COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. – The Army's top supply commander said Monday that all American troops in Iraq are now equipped with bullet-resistant vests, after a shortage that led many soldiers to pay for costly body armor (search) themselves.
As late as March, some soldiers headed for Iraq were still buying their own body armor, despite assurances from the military that the equipment would be available before they were in harm's way.
Gen. Paul Kern, commander of the Army Material Command (search), said the shortage eased after manufacturers stepped up production of the lifesaving vests.
Kern spoke at a news conference where Honeywell Specialty Materials announced it would increase production of Spectra fiber (search), a key component of the vests. He said the vests had saved dozens of soldiers who were shot at close range.
Kern recalled that troops in Vietnam had to be ordered to wear cumbersome flak jackets (search). "You don't have to discipline them to put on protective gear today," he said. "They are looking for it."
Last October, it was reported that nearly one-quarter of American troops serving in Iraq did not have ceramic-plated body armor, which uses four-pound armor plates to stop bullets and shrapnel.
The vests can cost several thousand dollars each.