Letter Re: To Use Body Armor or Not

My sincerest condolences to the author. It’s always tragic to lose one of our own, especially as young as his father was at 42.

Concerning the author’s questions, his Dad was wise on the policy of armor usage in a given AO. My personal combat experience, and lessons learned from others have taught me the following:

  1. Armor is a great tool, and only plated armor (lvl IV) counts when you have rifles pointed your way.
  2. Getting shot with armor/plates suck. There’s a lot of kinetic energy getting transferred from the bullet, to your armor, then to the sack of meat that is your body. A friend who got shot via 7.62x54R from an unknown distance square on his SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert, lvl IV) plate was knocked off his feet and alluded the experience to that of getting hit with a sledge hammer. He was bruised badly but lived to smoke again.
  3. Armor is not perfect; it is there to buy you time and nothing else. By time, I refer the means to get acceptable levels of trauma care. Take my aforementioned friend for example. Had he not been wearing his plate carrier that day, the time required to save his life from a debilitating sucking chest wound would’ve been critically shorter than to having just a self-managed fractured rib.
  4. Time is life; speed and maneuverability need to be balanced to optimize your chances in a given firefight. Teams figure out what the overall mission plan requires, how much support they can rely on, and as a final gut check, how fast they can get in and out of an area by themselves if everything falls apart. Some higher speed lower drag guys wear nothing but LBE’s and bump helmets because their op tempo demands it. On the other side of the coin, where you have much less organic support and are pretty much restricted to a smaller unit, armor becomes a necessity to maintain your time and effectiveness in a given firefight. How you pick and kit up for your AO is ultimately up to you. Just be honest with yourself and your own physical limitations.
  5. Always follow through in gun fights. If one of your friends or loved ones go down in the middle of the fight, you have to resist the urge to help them and, instead, keep pulling that trigger! It may seem counter-intuitive, but for the best chances of your team surviving contact you need every possible rifle engaged on targets. If and only when you feel you have the situation contained (successfully broken contact) or in a lull between fires, can you then start assisting the wounded. Again, armor is just there to buy time before receiving upper echelon care. For appendages that are not covered by armor, tourniquets are a great tool (learn how to effectively use them) and a must have on everyone’s IFAK.
  6. Learn how to fix people up. Anybody can break a person, but very few know how to put one back together. That skill set alone is immensely valuable, both on and off the battlefield, and it’s knowledge you can use throughout the rest of your life. Combat is a two part process. Everyone likes to glorify and teach the tactical portion of it, but the ugly truth is you’ll need just as much training time on the medical-trauma side of it too, just to feel confident in what you’re doing WHEN (not IF) the time arises. People can freeze up in any hyper stress inducing situation, whether it be from bullets sent your way, or having to perform triage on your mangled and barely alive best friend. Good training will allow you to control your stress and think/act critically, or at the very least put you into an autonomous mode where lifesaving skills become more of a reflexive action based upon environmental conditions. Having both the tactical and medical skills honed will make you a very solid warrior and a desirable asset to any team.

Regards, D.R.

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