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Insufficient Body Armor?; Looking Ahead to Golden Globes

Aired January 13, 2006 - 01:35   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he was the man President Bush sent to Iraq to run the U.S. occupation. And now Paul Bremer is speaking out in an op-ed piece in today's "New York times" and his newly published memoir, "My Year in Iraq." In much of the book, Bremer describes how he struggled to avoid being the fall guy for U.S.'s failures in Iraq, and he defends himself at length for one of the occupation's most controversial moves, disbanding the Iraqi military. Reversing that decision began only after Iraq gained sovereignty in 2004. Bremer also argues that another major problem was having to deal with micromanagement from Washington.
Bullets -- a simple weapon and obviously one of the deadliest in modern war. But how often do you hear about American troops dying of bullet wounds in the Iraq war? Not often, if at all, because much of the attention has been on IEDs, those very lethal roadside bombs.

But a classified Pentagon study first revealed by "The New York Times" concludes that many American troops in Iraq may be dying needlessly of bullet wounds.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): Once again, the U.S. military is under fire for failing to provide American troops protective equipment needed to fight in Iraq. A report by the military's medical examiner contains an extraordinary finding. Dozens of Marines who died of bullets or shrapnel wounds to the upper body could have survived if their protective vests had covered more of their torso. The vests, now worn by most troops, protect just some of the upper body. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds, bullets and shrapnel penetrated areas of the torso not covered by the vests.

The study done last summer, but only disclosed last week, covered 401 Marines who were killed in combat from march 2003 to June 2005.

The military and media have talked a lot about the number of deaths caused by improvised explosive devices or IEDs, Something critics say is due to inadequate armor on U.S. military vehicles.

Now, we're learning about the equally deadly threat of bullets. The reports disclosure in the news media triggered a closed-door meeting between Army and Marine officers and a Senate Armed Services Committee.

Now, the Army announced it will soon start shipping thousands of armor plates to Iraq that will extend protection to troops. The Marine Corps already has delivered some 9,000 sets of plates to Iraq with plans to ship an additional 20,000 by April.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CATTO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: There's nothing more important to the Marine Corps than the protection of our Marines. And we're fielding the best body armor and protective equipment available, we think, in the world today.

MAJ. GEN. STEPHEN SPEAKERS, U.S. ARMY: This opportunity here to speak to the American public about what we're doing to protect soldiers is the number one most important thing we've got to do. The life and welfare of a soldier in combat is the Army's most overriding priority.

PHILLIPS: But the military's response doesn't satisfy Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd. He plans to introduce legislation to force the Pentagon to give troops $1,100 each to buy body armor from certified military supplies. Republican Armed Services Chairman John Warner, however, thinks the military is doing all it can to protect the troops.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: The department of defense, specifically, the Department of Army and Navy for the Marine Corps, have periodically upgraded the body armor and consistent with facts and findings from the medical community, consistent with facts and findings from the on-scene commanders and the soldiers, and sailors and airmen themselves.

PHILLIPS: The military says the improved vests with side panels are the latest revision of a crucial piece of equipment designed to improve the chances of survival.

But the new vests do have drawbacks.

SGT. JARED MCNERNEY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I'm in the military. I have a lot of stuff to do on the ground. When I'm not riding in a vehicle, most of the time I'm climbing over walls, jumping through windows, kicking down door. I need the most mobility, the most protection I can get, which was the setup I had right here. If put those arms actually on, I can barely extend my arms over my head. I can't climb a six-foot wall, hop over it, hop a fence, jump through a three-foot window. There's a lot of stuff I have to do with my arms. That's the reason I choose not to wear my should pads, sir.


PHILLIPS: Now the weight issue of the new protective vest spotlights a serious dilemma for combat troops. Do they wear the heavier vests for added protection, or opt for the older version to ensure their mobility won't be constructed -- constricted, rather?

Joining me to talk about this in Washington, Steve Robinson, the Gulf War Resource Center; U.S. Major General Stephen Speakes; and in Philadelphia, Iraq war veteran Patrick Resta. He used his own money to buy a protective vest.

