Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thanks, NBC News

It’s not often that I feel the need to go back and offer up to eat crow for something I’ve said. However, when I wrongly malign someone, I’ll retract what I’ve said & dine on my just desserts. Today I must actually THANK the people at NBC, after having just bashed them the other day.

Thanks NBC, for spearheading the drive to showcase Dragon Skin body armor for our troops. Thank you for showing that there existed a product better than the current Interceptor body armor, and thank you for getting Interceptor’s inventor to publicly say that Dragon Skin was better. Thank you for conducting an independent test of the armor side-by-side to expose for everyone how much better Dragon Skin is, and thank you for also admitting your test was abbreviated and not done under any extreme climate conditions. Your honesty was commendable, and your actions even more so. For once, the media is on the side of the poor grunt in the field, and hopefully lives can be saved by your having gotten the good word out.

For troops in the line of fire, body armor can spell the difference between life and death. Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, who oversees body armor for the Army, told NBC, “The body armor that we issue to our soldiers today is the best in the world. Bar none. It’s proven by live-fire testing, and it’s proven in combat.” But is it really the best?

An NBC News investigation — including independent ballistics tests — suggests there may be something better called Dragon Skin. Military families and soldiers have tried to buy Dragon Skin believing it offers better protection. But the Army banned the armor last year even before formally testing it.

The Army’s current body armor is called Interceptor. NBC News tracked down the man who designed Interceptor a decade ago, Jim Magee, a retired Marine colonel:
LISA MYERS: What is the best body armor available today in your view?
JIM MAGEE: Dragon Skin is the best out there, hands down. It's better than the Interceptor. It is state of the art. In some cases, it’s two steps ahead of anything I’ve ever seen.
MYERS: You developed the body armor that the Army is using today.
MAGEE: That's correct.
MYERS: And you say Dragon Skin is better?
MAGEE: Yes. And I think anybody in my industry would say the same thing were they to be perfectly honest about it.

Why? He says more stopping power and more coverage.

According to Magee, the Army’s Interceptor uses four rigid plates to stop the most lethal bullets, leaving some vital organs unprotected. Dragon Skin — with discs that interconnect like medieval chain-mail — can wrap most of a soldier’s torso, providing a greater area of maximum protection.

Magee, who has no financial stake whatsoever in Dragon Skin, told us, “If you would ask me today, ‘Jim we’re sending you to Iraq tomorrow. What would you wear?’ I would buy Dragon Skin and I would wear it.”

He’s not alone. NBC News has learned that the CIA bought Dragon Skin for elite operatives in Iraq, they say, after it passed CIA testing. But Brown says the Army conducted its own tests of Dragon Skin last year.

BRIG. GEN. BROWN: Thirteen of 48 shots that were taken at Dragon Skin were penetrating; full penetrating shots.
MYERS: So that’s a catastrophic
BROWN: Correct.
MYERS: So Dragon Skin failed?
BROWN: Dragon Skin failed miserably.

Brown suggested those tests led the Army to issue a “Safety of Use Message,” warning soldiers of “death or serious injury.” There’s just one problem: the Army banned Dragon Skin in March, almost two months before that testing began in May.

MYERS: General, the Army banned Dragon Skin before the Army even tested it.
BROWN: Lisa, I’m — I’m not aware of that… I don’t know that.

Nevin Rupert, a mechanical engineer and ballistics expert, was for seven years the Army’s leading authority on Dragon Skin. Now a whistleblower, he says the Army’s timing wasn’t coincidental.
RUPERT: I believe there are some Army officials at the lower levels that deliberately tried to sabotage it.
MYERS: What possible motive would Army officials have for blocking a technology that could save lives?
RUPERT: Their loyalty is to their organization and maintaining funds.

He says that because Dragon Skin was not developed by the Army, some officials considered it a threat to funding of Interceptor and other Army programs.

RUPERT: It wasn’t their program. It threatened their program and mission funding.
Rupert also says he was ordered not to attend the tests of Dragon Skin.

MYERS: You spent seven years evaluating Dragon Skin. And the Army goes to test it. And you're told not to attend?
MYERS: They didn't want you there?
RUPERT: They didn't want a lot of people there.

