Chapter 14 – The Garden of Live Flowers
Last time, we began looking at the oft-repeated claim that armed contractors have “much better equipment, much better body armor” than do our people in uniform—in fact, the “soldiers are running around in Vietnam-era flak jackets” to hear some tell it. We looked at some other common equipment and then began Body Armor 101, which provided some basic background info.
Today, we’ll dig a little more on this “better” body armor idea, and then look at the largest mess o’ unauthorized Blackwater pics in one place anywhere on the net. Those who can’t be troubled with digging into facts and understanding the private security / mercenary debate can skip ahead to stare blankly at the “kewl vid” at the end of this post.
Military Body Armor
Rabid partisans of all political stripes argue that “their side” fought valiantly for body armor for the troops. As for the “other side,” well, is it not perfectly clear that they just recently ascended directly from the
Let’s try to sort through what is fact about military body armor.
Among the many lessons learned in the
As a placeholder fix, the Interim Small Arms Protective Overvest (ISAPO) came out in 1996. ISAPO provided a way to wear two ceramic plates over your PASGT, thereby getting Level III (AK-47) protection in the plate area.
The long-term fix was to be the Army-designed Interceptor Body Armor, which the military started buying in 1998. Depending on which plates are installed, Interceptor provides either Level III or Level IV protection.
Thus as the
They weren’t. The recurring soundbite was not only inaccurate but highly misleading.
If you were facing the prospect of wearing PASGT with no plates while taking incoming rifle fire, it may have been a fine-point distinction you probably didn’t care too much about as a practical matter. But in informed public policy debate, it is at best disingenuous.
Here’s the critical hitch in the whole story, though: All military personnel in
Let’s be clear: No soldier, Marine, airman or sailor in
So why are some people still hammering on the body armor issue, and why do we still have things like Bakesales for Body Armor?
The partisans argue, ironically, that it is partisanship (go figure). And frankly, it is hard to tell—nearly every source one consults on this tries to put a spin on it. But what does seem clear is that the dispute is not grounded in partisanship alone.
Enter the Dragonskin
As noted above, a significant concern with hard plates is that there is an area of vulnerability in the gaps between plates. So, if another design could provide the protection of a hard plate and the flexibility/freedom of movement of a soft vest, that would be a big step forward.
The theory is that you get a similar level of protection, with increased coverage and added mobility/flexibility.
The reality is … unclear.
Dragonskin advocates claim:
- it provides better coverage overall because the scales go around the full torso
- it is a better solution because the lack of hard plates allows more freedom of movement
- the government is biased against the better privately innovated Dragonskin as opposed to the Interceptor, which is the design product of a massive and longstanding military bureaucracy (strangely, these same folks rail about privatization embodying Hell on Earth)
- the government favors Interceptor because it is made by a company that has Republican connections
- several tests, including the highly publicized NBC investigation, show Dragonskin to be superior
Dragonskin opponents argue:
- the scales can come unglued under extreme conditions, say, for example, desert heat (a definite downer when taking fire)
- Dragonskin is heavier at 47 vs. 28 pounds (this is critical when soldiers are carrying as much as 100 pounds of gear)
- Interceptor is also being made by other companies
- Dragonskin was only ever certified through Level III, and that certification has been rescinded
You could research this controversy for weeks, and for those so inclined, some relevant links to start that investigation (and to support the summary above) are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The point for our purposes is that the controversy exists, it is a highly charged issue, and drawing private security contractors into that heated debate is yet another way to polarize and dramatize the public policy debate about PSCs.
To study The Better Body Armor Story, though, we don’t really care whether Dragonskin really is better or not—we can just go ahead and assume so for this analysis.
Because then if the private guys all (or even mostly) wear Dragonskin, there is at least some basis, however controversial, for the statement that they have “better” armor.
And then the staff here at The Rabbit can pull out our copy of “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and get back to shooting people in the head, dealing drugs, nailing hookers, stealing cars, and terrorizing cops without having to trouble our pretty little minds about how much truth is involved in the PSC debate. Just like the public at large.
So What Do Armed Contractors Wear?
The beauty (or is it evil genius) of the many outrageous claims about private security contractors / mercenaries is that they are not susceptible of proof. Just make the naked assertion, no matter how wacky, that “mercenaries do X” and how is anyone possibly going to disprove it?
