Armor issued despite warnings

Marine Corps Times

The Marine Corps issued to nearly 10,000 troops body armor that military ballistic experts had urged the Marines to reject after tests revealed life-threatening flaws in the vests, an eight-month investigation by Marine Corps Times has found.

In all, the Marines bought about 19,000 Interceptor outer tactical vests from Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Point Blank Body Armor. According to a government memo, the vests failed tests because of “multiple complete penetrations” of 9mm pistol rounds and other ballistics or quality-assurance tests.

After being questioned about the safety flaws for this story, the Marines ordered the recall of 5,277 Interceptor vests on Wednesday. Many of the vests were issued to Marines in Iraq.

The Marines have not said what they intend to do with more than 4,000 other vests still in use or about 10,000 in storage.

Government ballistics expert James MacKiewicz, in a memorandum rejecting two lots of vests on July 19, 2004, said his office “has little confidence in the performance” of the body armor.

The documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

MacKiewicz, who works at the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., is responsible for verifying that the vests meets protective requirements.

Instead of heeding MacKiewicz’ warning, the Marine program manager for the vests, Lt. Col. Gabriel Patricio, and Point Blank’s chief operating officer, Sandra Hatfield, signed waivers that allowed the Marines to buy and distribute the vests.

The Marine Corps questioned the accuracy of the initial tests. It pulled samples from some of the challenged lots and had them tested at a private lab.

Patricio said the second tests showed that the vests meet safety standards and do not put Marines at increased risk of injury.

“We see no reason to be concerned that the quality has deteriorated or that the performance has deteriorated in any fashion,” Hatfield said last month.

Brig. Gen. William Catto, head of Marine Corps Systems Command, told USA TODAY on Sunday that there is no evidence to indicate problems with the vests in use. But Catto said the Marines have no choice but to recall them because the questions prompted by media coverage will “cause doubts in the minds of our guys” using the vests.

Contributing: Matthew Cox and Dave Moniz. Marine Corps Times is an independent newspaper owned by Gannett.

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