Earlier this year, the U.S. Marine
Corps gave combat commanders the authority to allow their troops to go into
action without some, or all, of their protective equipment. The marines tend to
be more innovative, and use more initiative, in matters like this. Even so,
senior marine officers had been putting off making this decision. That is a
form of good news to the junior officers, who actually get shot at, because it
meant the brass were finally willing to put their careers on the line, and give
the combat commanders the authority to have troops shed armor when the
situation calls for it.
that, the marines began shipping (in May) a new protective vest, the Scalable
Plate Carrier, that was a little lighter, but a lot less bulky, than the current
protective vest. First it went to Afghanistan, where moving up and down hills
is a lot more strenuous than the generally flat terrain of Iraq.
All this is
the result of a five year old debate in the infantry community over how much
body armor is actually needed. There are times when the troops have to move
fast (as when chasing down a sniper). But the senior commanders are under a lot
of pressure to keep friendly casualties down, so they tend to insist that the
troops wear all their armor all the time. Despite this, some subordinate commanders look the other way when troops
shed their armor, or parts of it, to temporarily to get some needed speed. Over
the last few years, pressure from the media and politicians has caused several
additional items to be added to the standard protective vest. This was welcomed
by reservists doing a lot of convoy duty, but not by infantry running around
after the enemy. The latest protective vests have a quick release feature, that
makes it easier to get the vest off, and back on again.
soldiers and marines point out that the SOCOM operators (Special Forces and
SEALs) will sometimes go into action without their protective vests. Again,
that is done because completion of the mission is more important than covering
your ass when a reporter goes after you for "unnecessary casualties."
Many of the troops are willing to take the
risk, because they believe, for example, that taking down a sniper when you have the chance, is worth it. If you
don't catch the guy, he will be back in action the next day, kill American
troops. All this is another example of the fact that "victory" is
defined differently, depending on what your rank is.