By Senior Airman Shaun Emery
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - 6/28/2005 - (AFPN) —Carried into the Air Force theater hospital, wounded badly in the shoulder and thigh, a service member is lucky to be alive. The body armor he was wearing protected his vital organs but could not stop the bullets from tearing into his unprotected body parts.

It was not all just luck, though.

The Department of Defense stepped up to the plate during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and issued “Level 4” body armor with front and back plates. The only drawback, if there is one, is the vest weighs about 37 pounds.

In an attempt to reduce the weight but increase protection from injuries for their fellow servicemembers, Tech. Sgt. Gerald Lowry, 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron network administrator, and 1st Lt. Todd Turner of the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, have teamed up to fit-test a new form of body armor while Sergeant Lowry is deployed here.

Just before he deployed, Sergeant Lowry said he noticed an article in the Wright-Patterson newspaper about new advanced body armor. Knowing that body armor was required for his deployment, Sergeant Lowry called Lieutenant Turner to see if he could do a fit-test.

“I’ve been deployed four times in my 12-year Air Force career,” Sergeant Lowry said. “I know how important safety is, and wearing this stuff makes me feel much safer.”

The new armor, which is still being tested by the Air Force, is lighter and includes bicep, leg and rib protectors. The standard ceramic plate will stop a bullet once, but the impact shatters it, Lieutenant Turner said. In contrast, the new plates would be still intact after six bullet strikes.

“This is something we’ve become more interested in because the Air Force is taking on more of the convoy escort missions,” he said. “In Iraq, convoying is a combat operation.”

While Sergeant Lowry said he does not travel on many convoys, recent insurgent actions have re-emphasized the importance of personal protective equipment.

“Our enemy is relentless,” Sergeant Lowry said. “Anything we can do to make our people safer is worth trying out.”

Sergeant Lowry frequently sends back his opinions to Lieutenant Turner. There are still some issues to work out, but for the most part “there have been more pros than cons,” he said.

No matter what the first test results say about the armor, Lieutenant Turner said he will be ready to make whatever improvements are necessary.

“The idea is to deliver the best product to the men and women who are taking bullets — they’re the ones who truly matter,” he said.