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Corps Restricts Non-Issued Armor Use
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  April 19, 2007
The Marine Corps issued a directive Tuesday restricting the use of store-bought personal protective equipment in the war zone, including body armor, ballistic glasses, armor plates and fire-retardant clothing.

Corps officials say Marines may not use such protective equipment in place of gear issued by service. Marines are free to buy and wear their own safety equipment - including body armor- officials explained, but they must also use their issued items and will not be reimbursed for their purchase.

The Army issued a similar message in March of 2006 after controversy erupted over claims that a certain type of body armor vest designed by Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor was more effective than service-issued Interceptor vests. But for more than a year, the Corps declined to follow suit.

Read the Marine Corps Directive here.

The so-called "Dragon Skin" vest - which was among the armor banned by the Army - uses interlocking ceramic disks that videos on Pinnacle's Web site claim can absorb multiple AK-47 rounds and 9mm shots without penetration.

The current enhanced small arms protective plate can absorb a small number of high-velocity AK-47 rounds before failure.

"In its current state of development, Dragon Skin's capabilities do not meet Army requirements," the Army's March 17, 2006, "safety of use message" states. "In fact, Dragon Skin has not been certified by the Army for protection against several small-arms threats being encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan today."

"Although this message specifically identifies Dragon Skin, it applies to other commercially available body armor products (such as commercial police vests) that are not Army approved and issued," it added.

At the time, the Marine Corps declined to go along with the Army's ban, saying they preferred to have Marines wear Corps-issued vests but would not issue a formal restriction.

But on April 17, Marine officials reversed their stance, restricting the use of personal protective equipment - including body armor - to those items issued by the Corps.

"Individual Marines [and] Sailors may not use commercial PPE in lieu of government tested, approved and issued PPE," the message states. "Individually-purchased commercial PPE will not be reimbursed by command [or] unit funds."

The message is unclear whether Marines who continue to wear their own protective gear will be disciplined, but the Army has said Soldiers could face disciplinary action if they defy the ban.

"If Soldiers are doing this, they're doing it at their own risk," a top Army acquisition official said announcing last year's ban. "But I can tell you Army Soldiers, at this point in time, based upon the safety of use message that was sent out, are prohibited at this point in time from wearing it - it's a command requirement to basically take care of that."

The marketing and manufacture of after-market military equipment has become a booming business since 9-11, with companies selling a wide range of glasses, goggles, vests and uniforms that troops often find more comfortable and customizable than military-issued gear.

The services have moved in recent months to alleviate concerns over comfort and fit of body armor and other protective equipment, with both the Army and Marine Corps replacing their Interceptor vests with new designs. Soldiers and Marines have also been issued a variety of modern protective equipment through "rapid equipping" and "urgent needs" initiatives.

The Corps' announcement gives some leeway to Marines and their commanders to use non-issued PPE gear, but only "as long as those additions do not interfere with the functionality of approved PPE." Moreover, Marine commanders may not use any funds to purchase unit-specific gear that has not been government-tested and approved for use by the Corps.

The policy also allows Marines to reduce the amount of protective equipment they wear based on the threat and a commander's requirements.

During their deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, for example, leathernecks with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit were authorized to wear plate-carriers in lieu of their full body armor vests given the minimal blast threat where they were operating and to reduce weight in the rugged, high-altitude terrain.

"Commanders who determine that a lower level of PPE is appropriate must receive approval from their respective [Marine] or [joint] commander prior to execution of any change," the Marine message said.

Related Links:

New Army Armor
Dragon Skin: Proven Tough?

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