May 04, 2003

Body armor

The usefulness of body armor would seem to be obvious but many things in life that seem so turn out otherwise. It's a relief to see a life-saver proven true.

The vast majority of American soldiers who suffered life-threatening wounds in combat in Iraq were hit in the limbs, not the torso, suggesting that the body armor now worn by all soldiers is remarkably effective.

The first look at the injured soldiers found that 58 percent were wounded in the hands, feet, arms or legs. Only 9 percent were injured in the abdomen, chest, back or groin. The findings are based on a study of 118 Army troops who suffered battlefield injuries severe enough to require that they be evacuated to Europe or the United States. The military has not yet analyzed the injury pattern in soldiers killed in combat, but it is clear that most died of chest, abdominal or head injuries too severe to be prevented by protective vests and helmets under any circumstances. Among nonfatal wounds, however, the highly skewed pattern suggests that the latest armor provided real protection.

Curiously, the pattern of wounds in the Iraq war -- 58 percent to the arms and legs -- resembles the pattern seen in the Civil War, but for radically different reasons. Medical records of the Union Army show that 71 percent of the wounds in soldiers who survived to get medical treatment were to the limbs. Confederate records estimate the percentage as 65 percent. Nearly a half-million men were permanently disabled by wounds in that war, which led to great advances in orthopedic surgery and the design of prosthetic limbs. In the Civil War, however, the chief reason was that almost nobody survived a wound to the torso. About 94 percent of Union soldiers killed in action died of head, neck, chest or abdominal wounds. Most wounded survivors had injuries to the limbs.

Posted by Alan at May 4, 2003 06:15 PM