Gentlemen, it's great to have all three of you. I think I want to start with you, Patrick. And tell me why did you have to buy your own body armor? And how did you know what to buy? And how much did it cost you?

PATRICK RESTA, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Right. Well, this is the body armor that I purchased right here. When I first got orders and was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, waiting to go to Kuwait and eventually to Iraq, I was told by my command that they were not positive that we would get body armor, and we would only find out when we got to Kuwait.

And then if we did get body armor, there was another caveat that we might not get the ceramic plates that go in the body armor. So rather than wait until I'm in Kuwait when it's a little too late to do anything about it, I went to my credit union, took out a loan to buy this body armor.

PHILLIPS: How much did it cost you?

RESTA: Fifteen-hundred dollars.

PHILLIPS: Fifteen-hundred bucks. And how did you know what was the best type of armor?

RESTA: Well, I did research. And what I ended up doing was going to a store that sells uniforms and bulletproof vests to the police. And they suggested, you know, what to order and measured it for me, and ordered the ceramic plates and gave it to me actually at cost. This sells for a good deal more than I paid for it.

PHILLIPS: Now, here's what I find interesting. You had to buy your own armor. You're also a medic. I'm just curious. How many of your fellow men and women did you have to work on that were shot in the torso?

RESTA: None of me personally. But, you know, because you bring that up, Tuesday we received a call from a grandmother. Her grandson was shot in the torso by a sniper in the rib cage, went all the way through his body armor and exited the other side.

And she was calling us wanting to know where she could buy adequate body armor to send to her other grandson that is still over there. So that's one instance I know of.

PHILLIPS: Now, Steve, you've been very active in fighting for the rights for vets and also active military for funds for programs. Has this been one of the toughest things for you to tackle?

STEVE ROBINSON, GULF WAR RESOURCE CENTER: Yes, the issue really came to a head in 2003 when soldiers like your guest had to buy their own armor. And we found that to be an inadequate response by the DOD.

It wasn't until 2004 in the Army Posture Statement when DOD could report that everyone at least had some level of protection. All armies, all wars, create situations where you have to adapt to the battlefield and this is an example of that.

However, I think this issue really could have been foreseen if we look at the experience of Somalia in 1993. We knew that the insurgents weren't going to fight us force on force. We knew we were going to face ambushes and tactical surprise. And while we don't want our military walking around encased in steel so they can't move, some of this stuff could have been foreseen and planned for.

PHILLIPS: General Speakes, do you think this could have been planned for? Do you think some of this could have been foreseen, like Steve said? And what is your response to this Pentagon study that didn't come out for months about all the men and women dying from bullet wounds?

MAJ. GEN. STEPHEN SPEAKES, U.S. ARMY: Kyra, thank you very, very much for the chance to talk about body armor and how we protect soldiers. I would like to begin by introducing Sergeant First Class Jerry Lutz (ph) who is standing over here to my left. Sergeant First Class Lutz is right now a soldier fully equipped as we equip our soldiers right now as they go into combat. What he has is about 36 pounds of protection on him.

It includes an outer tactical vest which is the vest you see out here to his front. Beneath that vest is a ceramic plate, front and rear. The other thing that he has is neck protection. And then if you turn to his shoulders, what he also has is what we call the DAP or the deltoid auxiliary protector, which protects the sides and the shoulders of all of our soldiers.

What we've been a part of over the course of the last four or five years of this war is a sequential effort to see what is happening in the battlefield and then respond with the best that army science, coupled with the nation's research and development community, has to offer. And so what we have is a continuous evolution of our ability to better protect soldiers.

Now, you in your excellent introduction gave us a quick view of some of the challenges we face. As Mr. Robinson mentioned, we don't want to be equipping people encased in steel. We are not equipping today's medieval knight hoisted onto a horse. We're equipping soldiers who are operating in the most adverse environment possible.

When I deployed to Iraq in 2003, we didn't have many soldiers equipped with this state-of-the-art body armor. But what they had was something, at the time, we considered adequate. It was an earlier version of body armor, it wasn't nearly as effective, and we quickly realized that in the threat that we're seeing in the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we needed to adapt more to what you are seeing here today which is what we call integrated body armor.

