Personal body armor has been worn by soldiers for thousands of years; even ancient warriors recognized the need to protect the head and heart, whether it was from arrows and spears or bullets and shrapnel. Two soldiers serving with 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division said they’ve learned to “trust” the new body armor that protects more than just their heads and hearts from small-arms fire.
“When I was in Afghanistan, our convoy was attacked by (rocket-propelled grenades),” explained Sgt. Daniel Amstutz, a scout serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. “A lot of our guys were peppered with shrapnel, but there were no injuries.”
Amstutz and Spc. Luis Medina, also a scout with the 2/7th, on Tuesday demonstrated the body armor now worn by most 3rd ID soldiers as their unit prepared for a training exercise. Both soldiers were wearing the new Advance Combat Helmet, which replaced the Personal Armor System for Ground Troops helmet. The ACH offers increased ballistics protection, Amstutz said, and like the PASGT, includes a clamp on the front of the helmet that allows for the attachment of night vision goggles. To demonstrate the ease with which NVGs can be attached, another soldier assisted Amstutz in mounting the goggles to his helmet. The goggles were ready for use in less than two minutes.
Both soldiers were also wearing the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, Generation II, which Medina said protects from small-arms fire up to 7.62 mm in the chest, side and back, and up to 9 mm in the collar, groin and lower back extenders. The IOTV, Generation II is lighter than the original OTV worn by soldiers during the first Gulf War and offers much more protection than the old flak vest worn by soldiers during the Vietnam War. The new vest includes a quick-release system that allows the soldier to get out of it quickly in case there’s a risk of drowning. Additionally, there’s a waistband that helps redistribute some of the weight of the vest off the shoulders to the hips, Amstutz explained.
Some of the features on the new vest, like the collar and extended material under the arms, were added to provide additional protection to areas the enemy reportedly had identified as weaknesses in the vest. Other features were added to reduce overall weight or redistribute the weight, which is close to 30 pounds. The weight of the vest along with load-bearing equipment and packs worn can be hard on a soldier’s neck, shoulders and lower back, HHC, 2/7 Commander Capt. Tom Whitehead said.
“Soldiers are never going to be completely satisfied with the weight of their body armor,” he said, noting that the current generation of IOTV has fewer issues than previous generations. “The Army is constantly evaluating our (helmets and vests) for best fit, reduced weight and greatest ballistics protection. What we have now is working for us, and we know we can depend on it.”
In addition to their ACH and IOTV, Amstutz and Medina wore special gloves that protect their hands while giving them the dexterity needed to manipulate their weapons; special sunglasses that protect their eyes from desert sunlight, sand and tiny pieces of shrapnel; and, in a little plastic case hanging from their vests, hearing protection, which is worn during live-firing training.
Medina, who admitted he’s not yet been to Iraq or Afghanistan, said he not only depends on his body armor to protect him when he does go to combat, he also trusts the up-armor that’s been added to troop vehicles in recent years.
“I’ve seen some vehicles come back from down range that had taken a blast from an (improvised explosive device),” he said. “The (undamaged) interior of the vehicle told me there were probably no injuries.”
Editor’s note: The Courier will feature a follow-up story next week on the up-armor on troop vehicles.