- by Matthew Funk © March 2003
|Todays American Military Is Dressed To
Major Frank Grippe was struck by direct mortar fire. Sergeant David Smith was shot twice, once straight in the chest. This is what both men told TIME magazine after they walked out of the March 2002 battle of Shah-I-Khot, leaving behind them the wreckage that used to be over 500 rebel fighters.
Certainly luck was on their side but Smith and Grippe, his superior in the 10th Mountain Division, also had BALCS. Thats the US Armys acronym for the Body Armor/Load Carriage System. This will be our key to doing whats tactically required in Iraq while sparing ourselves the atrocious casualties usually suffered by units engaging irregular forces.
The battle of hearts and minds is what will prove decisive in our victory over Iraqi irregular militias. The Iraqi Fedayeen are becoming notorious through their use of a common guerilla tactic disguising themselves as civilians and aiming for our backs. This terrifying act of the desperate chipped away at the minds and bodies of our boys in Vietnam and still thwarts occupying armies everywhere.
Yet despite its widespread use in both the Iraqi and Afghan war, it has not won our enemy the same results as all these examples. Why? Its not our security tactics, though ours have, considering the circumstances, been excellent in some regards. We still allow our supply lines to run through cities held by the enemy while being shot at from all sides. And its not for lack of trying on the part of the Fedayeen. Its the body armor system developed by the US Armys Soldier Systems Center the BALCS and its counterparts in the SPEAR program.
SPEAR stands for Special Operations Forces Equipment Advanced Requirements but the project and its technology isnt just limited to benefiting the Special Forces. SPEAR incorporates the BALCS project, a helmet known as MICH (Modular/Integrated Communications Helmet) and a program to better adapt the armor for the female form. All of these are being researched and implemented with an emphasis on preventing not only physical damage but also Nuclear Biological and Chemical (NBC) effects. According to the Soldier Systems Center (SSC), the materials of the BALCS are durable enough that theyve been tested by people sauntering through gasoline fires and emerging unscathed.
But are they enough to keep safe American blood in the firestorm of what will most likely be a lengthy war and will certainly be an extensive occupation? So far the field tests have come back with positive results.
This may be difficult to accept in light of the average of a dozen casualties a day were sustaining, but consider the nature of the conflict. On a front that stretches for hundreds of miles, US combat units are smashing into tough Iraqi defenses that have not been withered by the seventeen-day air strikes of the first Gulf War. These units are fighting every day and are typically being fired at by mortars deadly at a radius of 40 meters and AK-47s, which can shoot through a fair-sized engine block. And these units have been shattering those defenses and pushing through, moving hundreds of thousands at the cost of only dozens. This is not just a good result for our body armor. This is miraculous.
Hopefully the road to power over Baghdad will be paved with miracles for the Coalition forces. Winning supremacy over Iraq by holding resistance in check while a democratic government is installed will mean that well be stationary targets. Fortunately the BALCS is NBC safe but also capable of having a high moisture-transfer rate that breathes better than most polyester, according to the SSC.
We are bulletproof, chemical protected and persistent.
We are not invulnerable.
The cost of any war of occupation, particularly one in a country as fractious as Iraq, is always measured by bathtubs of blood. But all the comparisons to the wars of the past cannot apply so easily to our Army of the future. In order to do so, they must pass through pleated plastic steel and inch-thick armor plate.
All contents copyright © Matthew Funk 2007, all rights reserved.