PHILLIPS: So, General, let me ask you really quickly, because you say you quickly realized, looking at Iraq and Afghanistan. But let's define quickly, because I would think if the Pentagon took time to do this study and found out that so many individuals were dying from these bullet wounds, I think critics would say what the heck took so long.

SPEAKES: Well, I think the first thing we'd have to dispute that is it took so long. What I think we need to understand is that armies are enormous organizations. And when we're talking about an army in the field today, we're talking about equipping over 150,000 soldiers and also civilians who are associated with the army as part of the army or other departmental civilians.

So in this case, what the army did is move from 2003 when we had about 75,000 sets of earlier versions of this body armor to where we are right now in which we have over 700,000 sets of this body armor.

We have also fielded the sequential improvements to this body armor, for example, the side and shoulder protection that I referred to as the DAP, which was identified as an issue in 2004 and fixed a year later.

And so when people criticize, what they don't realize is that we're talking about tens of thousands of soldiers that we have to equip, and we have to ensure that as we field the equipment to them, that it has been properly tested.

Every single lot that we field has been tested by lot. The guarantee that we have to soldiers and marines is, it's the best possible equipment money can buy. Let me quickly address the issue of money -- $3,400.

PHILLIPS: General, I'm going to ask you to hold on -- just hold your thought. We're just going to take a quick break, because I want to give everybody a chance to respond here, General. We'll get to the issue of cost and the effectiveness of this armor.

So I'm just going to ask the three of you, Steve and Patrick and General, just to stay with us for a second. Take a quick break. We'll be right back. We'll continue our discussion.


PHILLIPS: We're going to continue our discussion now about a classified Pentagon study that's been revealed talking about the number of American troops dying needlessly by bullet wounds. It's raised the question of are our men and women protected by body armor that is good enough? Bullet-stopping capability, mobility and weight.

I want to ask you, Patrick Resta, when you look at Sergeant First Class Lutz and how he -- and all this the new body armor that is going to, as the general said, go out to the men and women -- I mean, can you move in body armor like that? It just seems like how would you carry out an operation? It just seems -- I don't know, tell me.

RESTA: Unfortunately I'm not able to see the picture of the soldier in the body armor so that would be a little hard for me to comment on, sorry.

PHILLIPS: Steve, are you able to see him?

ROBINSON: Yes. And, you know, even in the preview to this show there, there was a soldier that talked about the idea that, you know, when you add on all the different modular components, it does have an effect. It has an effect of inability to maneuver tactically. It creates a lot of noise. It's heavy. It can cause a problem with transfer of heat from your body.

So there's always the fine balance. I guess the problem or the question I have is, you know, does every soldier in Iraq have this armor and do commanders have the option to tailor the armor so that they can conduct the mission and thereby reduce casualties?

PHILLIPS: General, I'm going to let you answer that question.

SPEAKES: Thank you very much. And the reason I'm here is to answer that question. Yes, every soldier in Iraq has the armor that we just described. He has a set of armor -- he or she has a set of armor that is an outer tactical vest and a sappy plate front and back, along with the other part of the protective ensemble we discussed, which is the Kevlar helmet and he has -- he or she has access to the DAP (ph), which is what protects the shoulder.

PHILLIPS: OK, General, you know what, let me just ask you -- because Patrick Resta is National Guard, OK, and he had to buy his own armor. So I guess my question is, Marine, Army, National Guard, will every man and women get the option or get the type of protection that they need considering this Pentagon report and considering the deaths that we've seen?

SPEAKES: The answer simply is not will they get it, but, yes, they have it. And I think that's the most important misperception I'd like to correct.

PHILLIPS: So why did Patrick have to buy his armor?

SPEAKES: I don't know. Let me tell you what I know. I was in Kuwait and my responsibility in Kuwait in the spring of 2003 was to ensure that every soldier who went north had the right body armor to go up into Iraq. We reported it daily. I knew of one sergeant first class who got up into Baghdad one day without body armor.

PHILLIPS: Patrick, were there more than just -- was it just you that didn't have body armor or were there more?

