PORTLAND (AP) – U.S. Rep. Tom Allen is investigating reports that members of Maine-based reserve and National Guard units in Iraq are among those that are serving without the latest protective body armor.

Allen, D-Maine, said families of service members from the Army Reserve’s 94th Military Police Company and the Maine Army National Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company told him that their sons and daughters have been deployed without the Interceptor vests.

The vests include removable ceramic plates in the front and back that can stop bullets fired by rifles common in Iraq and Afghanistan. Older-model vests can protect against shrapnel and other low-speed projectiles, but not high-velocity rifle rounds.

Allen said the military did not adequately plan for production of the armor, and as a result many service people are not receiving the full level of protection available.

“The response (from the Pentagon) has been that not everyone is on the front lines. But all of our troops are on the front lines in Iraq,” Allen said. “That’s why this is so disturbing.”

Allen said he has heard from reservists who attribute their injuries to the shortage of armor, particularly the removable ceramic plates that are fitted into the vests.

Allen and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, sent a letter last month to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that said some Maine-based reservists were issued a single plate and told to choose whether to wear it in the front or the back.

Other congressmen have also denounced the Pentagon, saying as many as a quarter of the 130,000 troops in Iraq lack the best vests because of a sluggish supply chain. Relatives of some soldiers have resorted to buying body armor in the United States and shipping it to their troops.

Congress earlier this year approved funding that would pay for 30,000 more vests for military personnel in Iraq. Department of Defense officials have assured Congress that the vests will be issued by the end of the year.

But Allen said there should be an investigation into how the country entered a war without manufacturing a sufficient amount of body armor. Allen requested congressional hearings on the subject, but was turned down by leadership in the House of Representatives.

He plans to keep talking about the issue.

“It’s very clear that not all the troops have the right body armor,” Allen said. “It’s a problem that needs to be fixed.”

AP-ES-12-18-03 0217EST



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