Monday, January 09, 2006

Marines Without Armor

The New York Times

Marines Without Armor

American marines are a proud, tough bunch. They expect to be sent into the most dangerous battles and expect enemy fighters to come at them with everything they have. But they also expect, and have every right to expect, the Pentagon to provide them with the most effective armor available to maximize their chances of staying alive and in one piece. An investigative article in Saturday's Times by our colleague Michael Moss makes painfully clear that the Pentagon has let these brave warriors down.

A secret Defense Department study reveals that more extensive armor, of a kind available since 2003, could have saved the lives of some 80 percent of the marines killed by upper body wounds in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. That amounts to scores of needlessly lost lives - hundreds if Army deaths attributable to inadequate armor are counted as well. The ceramic armor plates in question cost about $260 a set.

Marines in the field have been clamoring for additional body armor (and vehicle armor) almost since the Iraq war began. Military officials initially turned them down because of concerns that the added weight might constrict movement. Once the study results came in last summer, Marine Corps leaders belatedly reversed themselves and started speeding armor to the troops.

Still, as of last month, less than 10 percent of the 28,000 sets of armor plates on order had actually reached the Marines in Iraq. Similar delays have plagued deliveries of improved vehicle armor. And the much larger Army contingent in Iraq has faced even more extensive delays.

The Pentagon buys some truly wondrous space-age weaponry with its half-trillion-dollar annual budgets. If the cold war ever resumes, the American military will certainly be prepared. Meantime, surely enough spare change can be found in that vast budget to accelerate deliveries of lifesaving armor to the marines and soldiers coming under fire today, and every day, in Iraq.