Rupert was recently fired by the Army, he says, for supporting Dragon Skin. When questioned about Rupert by NBC News, the Army said in a statement:
“Mr. Nevin Rupert was employed by the Army Research Laboratory for more than 33 years as a mechanical engineer in the Weapons & Materials Research Directorate, located at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. Mr. Nevin left federal service on February 24, 2007. He has a June 2007 appeal before the Merit System Protection Board.”

NBC News also has learned that, well after the Army ban, select soldiers assigned to protect generals and VIPs in Iraq and Afghanistan wore Dragon Skin.
An active duty soldier, who asked us to conceal his identity, told NBC he wore Dragon Skin on certain missions, with the full knowledge of his commanders.
“I wore it and I saw other people wearing it… It conforms to your body, it gives you more mobility,” he said.

LISA MYERS: Does the ban on Dragon Skin apply equally to everyone in the Army?
BRIG. GEN. MARK BROWN: Lisa, yes it does.

However, sources and documents obtained by NBC News reveal that a top general’s security detail in Iraq bought and wore Dragon Skin.

MYERS: If Dragon Skin is good enough for a 3-star general, shouldn’t it be good enough for other soldiers?
BROWN: Lisa, even 3-star generals make mistakes.

A Pentagon spokesman says that Gen. Peter Chiarelli, once the top ground commander in Iraq, “had no knowledge that Dragon Skin was prohibited” and “never wore Dragon Skin,” though it’s possible his staff ordered it for him. The spokesman went on to say that Chiarelli acknowledges that his bodyguards ordered and received concealed body armor, but that Chiarelli “didn't know the armor was Dragon Skin.”

Given the controversy over body armor, NBC News commissioned an independent, side-by-side test of Dragon Skin and the Army’s Interceptor vest. In that testing, Dragon Skin outperformed the Army’s body armor in stopping the most lethal threats. Retired four-star Army Gen. Wayne Downing, now an NBC news analyst, observed the tests. “What we saw today, Lisa, and again it’s a limited number of trials, Dragon Skin was significantly better,” he said.

These independent, limited tests raise serious questions about the Army’s claim that Dragon Skin doesn’t work. NBC News will report on the specific results of that testing on Dateline NBC Sunday. Critics tell NBC they’d like to see the Army re-test and re-evaluate Dragon Skin.

1 comment:

John said...

I've heard about this before- several years ago, from my brother, who's due to return to the sandbox for his third tour in a few months. He's not happy about it, although he's a good troop and will follow orders and use the body armor he gets through the supply chain.

It hadn't heard about, but it doesn't surprise me, that LGEN BetrayUs's protective detail (and probably himself) are wearing the Dragon Skin- you see how HE gets to use what actually works instead of having some political decision forced down his throat like the regular troops. "It's good to be the king."

Also remember that as of a few weeks ago, the troops aren't even allowed to write email, create or maintain a blog, or even add comments to a blog like this one, without getting every single message approved by their commanders first. Maybe that's why they're pushing for soldiers to sign their family members up for "" email addresses, so that if they DO happen to send out an email to a family member, the army's computers can read it. Remember that the army has access to some of the same filtering technology that the NSA uses at all of the major choke-points of the internet.

My knee-jerk reaction when I hear about this is something like "land of the free my ass", but then think about it:

- These soldiers voluntarily enlisted, knowing full well that they were giving up a certain amount of their personal freedom and subjecting themselves to military rules, and that those rules could change at any time.

- SINCE WHEN has this country really been the "land of the free" anyway? not since 1918, my friends... but that's a rant for a different day.

I just pray that something bad doesn't happen to him this time- something which could have been "not so fatal" if he had been wearing better body armor, like Dragon Skin. He IS a crew chief, so when they land somewhere he does actually have to leave the aircraft- but he's also in a medevac company, so in theory it's rare that he would be shot at in the first place... although his aircraft do have big red crosses on them instead of red crescents, and I've heard mixed reports about whether or not the "bad guys" recognize the red cross symbol and treat it with the same hands-off attitude that they show for their own red crescent... remember that these are the assholes who set up anti-aircraft emplacements in the back yards of daycare centers in order to keep them from being shot at.