Ballistic underwear for troops in Afghanistan

April 28, 2011

“An Army marches on its stomach,” said Napoleon , or maybe it was Frederick the Great . But the Marines in Afghanistan will soon, one would hope very soon, be marching more safely — in their new ballistic underwear, designed to better protect them from injuries from improvised explosive devices.

The Pentagon this month put out a rush order solicitation, spotted by our colleague Walter Pincus, for “27,500 ballistic undergarments” for $2 million, noting that “ballistic underwear is currently being used by British forces” in Afghanistan “and they have significantly less injuries” to their privates as a result.

“Based on analysis in theater,” the solicitation notice says, such underwear will drastically improve casualty recovery and reduce secondary infections.”

This is especially important in such places as Helmand province, where patrols in agricultural areas must be done on foot on narrow, often mined, paths along irrigation canals and such.

The double -weave silk underwear, which looks pretty much like bicycle shorts, is not bulletproof. But it will block out smaller particles or “blast fragments” and thus lessen damage in the groin area and to the femoral artery.

In addition, the undies have an antibacterial treatment that should reduce the risk of infection. The Marines say no source except the British supplier “provides a battlefield tested undergarment,” though “we expect more sources to enter the marketplace” in the future.

Sounds as if they want immediate delivery, like maybe yesterday.

Scuttled diplomacy

President Obama’s ambassadorial team seems to have encountered a rough patch of late, courtesy of WikiLeaks and some bad reviews by the State Department inspector general. The ambassador to Malta, Douglas Kmiec, a well-known conservative law professor and prominent Catholic backer of Obama, announced this month that he was leaving.

The move came after the IG said Kmiec was spending too much time on issues such as abortion and faith and neglecting his ambassadorial work at the lovely Mediterranean island posting.

Another IG report in February blistered mega-contributor Cynthia Stroum’s “abusive management style” at the embassy in Luxembourg and questioned expenditures there on travel, wine and liquor. She left the job just days before the report was released.

And a March IG report criticized another major Obama contributor, prominent Washington lawyer and Obama bundler Laurie Susan Fulton, who’s now ambassador to Denmark, for “being harsh in dealing with any lapses she perceives” among staff and for not delegating authority to staff there. “Where she perceives lapses,” the report said, “her response has been sharp and, to those affected, frequently unpredictable.”

“The reporting, analysis and outreach functions are operating below potential,” the report said, “due to the concentration of decisionmaking in the hands of the ambassador.”

On the other hand, the IG found that Fulton “has led an effective dialog with the Danes and been the driving force behind major initiatives on women’s issues and counterterrorism.”

And there’s Carlos Pascual, who resigned last month as U.S. ambassador to Mexico after WikiLeaks put out a cable in which he complained of incoherence in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels.

The leaked cable infuriated Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who made it perfectly clear he didn’t want to work with Pascual.

Of course, Pascual may have irked Calderon and other National Action Party leaders by dating the daughter of Francisco Rojas, the congressional leader of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had run the country for more than 70 years.

After Pascual

There’s still time to sign up for those fine postings in Luxembourg — a stone’s throw from Paris — or Malta — less than a 90-minute flight to Rome. But in Mexico City, word is the White House is looking to fill the embassy job with a career Foreign Service type.

If so, the smart money is trending to Earl Anthony “Tony” Wayne , who’s now the deputy in the embassy in Afghanistan. Wayne, whose diplomatic career started in 1975, served in a number of jobs in Europe and was assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs — from June 2000 until June 2006 — before becoming ambassador to Argentina. He’s been in Kabul since last May.

When parties clash

It’s spring — finally — and that means party time in Washington. But sometimes there are just so many days of the week to boogie, and that inevitably means conflicting events.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think tank begat by the American Israel Public Action Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, is having its big annual dinner at the Ritz-Carlton on May 12. Drinks at 6, dinner at 6:45. National Security Council Tom Donilon will be giving the keynote address.

Only snag: WINEP is shindigging at precisely the same time that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is having his big Israeli Independence Day bash at the Mellon Auditorium. It starts at 5:30. We’re told Oren got his invites out first.

Well, if you have a police escort a la Charlie Sheen, maybe you could do both. But it could be tough at rush hour.

Read. This. Next.

Nothing from the White House, not a peep of tribute yet from the president in recognition of the recent death of Hubert J. “Hub” Schlafly Jr. , who died last week in Stamford, Conn., at the age of 91.

Schlafly helped invent what one writer called “the scrolling public-speaking crutch,” known as the teleprompter.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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