Earlier this year, I attended an Armed Services subcommittee hearing which examined efforts to protect members of our Armed Forces from common threats in Iraq and Afghanistan. We heard from the Army and Marine Corps about how these challenges were being met as well as areas in which we could improve. One particular area of force protection that fell into the latter category was body armor.

Currently, soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with body armor that weighs as much as 30 pounds. Combined with traditional rucksack, rifle, ammunition, and other equipment, the load that troops are carrying in the field can weigh up to 90 pounds.

In 2007 alone the Army reported 257,000 acute orthopedic injuries that were linked to the stress of bearing heavy loads during repeated deployments. According to General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, currently there are about 20,000 non-deployable soldiers as a result.

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At this hearing, I was particularly struck by the testimony of a young sergeant who stated that current body armor is so heavy and restrictive that there was a tendency for service members to take it off on occasion.

The need to provide members of our armed forces with body armor that allows them to be both protected and mobile was the motivation behind legislation I recently introduced to create accounts specifically for the procurement and development of body armor. Currently, our armed services draw funding for body armor from a general account that funds a vast array of military technology and equipment. By devoting specific accounts to body armor development and procurement, we can more easily address shortcomings with the current body armor program and promote the development of body armor that is best suited to protecting our soldiers against current threats.

The bill, H.R. 2473 would also promote the research and development of lighter body armor by creating a task force to develop, test and evaluate armor that provides the same level of protection to troops but at reduced weight. There have been significant advances in recent years around this technology, and it is critical that appropriate resources and attention are given to addressing this issue. The rugged and mountainous terrain in Afghanistan will only exacerbate the injury problems associated with body armor as our commitment increases there.

During the course of our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military has demonstrated the ability to change and adapt to conditions on the ground. The prevalence of road side bombs and IEDs in both countries led to the development, procurement, and rapid deployment of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or MRAPs. A similar need exists around body armor and it is important that we respond in a similar fashion.

As this legislation moves forward, I welcome feedback from members of our armed forces, lawmakers, and concerned citizens alike.