The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are fueling a boom in the sale of body
armor in the United States. Soldiers, as well as contract workers and journalists
heading to combat zones in the Middle East and elsewhere, are seeking out the
latest hi-tech apparel to protect themselves.
Rifle Plate Pockets Outershell Carrier
(Photo courtesy - bulletproofme.com)
Pulling open the pockets on a bulky vest, Nick Taylor shows how to insert
hardened ceramic plates that can stop rifle bullets. He says this type of vest
is the garment of choice these days for anyone entering a combat zone.
"The old flak jacket was great for its time, but it only stops fragmentation,
hence the name 'flak' jacket, whereas the new outer tactical vest is a better
grade of kevlar," he said. "It will actually stop a 9mm sub-machinegun round
all by itself. When you put the ceramic rifle plates in then you can actually
stop a rifle bullet."
Kevlar is a synthetic fiber woven into a cloth that acts as a springboard
to absorb the energy from a bullet. The ceramic plates are as hard as steel,
but much lighter. The best grade plates can even stop metal-jacketed bullets
from a high-powered rifle.
Nick Taylor, owner and manager of Austin-based Bulletproofme.com, says some
customers are put off by the weight of the fully-equipped vests, especially
if they have to wear them in hot weather. But he says one female soldier who
decided to leave behind the protective plates later told him about a close
call she had in Iraq.
"She was actually saved from a rifle bullet even with just a soft body armor
vest," said Nick Taylor. "It went through the back of a vehicle and that was
just enough to slow it down for the soft vest to stop it. So, the moral of
the story is, even if you do not have the best armor, whatever armor you have,
One of Mr. Taylor's customers who has seen a lot of action while wearing
a protective vest is freelance journalist Dennis Cole, who used the heaviest
and most protective vest available while covering stories in the Middle East.
"I would be aware of it when I first put it on, but once action started happening,
I forgot completely about the weight," he said.
The only problem with the body armor, says Mr. Cole, is that it cannot protect
"The vest has given me, probably I should say, a false sense of security," said
Dennis Cole. "I think it will protect the chest area well, especially where
the ceramic plates are because they are supposed to withstand 30/06 rounds,
armor-piercing rounds, but the thing is there is a whole lot left exposed."
Most wounds suffered by U.S. forces in combat these days involve injuries to
limbs and other areas of the body not covered by the armor. Casualty figures
from Afghanistan and Iraq show a much higher ratio of wounded to killed-in-action
that officials say is directly linked to the use of body armor.
|Military OTV - Outer
(Photo courtesy - Bulletproofme.com)
A typical vest equipped with the heaviest-duty plates weighs around eight
or nine kilograms. Most soldiers wear their body armor all the time they are
in combat zones, but there is a trade-off between mobility and protection in
such situations and sometimes the heavy garments do slow soldiers down. Still,
most soldiers, often at the urging of their families back home, opt for maximum
protection, according to Nick Taylor.
"It is funny how often we talk to the wife who is telling her husband that
he is going to be wearing it, no matter how hot it gets," he said.
When Nick Taylor started his venture in 1999, he mostly sold body armor to
police officers, but he says BulletProofMe.com has doubled its business each
year for the past two years largely because of the conflicts overseas. He says
some military personnel are worried that the army will not provide them with
the best body armor, so they buy their own.
Originally, the U.S. military supplied the full-protection vests only to
soldiers who were expected to be in combat, but with all military personnel
now being potential targets in Iraq, the Pentagon is trying to supply the newer
body armor to all troops posted there. They will need 80,000 vests and 160,000
plates to outfit every soldier in Iraq by the end of the year.
"The situation in Iraq over the last year has really overshadowed the rest
of our business," said Nick Taylor. "In a typical week we see a lot of National
Guard and reservists who are not sure if they are going to get the old flak
jacket or the new body armor and a lot of defense contractors, that has been
a big part of our business. There are a lot of journalists as well. Some of
them have better equipment than the soldiers."
Mr. Taylor says a fully-equipped protective vest costs about $800. The level
IV ceramic plates that can stop high-velocity rifle rounds cost an additional
$500. While he says the conflicts overseas have directly benefited his business,
he says there is more to this than making money. He says there is satisfaction
in selling a product that can save lives.
"One of the best things about the business is you get a lot of gratitude
from people when you can fill their need on short notice," he said. "It is
a life-saving product and when people need it, they often need it right away.
We have been able to fill that need for people and it is even more gratifying
when someone calls you back and tells you how it saved their life."
Bulletproofme.com is one of several companies now selling body armor and
other military-type products over the Internet. It is legal for private citizens
in the United States to buy these products, although some states prohibit convicted
felons from buying body armor.