Think we’re exaggerating? “The job of this [Blackwater] company is to sell the organs of tortured nad [sic] killed innocent civilians body parts to US hospitals.” Or try this: Blackwater “death squads, can on their suspicions alone declare anyone, anywhere, to be ‘illegal enemy combatants’ or ‘agents of a foreign power’ or simply ‘terrorists,’ and kidnap them or ‘extrajudicially execute’ them, as they choose.” You want internet loons? You got ‘em.
The rank idiocy is one thing. But the real problem is when this sort of blatant disregard for the facts seeps over into “responsible” journalistic reporting.
We here at The Rabbit are ardent supporters of the right to free speech, and we encourage everyone to form their own opinion. Hyperbole and opinion are not fact, however. They are fundamentally, earth-shakingly different from fact, for those who don’t get it.
And those who are going to hold themselves out as expert talking heads or media professionals have at least some, we hope, ethical obligation to keep the two separate. Claiming expertise is a much like wearing spandex. In a better world it would be a privilege, not a right.
None of the people making this powerful “better” body armor/equipment assertion offer any support for it. They just state it and we are expected to dutifully swallow it whole.
But perhaps we can find a way, albeit not even a little scientific, to check the claim.
Maybe we can determine “what body armor mercenaries wear” (as if armed contractors are a monolithic whole) by examining photos of armed contractors in their gear.
The problem with many photos, however, is that it can be tough to tell whether the person in a given set of body armor is an actual armed contractor outside Ba’qubah—or some Halo-inspired Airsoft wannabe outside Bakersfield.
This is one place that our strawman Blackwater provides us a unique edge. Given that they protect the U.S. Ambassador (nee Envoy) to
First, though, some readers need one more piece of info about body armor: How do you tell different types apart?
OK, there are four distinguishing features we can use to spot the different breeds of body armor:
The Flasher: If it opens up right down the middle of the torso like a trenchcoat, it is highly likely that it is Interceptor armor. No one but the Army would try to stop armor piercing bullets in the same area that opens to allow a cool breeze through
So, given those four characteristics, let’s do what you have all been waiting all this time to do anyway—get to the stinkin’ pictures already!!
In order to bring you the news on this hot issue, The Rabbit made the supreme sacrifice of surfing the net for a combined 8,234,768 hours this week looking for Blackwater photos. OK, maybe it was a little less than that.
But we did look at a frappin’ gianormous number of internet photos.
We searched for anything that showed any of the post-invasion
All of the photos come from the blogs, websites, or photo albums of individuals, sources uninvolved in the Better Body Armor Story, including military personnel. The search resulted in sixteen photos that show the body armor of Blackwater personnel well enough to give you a fair shot at determining its type.
Also, as you look at these, you might look for the ponytailed, heavily tattooed, wild-eyed, blood-soaked mercenary image that we are so often fed. You know the one—guys who’ve used enough dianabol to bench press
The consensus of our staff is that not a single one of these guys is wearing Dragonskin (or Interceptor, for that matter). But you make up your own mind. At a minimum, we hope everyone can agree that a significant number of these guys are not wearing “better” body armor.
Oh, and if there is any lingering uncertainty about what body armor they do use, there is a purported Blackwater contractor testimonial about how non-Dragonskin, non-Interceptor body armor saved his life on page eight of this catalog.
Contractors do not have “better” body armor.
But that won’t stop those with an agenda from saying whatever they feel like. Whatever will cause the most controversy and hysteria. Whatever they can make up.
We are Ahab and The Rabbit is our Pequod.
The Added BonusOne side effect of all this week’s surfing of
A common perception is that armed contractors / mercenaries do two things all day: (1) drive around
It’s not meant to be a promo video for private security contractors, nor an attack on mercenaries, just to provide a not-commonly-seen look at what they do. Some of you will get all worked up and be yelling "git some" and others we be all in a lather about bloodthirsty fascists. We try to give everyone some reason to hate us.
That, plus … we’ll get all kinds of traffic from people who just want to see the scary video of Blackwater mercenaries!!! (Call us Google Whores. We’ll answer.)
Hopefully this was of some help to those seeking facts in this debate. We don’t see how anyone can credibly claim “contractors have better equipment and better armor,” but you decide for yourself.
For those with a deep and abiding love of all things body armor, you might find the apparently real prospect of someday soon having liquid body armor and/or shoot-through, invisible, self-healing armor plate interesting.
Next time: Show Me The Money. Or, Contractors Are Paid What?!?
Postscript: In a shocking development, Portland is still standing.
What people are saying about The Rabbit:
“You may call it ‘nonsense’ if you like,” she said, “but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which this would be as sensible as a dictionary!” – Rosa Reina