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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Physician Instrumental in Testing and Evaluation of Body Armor for U.S. Troops

December 12, 2006

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Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment based at Ellington Field in Houston and 449th Aviation Support Battalion are currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unit member CW4 Dave Willrich is equipped with the "Interceptor Body Armor."
Photo: CW3 Kurt Gruner, Texas Army National Guard, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade


HOUSTON - Francis H. Gannon, M.D., a staff physician with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) Diagnostic & Therapeutic Care Line, will receive a Department of Defense award for his role in the testing and evaluation of a key piece of battlefield equipment, worn by U.S. troops for the first time during the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new lightweight protective vest, officially dubbed "Interceptor Body Armor," was first credited in 2002 for holding down casualties in the battle for Shah-i-Kot, Afghanistan. Some soldiers pinned down in fire fights survived AK-47 and other small-arms fire to their chest and back because of the new vest. After the battle, soldiers noted most of the wounds suffered by U.S. troops were in the arms and legs.

“The goal of the study was to evaluate what was then the current body armor worn into combat as to its efficacy. With new testing approaches, we determined the armor being fielded was inadequate to effectively protect the fighting man or woman.  We tested several other types of hybrid body armors and selected the one that stopped almost all of the direct ballistic impacts that had previously resulted in death,” said Gannon, who was involved with the body armor study when he worked at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

The Interceptor Body Armor is a modular, multiple-threat body armor composed of ergonomically designed front and back plates, and an outer tactical vest. The vest weighs 8.4 pounds without plates and protects against fragmentation and 9mm rounds. The small arms protective insert plates can withstand multiple small arms hits. The weight of the total system is 16.4 lbs, nine pounds lighter than the old Kevlar version. Attachable throat, groin, shoulder/upper arm, and armpit/underarm protectors provide increased protection, and webbing attachment loops on the front of the vest allow soldiers to tailor loads to meet mission needs.

Due to the significance of this work, its life-saving capability, and potential for injury prevention, the Department of Defense will present an award to Gannon acknowledging his contributions in this endeavor.  

“This state-of-the-art body armor has provided unprecedented protection against serious and lethal bullet and fragmentation wounds and has saved the lives of thousands of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Michael Ittmann, M.D., MEDVAMC Pathology and Laboratory chief.