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SAPIs save lives in 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment

17 May 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

All questions concerning the reliability of the ceramic protective plates were answered in a split second for two Marines serving with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Cpl. Will D. Carter and Lance Cpl. Joel Salazar both learned first hand that the heavy protective plates they wear in and on their vests will stop a bullet.

“I am living proof that these things work,” said Salazar, a 24-year-old infantryman from Beeville, Texas.  “I was hit with an armor piercing round – but this SAPI stopped it.”

SAPIs, or small arms protective inserts, are ceramic plates designed to stop a round from penetrating and injuring military personnel. They’re bulky and often the target of griping for their weight and lack of mobility.  But they’ve proven their worth.

“Sure, these things are heavy, they’re hot and they might make you a little less flexible, but you won’t ever hear me complaining about them again,” said Carter, a 23-year-old assaultman from Joplin, Mo.

Carter and other Marines from Weapons Company were conducting weapons cache searches in the battalion’s area of operations.  He was shot in the side while entering an abandoned house after it had been secured for the Marines.

“We don’t know exactly were the shot came from,” said Navy Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffery D. Fishel, the 44-year-old platoon commander from San Diego. “We think it was from a nearby alley way.”

Carter was shot in the one of the two new side SAPIs Marines are wearing. These new, smaller SAPIs are designed to cover the sides of Marines. They cover an area that was previously left vulnerable on the vests.

“It felt as if someone had punched me in the side,” Carter said. “But it didn’t even leave a mark.”

The similarity between the two Marines stories is not uncommon in Iraq.  Salazar was conducting operations in the Khandari Market, located in the same area of operation where Carter was shot.

“My squad and I were conducting dismounted patrols in the market,” Salazar said. “While we were walking along I felt a hard hit to my back.”

Unlike Carter, Salazar was hit in the back, in one the larger SAPI plates that fit in the front and back of the vests.

“All of a sudden it felt like someone kicked me in the back,” Salazar explained. “I quickly jumped to the ground and found cover behind a car.”

Cpl. Daniel L. Estes came to the aid of his injured comrade. He checked Salazar over after dragging him into a near by building.

“Once I got him inside I check to see if the bullet had went through his flak jacket,” said Estes, a 22-year-old infantryman from Miller, Mo. “When I had seen he was fine, we surveyed the area and then patrolled back to the area we came from.”

Salazar was shot with an armor piercing round that the new breed of SAPI, the Enhanced SAPI, is designed to stop. The Marines of the battalion were outfitted with E-SAPIs upon entering Iraq. These protective plates are a step up from the original version that wasn’t rated to withstand a shot from an armor piercing round.

Both Carter and Salazar are firm believers in the gear they were issued to protect them. The two Marines agree they might not be here if they didn’t have them.

“I use to gripe about them all the time,” Carter said.

Marines throughout the country can agree the SAPIs are heavy, Fishel said.

“We all know they are a little annoying,” Fishel said. “But I am thankful for them.”