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Body armor keeps Marine in fight

18 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Erik Villagran

Cpl. Brandon L. Blair is a man who is thankful for his body armor.

Blair, from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment’s Weapons Company, was hit in the chest by a sniper’s bullet. Any doubts he ever had about his enhanced small-arms protective insert not working disappeared in one quick moment.  The plate did its’ job, and he’s alive to tell the story.

“Everyone needs to wear their protective gear,” said Blair, a 23-year-old vehicle commander from Andrew, N.C. “It will save your life. I’m a testament to that.  I’m living proof.”

The E-SAPI was issued to Marines when they first arrived in Iraq. They are designed to stop nearly any small-arms bullet fired by insurgents. Marines complained about getting heavier SAPIs, but now many reconsidered their complaints.

“I think the extra weight is worth it,” said Cpl. Kurt M. Vogler, a 26-year-old administration clerk from Ellicott City, Md. “If Blair had the older SAPIs, he might be dead.”

Blair and other Marines from Weapons Company were conducting a vehicle checkpoint and security operations around a gas station near Gharmah. He was hit in the chest while waving a vehicle into the checkpoint.

His fellow Marines sprinted to action after he was hit.  Marines parked humvees in front of Blair to shield him from anymore enemy fire.

Blair was hit with a 7.62 mm bullet, the same sized bullet fired from AK-47 assault rifles and insurgent sniper rifles. The E-SAPI stopped the round.  The slug embedded in the plate, saving his life.

“It knocked me off my feet when it hit me,” Blair said. “As soon as it hit me, it hurt. It felt like a train hit me.”

Blair was transported to Camp Fallujah’s trauma center immediately after the incident. Doctors examined him and told him he had two fractured ribs.

He was down, but only for a short while.  Marines came to see how Blair was doing during his stay in the hospital.

Cpl. Brandon A. Graham, one of Blair’s fellow Marines, said it was tough to see his friend hospitalized, but he was happy to know his injuries were minor.

“It was like seeing my brother laying there, explained Graham, a 23-year-old from Latexo, Texas.

Blair has got more than a couple cracked ribs and whopping war story to tell when he gets home.  He’ll keep the SAPI that saved his life. He said it will serve as a reminder of how far he came in one year.

Blair was originally an administration clerk. He jumped into the infantryman’s role when his security team was attached to Weapons Company.  He’s grown close with his new company.

“I’m glad it was me and not the person next to me,” Blair said. “I can’t wait to get back out there with my Marines.”