RESTA: Yes, Kyra, that's absolutely true.

PHILLIPS: There were more?

RESTA: There were many more than that. As a matter of fact, in my...

PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Patrick.

RESTA: In my training while I was still in Kuwait, the instructors were telling us that soldiers had been killed because they had no body armor on the drive north, and kind of warning us. And I'm hearing now from soldiers in Iraq on the ground, in the 4th Infantry Division to be precise, that they don't have enough ceramic plates and they're still driving around in vehicles with sandbags on the floor and plywood on them.

PHILLIPS: General, I'm just -- we've got five seconds. Just tell me, is this being dealt with?

SPEAKES: Force protection is our number one issue. We give American soldiers the best that we can get. They have it now and we'll continue to improve it.

PHILLIPS: Gentlemen, we'll continue the discussion, we'll stay on top of it. General, you know we'll be contacting you. Steve, Patrick, appreciate the personal stories. Thanks, gentlemen.

RESTA: Thank you. Thanks very much.

PHILLIPS; Well, severe weather is hitting the Southeastern United States. We're on that story.

Plus, Sibila Vargas live from Wisteria Lane. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Television fans, movie fans, the Golden Globe buzz is almost deafening. It's a banner award season for hopeless romantics, giant monkeys loving the ladies, cowboys loving each other. There's geishas, there's Johnny and June Carter and there's always "Desperate Housewives."

No, Sibila Vargas is not a desperate housewife, but she does join from a certain street that looks like the future address for at least one Golden Globe -- right, Sibila?

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I'm here on Wisteria Lane. If you look behind me, that's Gabrielle Solis' house. And she's played Eva Longoria, who got a nomination this year. Last year she didn't get it. A lot of people thought she was snubbed.

But the big news that's coming out of Wisteria Lane, five nominations for this show. Four for the actresses, one for the show itself. And let me tell you, we've been talking about them for it seems -- since the show debuted back in 2004. And let me tell, their star has not faded one little bit.



VARGAS: They may be "Desperate Housewives"...

HATCHER: What are you saying, that your father actually told you he was going to be having a one-night stand with Edie Britt (ph)?

VARGAS: But not when it comes to recognition. For the second year in a row, the television housewives are dominating the Golden Globes in the best comedy actress category. Four of the five faces nominated are from the show's Wisteria Lane.

HATCHER: It's exciting to be recognized and I truly believe that we all work really hard around here and you know, we deserve it. VARGAS: It's a combination of "Sex and the City" meets "Leave It To Beaver," with a side of Nancy Drew, that draws as crowd every week.

MARC PEYSER, "NEWSWEEK": It's the number two scripted show on television after "CSI." People are passionate about Sunday nights with the "Desperate Housewives."

VARGAS: A passion that continues to draw big ratings across the country.

PEYSER: They are stay-at-home moms on this show, which is not what we think as a blue state phenomenon as much as red state phenomenon.

VARGAS: And it's on TV sets around the world. It seems that sin in suburbia translates.

EVA LONGORIA, ACTRESS: OK, yes, I had a little affair.

VARGAS: Those scandals, petty crimes and murders...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe you tried to kill me.

MARCIA CROSS, ACTRESS: Yes, well, I feel badly about that.

VARGAS: Deliver as many laughs as chills for the show that calls itself a comedy.

HATCHER: Edie, come back here. We're not finished yet!

I think our show has always sort of rode -- wobbled that line between comedy and drama.

VARGAS: It's a balancing act that has paid off creatively.

PEYSER: This show obviously skirts the line, if you think about sort of the bare bones story arcs -- murder and infidelity and maiming of your mother-in-law. It is a very dark show. But that's one of the beauties of this show, is they do it with a little bit of a wink and a little bit of an edge.

CROSS: Do not close that coffin!


VARGAS: And "Desperate Housewives" snagged the award last year. And you remember little darling Teri Hatcher? She got the award, too. We'll see who gets the Golden Globe this year. And I'll be out on the red carpet, giving you all the details -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Of course. We'll be watching. Sibila, thank you so much.


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