Marines recall combat vests after concerns about testing

By Anja Niedringhaus, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) The Marine Corps is recalling 5,277 combat vests issued to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti after a newspaper article raised concerns that they failed a test to determine whether they could stop a bullet.

The Marines said in a statement they are recalling the vests to alleviate any doubts caused by a Marine Corps Times article published Monday, but service officials insisted they do not believe the vests are faulty.

The armor in question is called the "Outer Tactical Vest" and it is part of the Interceptor body armor package issued to troops in combat zones. The vest, when combined with protective plates, is designed to stop a rifle round.

Without the plates, the vest should still provide some protection against 9 mm pistol rounds and fragments from an explosion. But several vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor of Pompano Beach, Fla., fell short of the Marines' standards during testing in 2004, according to Capt. Jeff Landis, a Marine spokesman.

The Marine statement described an urgent need for the vests as Marines prepared to deploy.

Most Point Blank vests passed the tests, but the Marine liaison to Point Blank recommended the service reject the production lots of those that failed numbering thousands of vests total, according to memos, dated in mid-2004, obtained by the Marine Corps Times and reproduced on the Internet.

The Marines then tested vests from those lots again at another test range, and they passed, Landis said. Marine officials then issued waivers allowing the vests to go to the troops, but decided to recall the vests from the field when they learned of the imminent article.

Overall, about 181,000 Kevlar vests have been issued to Marines. Each costs $525, Landis said.

In one memo obtained by the Times, James MacKiewicz, a Marine technical adviser, complained of "major performance and quality assurance problems" with Point Blank's products.

However, Landis said the Marines are satisfied with the company's performance and its vests.

"Point Blank stands by its products," said Ish Burks, a spokesman for Point Blank's parent company, DHB Industries. "The vests are performing in the only test that matters live combat. There have been no reported failures in the field."

Landis said the recall was going out to commanders in the field. Troops will have to check tags on their vests to see if they are from the recalled lots. Then they can exchange their vests for new ones.