10 years, 6 months ago
Three days ago I had a chance to debrief a soldier with the 101st who recently came back from deployment in the Kirkuk area. The discussion was too long to report here, but two interesting things emerged. First, according to this soldier, the Shia generally want us there and seem genuinely thankful that the U.S. has made the sacrafices that we have made. The Kurdish have a wonderful relationship with the U.S., as years of protection from Saddam’s forces has made Kurdistan a thriving, peaceful, lively and self-sufficient region of the country. The Sunni are still bitter and harbor ill feelings towards the U.S. They are on the losing end of the deal, and they blame the U.S. Our forces do not generally trust the Sunnis, and the Sunnis do not trust the U.S. Ironically, they are in the position of having to rely upon the U.S. for protection from the radical Shi’ite forces who want revenge for years of oppression by the Sunnis.
The second thread of the discussion emerged when I asked him about his body armor, telling him that a new system called the Modular Tactical Vest will soon be issued to Marines. He then embarked upon an impassioned discussion about body armor. On his first deployment the rules allowed the soldiers to choose for or against wearing side armor plates, and many chose not to due to the obstrusive nature of them. They use the side of the vest to hang fragmentation grenades and other gear. Too much bulk causes their arms to hang out at an angle. During this most recent deployment, the rules had been changed to require them to wear all plates. Also, when I mentioned that the newer system promised to give better balance to the armor, he responded that balance was a big deal. Because weapons and gear is hung on the front and especially the sides of the vest, Marines and Soldiers have to lean back in order to stay balanced. When you see pictures of our men leaning backwards in order to stand or walk, you will now know why. It is made worse by the firearms and ammunition, especially for the SAW gunner (Squad Automatic Weapon, or M249). Finally, he discussed body armor design and add-ons, as well as angles and body parts. They worry about things such as bullets coming into the body armor and ricocheting around the armor and up into the neck (which happened to one in their unit).
Body armor is something that a Marine or Soldier lives with every day. He wears it; he hauls it with him and on him; he sweats in it and soaks it down; it hurts him and exhausts him; it protects him and might save his life. It is a big deal to him. Any advancements that can be made in heavy battlefield weight, distribution and balance, and comfort are worth the expenditure by the Department of Defense.