Army leaders claim body armor effective, saves troops’ lives

By JIM GARAMONE, American Forces Press Service

Special to South Carolina Military News

WASHINGTON – No American service member or civilian ever has deployed to the combat theater with defective body armor, Army officials stressed Thursday.

“I am not aware of any incident downrange where the body armor failed to protect against a round it was designed to defeat,” said Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, one of the Army’s top acquisition officials.

“There is nothing more important in Army acquisition. There’s nothing more important to our Army than soldier protection or soldier safety,” Phillips said during a Pentagon news conference. U.S. forces have the best body armor in the world, he added.

The Army procures body armor for all services and Defense Department civilians. A DOD Inspector General Report on seven contracts between 2004 and 2006 looked at the way the Army tested body armor during that period and what the service could do to improve it, he said.

“All of the recommendations from that report have been implemented,” Phillips said. “We won’t come to full closure until October this year, when we finish the final recommendations.”

Service members are the best judge of the body armor and helmet issued today, said Army Col. Bill Cole, the project manager at Program Executive Office Soldier, adding that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines issued the armor “have high confidence” in its protective properties.

The Army will continue to improve all equipment for service members, Phillips said. “We can always improve our processes, and we can always get better,” said the general added. “As we learn about better ways of testing, it is important we will implement those changes.”

During the period of the report – 2004 to 2006 – the Army did not test how body armor responds when exposed to fungus and to altitude. The Army asked to be excused from those tests so the service could rush the life-saving enhanced small-arms protective plates to service members, Cole explained.

The bottom line is that absolutely no one has been sent downrange with defective equipment, Phillips said, and the Army continues to test new equipment and to pull body plates from inventory to run tests.

“Time and time again, we’ve shown these plates stop the most stressing bullet in theater,” Cole said. To protect deployed service members, he added, would not disclose what round that is.

During the test, the Army fires the bullet at the plates at a speed that far exceeds the muzzle velocity or the normal weapon. “Again and again, they stop the enemy bullets they were designed to stop,” Cole said.…

Charleston Marine is all ears tracking enemy movement

By Cpl. TOMMY BELLEGRADE, 2nd Marine Division

Special to South Carolina Military News

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (Aug. 18, 2011) – Marine Corps Cpl. Austin Barton, of Charleston, keeps his “ear to the ground” here as he monitors enemy activity to inform and safeguard his fellow service members.

Barton serves as the combat operations center watch chief with the 2nd Marine Division’s intelligence section here,

barton Charleston Marine is all ears tracking enemy movement
Marine Corps Cpl. Austin Barton is the combat operations center watch chief in the intelligence section for 2nd Marine Division in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)

analyzing activity in the division’s area of operations and briefing the intelligence section. He also acts as a liaison to ground commanders.

“I focus on what is going on in the battle space on a constant basis — where the enemy is, where they are attacking,” Barton explained. “I have to analyze that and provide [an] operational picture to the intelligence section. While doing that, I also provide an intelligence picture to the operations side.”

Barton was recognized as his battalion’s noncommissioned officer of the 3rd quarter for fiscal 2011, but he had built a reputation for being a stellar Marine before deploying to Afghanistan in February, said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Richard Pinner, the collections chief for the division’s intelligence section.

Knowing this, Pinner said, Barton’s supervisors wanted him to assume high-profile tasks and responsibilities typically reserved for much higher-ranking Marines.

“He was put in the combat operations center, which is not a desirable billet; however, it’s something that has to get done,” said Pinner, who hails from Pensacola, Fla. “He was performing the duties and tasks of a lieutenant.”

Barton, 22, has served in the Marine Corps for five years. He is a former rifleman who switched to the intelligence field when he re-enlisted. His infantry experience, Barton said, has given him an ability to see through the eyes of Marines on the ground without actually being there, a skill that prepared him well for the intelligence field.

“Understanding what [the infantryman] is looking for and understanding what they’re seeing on the battlefield without actually being there aids you significantly when trying to provide an intelligence picture,” he said. “[It] really helps, because you have the opportunity to speak from both sides and bring that middle ground when ideas don’t meet.”

Barton’s job proficiency and leadership ability are well known in the intelligence section, said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joseph Timoteo, the division’s intelligence operations center watch officer.

“Corporal Barton is the most intense and enthusiastic Marine that I’ve met in the [intelligence section],” said Timoteo, a Philadelphia native. “The longer he’s been here, the more enthusiastic he’s become about his job. Then he pushes that off on others, and it’s refreshing to see.”

Barton said his drive to perform comes from his love of being a Marine in what he believes is the pinnacle of any Marine’s career — being deployed.

“My motivation comes from being out here [in Afghanistan],” he said. “Being deployed is the greatest part of [a Marine’s] career, because that’s when [they] are really affecting the rest of the world.”…