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thedrifter
12-15-03, 07:34 AM
Marines' flak vests to be outfitted with ceramic SAPI plates





By Rick Rogers
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

December 14, 2003

CAMP PENDLETON Every Marine deploying from this base to Iraq in the spring will be outfitted with a flak vest toughened by ceramic plates proven to stop bullets and shrapnel.

Lt. Col. David Blasko, supply officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based here, said shipments of the Small Arms Protective Inserts known as SAPI plates are arriving regularly and that most Marines will have them before deployment.

He said some might get the plates, which go into the fronts and backs of flak vests, after arriving in the Persian Gulf but before they enter Iraq.

"This is a priority thing. It is going to happen. We are in the process of ensuring that every sailor and Marine has two SAPI plates," Blasko said. "This is a very emotional issue for commanders and psychologically important" for those deploying.

In April, Congress approved $310 million to buy body armor and then criticized the Pentagon when that authorization didn't get the best possible body armor to the troops in Iraq.

Pentagon officials have since said service members should have the body armor they need this month.

Blasko said the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force has enough flak jackets for the coming deployment but only about half of the 40,000 to 42,000 ceramic plates needed. He said the rest of the plates and spares will come from manufacturers and units rotating out of Iraq.

A typical Kevlar vest, such as those used by the San Diego Police Department, can stop most bullets fired outside of combat. It's when those vests are coupled with ceramic plates that they can save lives on the battlefield.

Some 1st Marine Division units already have the vests, which cost $550, complete with the SAPI plates that cost $450 each. The gear weighs about 16 pounds.

From 20,000 to 21,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force will deploy early next year for the second time. The majority of them will come from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq have turned more deadly and sophisticated in recent months, with ambushes on convoys and helicopters, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs being particularly deadly. U.S. officials expect these attacks to escalate in the coming months.

When Marines helped take Baghdad about a year ago, they wore standard flak jackets, and while vests saved lives, the new setup will be much better, Blasko said.

"It's been proven to work. The actual plates will stop 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm rounds. That is exceptional protection," Blasko said. "It is the best body armor I've seen in my 20 years in the Marines. Nothing is as resilient to shrapnel or bullets."

Better body armor is being credited with helping save U.S. lives on Iraqi battlefields. In past conflicts, one of every three or four soldiers wounded in combat died. U.S. Central Command said the figure for Iraq is one in seven, with very few chest wounds.

The U.S.-issued M-16 fires the 5.56 mm round. The Kalashnikov rifle, better known as the AK-47, is often carried by Iraqi insurgents and fires a 7.62 mm round.

Pendleton officials said Humvees and cargo trucks also are being outfitted with armor, although Marines on Tuesday said they did not know when that would be completed.



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Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; rick.rogers@uniontrib.com


http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20031214-9999_1mi14suitup.html


Sempers,

Roger
:marine: