In the multibillion-dollar rush to get better gear to the combat zone, the Army has developed a lighter body armor that gives soldiers a quick way to get rid of it in an emergency. The new body armor is flowing to the field in Iraq and Afghanistan along with new combat rations meant to be eaten – literally – on the run.

The new $2,600 Improved Outer Tactical Vest made by Armor Holdings comes with a quick release, much like a parachute rip cord. A yank on a canvas loop just below the neck splits the vest, which can be reassembled in minutes. At a demonstration, Lt. Col. Robert Myles, an Army product manager for soldier survivability, said the quick release will give soldiers trapped in burning vehicles or tossed into a canal a better chance of surviving.

Unofficial statistics compiled by the respected Web site show that at least 16 G.I.s have drowned in Iraq. Myles said the new bullet proof vests weigh about 30 pounds, compared with 33 for older models now in the field, and also give more protection to the groin and armpit areas. The new vests currently are being tested by the 49th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. The entire force in Afghanistan and Iraq will have the new body armor models by April next year.

The Army and Marines also are rushing thousands of new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or M-RAP, vehicles at $1 million apiece to Iraq, along with better food choices for soldiers in combat.

While the ubiquitous MRE (meal, ready-to-eat) remains the combat trooper’s primary food source, a new, lightweight alternative will be introduced into Iraq and Afghanistan this fall.


Unlike the MRE, which has a chemical heating element, the new First Strike Ration – FSR – features entrees, like French toast and honey barbecue beef pocket sandwiches, that are easily chowed down out of hand and on the move with virtually no preparation.

The FSR serves up three meals to a packet but is half the size and weight of three MREs, a major benefit to troops heavily laden with ammunition and gear. Its three menu options include chunk chicken, protein bars, teriyaki beef snacks and high-energy items: maltodextrin-laced “Zapplesauce” and turbo-caffeinated chewing gum.

Special Forces teams and other units operating in remote areas already have been issued what the Pentagon calls the Unitized Group Ration-Express, which feeds 18 soldiers from a box roughly the size of a computer printer.

The UGR stacks four trays of entree, vegetable, starch and dessert between heating units. A quick pull on a single tab launches saline solution to the heaters. Thirty-five minutes later, warriors have an authentic hot meal.

Field-tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, the UGRs proved so popular that troops clamored for them immediately.

“We have 2.2 million war fighters and they all carry weapons, so we don’t like to antagonize them,” joked Kathy-Lynn Evangelos of the Pentagon’s combat feeding program.