Bill Would Allow Troops to Keep Blown-Up Protective Gear as a Memento

Lance Cpl. Bradley A. Snipes stands with the helmet that saved his life. During a mission with his platoon, Snipes was shot in the head by an enemy sniper. The only thing that saved his life was the Kevlar helmet he wore. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Jerad W. Alexander)
Lance Cpl. Bradley A. Snipes stands with the helmet that saved his life. During a mission with his platoon, Snipes was shot in the head by an enemy sniper. The only thing that saved his life was the Kevlar helmet he wore. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Jerad W. Alexander)

That shrapnel-scarred flak jacket or battle-blasted Kevlar might not have much use to the military by the time they're turned in to an equipment issue facility for reset following a deployment.

But for the service member who wore them and lived to tell the tale, the items' value just might be immeasurable.

A small provision in the fiscal 2019 defense budget bill aims to make it easier for the military to donate protective gear deemed no longer fit for military use to the service members who wore it during combat and other military operations.

The provision, first reported by Army Times, would grant formal permission to the military to do something that has from time to time been done informally -- presenting old gear to the troops it protected as a keepsake -- and tacitly acknowledges that the equipment these troops wear tells a story of its own.

"The Secretary of a military department may award to a member of the armed forces … and to any veteran formerly under the jurisdiction of the Secretary, demilitarized personal protective equipment (PPE) of the member or veteran that was damaged in combat or otherwise during the deployment of the member or veteran," the provision reads. "The award of equipment under this section shall be without cost to the member or veteran concerned."

The stories of troops whose lives have been saved because their Kevlar helmets stopped an enemy bullet have become a genre of their own in reports from the battlefield. Photos showing Marines and soldiers mugging with shredded helmets highlight the importance of the stories these protective items tell.

One Marine Corps news release from 2005 recounts how Lance Cpl. Bradley Snipes, an anti-tank assaultman with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, was hit squarely in the head by a sniper round during a deployment to Iraq. He came away uninjured, thanks to his Kevlar.

"I was really surprised. It's supposed to be able to stop a 7.62mm round at long distances. Well, it did," he told a Marine combat correspondent at the time. "The gear works, don't doubt it. This is proof."

The story added that Snipes wanted to petition to keep his helmet as a memento. It's not clear from the story or follow-on reports if he was given the chance to do so.

"I want to put it in a case with a plaque that says, 'The little bullet that couldn't,' " he said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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