One of the things that made October such a bloody month for American troops was a dramatic increase in sniper attacks. The U.S. military refuses to say exactly how many sniper attacks there were or how successful they were on the ground; that is information the enemy could use.
But this will give you some idea: There were more sniper attacks in the first 10 days of October than in the entire month of September. There are insurgent videos on the Internet that show American soldiers being killed, along with an interview with a guy who claims to be the commander of the Baghdad sniper brigade. Boasting of his accomplishments, he says a book called "The Ultimate Sniper," produced by a former U.S. Army major and distributed by a U.S.-based publishing house, "is one of the main books we use to train our snipers."
I was looking into all of this, and as part of that story, went down to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. to see a new body armor vest that will be issued to Marines heading to Iraq early next year.
The idea was to try on the body armor to see how protective it is against sniper fire. The Marine vest shields the torso against 7.62 millimeter ammunition (which is what an AK-47 fires) and below, but the head and the neck are still exposed. The helmet will stop shrapnel but not a round from a high-powered sniper rifle.
The Marines who were showing us the equipment said the Corps is spending $33 million for 60,000 of the new vests and that most of the improvements had come from ideas submitted by Marines fighting in Iraq.
The vest is officially called the Modular Tactical Vest and so, not surprisingly, there were "I Want My MTV" headlines about it in the Marine Times.
What did surprise me, though, was the Army's interest in the story. I couldn't figure out why the Army had such an interest in a story about Marine Corps body armor until I saw a letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper widely read by troops overseas.
The letter's author complained that an article about the MTV "implied the Marine Corps' new [body armor] is superior to the Army's. … This is a disservice to soldiers wearing [the Army's body armor]." So, that was why the Army was so interested in my story; they thought that it would create the impression that Marines were wearing better body armor than Army soldiers.
For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor. The differences have to do with the way it fits on your body and the way it allows a Marine to carry all his combat gear.
To me, the Marine vest felt more comfortable because it distributes the 30-pound weight over your entire torso instead of having the weight hanging on your shoulders. But it still leaves some very vital parts of your body exposed to a sniper.
As for that former U.S. Army major who produced "The Ultimate Sniper" — he's not returning phone calls.