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Armor Faulted in Some U.S. Deaths

January 07, 2006|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — An unreleased Pentagon study of fatal torso wounds to Marines in Iraq found that most might have been prevented or minimized if the troops had been wearing improved body armor.

The study last summer by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner looked at 93 fatal wounds from the start of the war in March 2003 through June 2005. It concluded that 74 of the wounds were from bullets or shrapnel hitting shoulders or other areas of the torso not protected by ceramic armor plates.

The findings underscore the difficulty facing the Army and Marine Corps in providing the optimum level of body armor protection. The Army and the Marine Corps have weighed the benefits of additional safety from extra armor against the loss of combat effectiveness from too much armor.

"In response to the changing battlefield conditions and as new technologies emerge, the Army continues to develop improvements to soldier protection equipment to enhance survivability and mobility," Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

Boyce said U.S. soldiers' body armor was the best in the world, but he would not "discuss in public sensitive issues that may render any insight to the enemy about our capabilities, fielding plans or tactics, techniques and procedures."

According to a summary of the medical examiner's study obtained Friday evening, autopsy reports and photographic records were analyzed to help the military determine possible armor redesign.

The study found that of 39 fatal torso wounds in which the bullet or shrapnel entered the Marine's body outside the ceramic armor plate that protects the chest and back, 31 were close to the plate's edge.

"Either a larger plate or superior protection around the plate would have had the potential to alter the final outcome," the study concluded.

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