WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps flatly rejects charges that the protective vests issued to thousands of deployed Marines don't offer the ballistic protection they were designed to provide, but is recalling 5,277 of them to remove doubts about their effectiveness.
A statement released by Marine Corps Systems Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., May 9 challenges facts presented in a news article about the ability of the outer tactical vest to stop a 9 mm round fired from a standard pistol such as the M-9 Beretta. The article charges that some of the vests -- part of the Interceptor body armor package -- failed to live up to Marine Corps specifications but were fielded anyway.
Though the Marine Corps is recalling more than 5,000 of the vests in question, officials insist that they offer the ballistic protection they were designed to provide. "The United States Marine Corps categorically maintains that these (outer tactical vests) are capable of defeating the 9 mm threat for which they are designed," the Marine statement said.
The production lots in question "were urgently needed" and fielded when Marines were ordered back to Iraq in 2004. They represent "a significant improvement" over the outdated Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops flak jacket they replaced, the statement said.
"The decision to waive these lots was made in order to provide the best available individual protection equipment as Marines were rotating back into harm's way," it said.
"We would expect the concerned mothers and fathers of America to want their sons and daughters to have the best possible protection available when they deployed and entered into combat," the statement continued. "Consequently, we don't believe that they would have wanted their Marines to deploy to Iraq with the obsolete (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) vest while we wait for a 100 percent solution when a 99.9 percent solution was at hand."
Of about 19,000 vests addressed in the article, 10,000 are from lots that have never been accepted or fielded by the Marine Corps, the statement explained. Another 3,000 of the vests passed all quality and testing standards without requiring a waiver.
Almost 1,000 more, representing two lots, also passed all quality and testing standards. However, they were held by contracting officers at the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which conducted the testing because they were in the same production run as the recalled lots. To get these 992 vests released, they had to be fielded with a perfunctory waiver to speed up their delivery to operating forces, the Marine statement said.
Officials said casualty data proves that the vest is highly effective in reducing chest and abdomen wounds in combat and call it "the most revolutionary personal protection system fielded to warriors in the past several decades."
The Marines have fielded more than 181,000 of the vests to date, and the vests being recalled represent less than 3 percent of that number, officials said.
(Based on a Marine Corps Systems Command press release.)