Friday, December 15, 2006

Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms

Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Flame-resistant uniforms will be standard issue for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by early 2007, Pentagon officials say.

More than 160,000 suits made of the flame-retardant fabric NOMEX will be sent to combat zones, said Thomas Edwards, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army logistics.

The Pentagon moved quickly, Edwards said, because Iraqi insurgents are using homemade bombs and targeting the fuel tanks of vehicles. The bombs, called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Guys in the area of operations said, 'Give us all the fireproof uniforms you can find and then kick up production,' " Edwards said.

After receiving the Army's request Sept. 21, the Pentagon shipped 70,000 suits by Oct. 13 to outfit troops who patrol outside U.S. bases, Edwards said. It will cost about $70 million for the uniforms, hoods and gloves.

NOMEX, a DuPont-manufactured fiber, resists burning for about 9 seconds, long enough to allow troops to escape from a burning vehicle, Edwards said.

Troops are urged to drink extra liquids to keep from overheating because of the suits' added layer of protection, said Lt. Col. Carl Ey, an Army spokesman.

Margo Hughey, a 68-year-old grandmother from Columbus, Ind., said she has raised $2,000 to buy the suits for troops after learning of attacks with diesel-soaked explosives from relatives serving in Iraq. She and friend April Johnson, 41, also contacted Indiana's two senators — Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh — because they did not believe the Pentagon had acted quickly enough.

"When I learned our own family members were in extreme danger, and it did not look like they would be supplied by the DOD (Department of Defense) or the Army I knew I must do something," Hughey said.

Lugar contacted the Pentagon but had not received a response, spokesman Andy Fisher said.

Edwards said the Pentagon moved quickly: "I don't know how long it took Granny to raise that two thousand bucks, but it couldn't have been a helluva lot faster than we did in getting these uniforms."

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