the surface this looks to be another of many attempts by the Army to cover up the billions of dollars spent on ineffective body armor systems which they continue to try quick fixes on to no avail.”
The move was a rare one by the Army. Spoehr said he doesn’t recall any similar bans on personal armor or devices. The directives are most often issued when there are problems with aircraft or other large equipment.
Veterans groups immediately denounced the decision.
Nathaniel R. Helms, editor of the Soldiers for the Truth online magazine Defense Watch, said he has already received a number of e-mails from soldiers complaining about the policy.
“Outrageously we’ve seen that (soldiers) haven’t been getting what they need in terms of equipment and body armor,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who wrote legislation to have troops reimbursed for equipment purchases. “That’s totally unacceptable, and why this directive by the Pentagon needs to be scrutinized in much greater detail.”
But another veterans group backed the move.
“I don’t think the Army is wrong by doing this, because the Army has to ensure some level of quality,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “They don’t want soldiers relying on equipment that is weak or substandard.”
But, Rieckhoff said, the military is partially to blame for the problem because it took too long to get soldiers the armor they needed. “This is the monster they made,” he said.
Early in the Iraq war, soldiers and their families were spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on protective gear that they said the military was not providing.
Then, last October, after months of pressure from families and members of Congress, the military began a reimbursement program for soldiers who purchased their own protective equipment.