Sunday, November 15, 2009

TSONGAS BILL DELIVERS: For parents who lost son, new armor a victory - Lowell Sun Online

TSONGAS BILL DELIVERS: For parents who lost son, new armor a victory - Lowell Sun Online: "LOWELL -- They smiled politely, but behind the eyes of Alma and Brian Hart, the pain was there as they stood quietly in the back of the room at the Lowell Veterans Center where U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller were displaying new, lightweight body armor.

The Harts, of Bedford, lost their 20-year-old son, Army Pfc. John Hart, in 2003, when he came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire while on patrol outside Kirkuk, Iraq, in an unarmored Humvee.

'The quality of the body armor has improved since our son was killed,' said Brian Hart. 'It's easier to wear, easier on their backs, but it hasn't gotten any lighter to wear because they've increased the coverage area. Now, they're making it"
tailorable, which makes a lot of sense. And they're giving it to everybody, which is a plus."

The new Interceptor Body Armor, also called Mission Tailorable Body Armor, is 3 to 6 pounds lighter than its predecessor, according to Fuller, who demonstrated the armor before a small group of people, including Lowell Veterans Center Team Leader Jacob Romo. Fuller said that 58,000 units are coming off line, thanks in part, to legislation filed by Tsongas and signed into law by President Obama last month.

"We just continually listened to what the soldiers were saying," Fuller said, explaining that enemy IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were hitting the soldiers in the upper arms.

"Now we give them some flak protection up there, Fuller said. "We tried giving them hard arm protection, but they lose their flex mobility. We gave them protection around the throat. Enemy snipers were trying to have the wounded troops just bleed out. They knew they couldn't hit you in the chest and punch through the armor, but they could hit you in the thigh, and strike a major artery, so we put protection in the groin area."

The Harts winced. Soon, they were standing right by the general and it was as if he was speaking just to them. They were introduced by Lt. Col. Sam Poulten.

"General, this is Alma and Brian Hart. They lost their son in Iraq," said Poulten, noting Brian Hart's work with the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan in retrofitting armored vehicles in 2004.

Fuller shook their hands, stared into their eyes and quietly said, "Thank you. Thank you so much. God bless you."

Tsongas said she has heard from soldiers who told her that they would remove their body armor, even when they were in dangerous combat situations, because of the weight and the way it restricts movement.

"I was shocked to hear this," she said. "I know our nation has the resources and innovation to figure out how to protect our soldiers in a way that does not inhibit their ability to do their job, or put them at even greater risk."

Tsongas worked with Fuller and her colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to develop legislation to fund research, development and procurement of stronger, more flexible and lighter-weight body armor. The bill was included in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act and was signed by Obama on Oct. 28.

The bill devotes specific funding to body-armor development and procurement instead of from a general account that funds a vast array of military technology and equipment. Fuller said that when troops were first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, seven out of 10 troops did not have body armor.

"Our son called us one time and we talked about body armor," said Alma Hart. "When the general said that, my heart jumped. I said 'That was our boy.' He didn't have the body armor. Now they'll have what they need.

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