During my deployment in Iraq, we had to inspect and re-inspect our kevlar helmets every time the supply section received a new list of bogus and recalled helmet lot numbers, which seemed like it was almost weekly or monthly at times (it happened a hell of a lot, enough to not trust your gear, and make you say WTF). My helmet was never on any of the lists and it stayed with me throughout my deployment.

I knew that they were being recalled during the deployment, but I didn’t know that prisoners were making them with homemade tools that resembled prison shanks and hatchets. I recently found this out after reading an Army Times article that revealed even more controversy surrounding the recalled helmets made in the prison system. The helmets involved in the DOJ inspector general and Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) investigations were the Advance Combat Helmets (ACH) and Lightweight Marine Corps Helmets (LMCH) made in 2008 to 2009 (recalled in 2010). The FPI (Federal Prison Industries) a government-owned corporation and ArmorSource, LLC a private owned company, are at the heart of the investigations.

Here are the photos below that were released by the DOJ:

According to the article, a new DOJ report from the two investigations was just released which identified even more issues with how the helmets were made. ArmorSource LLC (ArmorSource) was awarded the contract to manufacture and sell Advance Combat Helmets (ACH) and Lightweight Marine Corps Helmets (LMCH) to the Department of Defense (DOD) and FPI was hired as a subcontractor to fulfill the contract. The main issue: ArmorSource, LLC provided little to no oversight of FPI or the manufacturing process which resulted in the helmets being constructed with substandard materials and tools. Next, FPI and the prisoners falsified documents stating that the deficient helmets passed inspection, they were then sold to the DoD.

The  U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General conducted two joint investigations into the controversy and a new report, issued Wednesday, details a number of disturbing findings:

  • Prisoners were making helmets with crude, makeshift tools.
  • Helmets were made with “degraded or unauthorized ballistic materials” and expired paint.
  • Helmets were found to have deformities.
  • Random quality checks were compromised, with helmet-swapping to ensures tests were passed.
  • Despite the rejection of some helmets, they were still sold to the Defense Department.

While posing a risk to service members, “These investigations did not develop any information to indicate military personnel sustained injury or death as a result of the defective ACH helmets.”  -Army Times

What the report doesn’t say is how many of these helmets could have aided in service members’ deaths. What about all of those killed by fragmentation from IEDs during that time period? Have those lot numbers been looked at? The report mainly focuses on the monetary loss for the DoD, as they will not be pursuing criminal charges only civil charges. ArmorSource, LLC agreed to pay 3 million dollars in reimbursement under the False Claims Act. The report stated, “The use of unauthorized manufacturing practices or defective materials reduce the ballistic and fragmentation protection the ACH is designed to provide, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.” Overall, 126,052 ACH helmets and 23,000 LMCH were recalled or quarantined. Greed and laziness seemed to have been the reason for ArmorSource, LLC to not supervise the making of the helmets my the FPI. Quantity over quality. People may have died because our helmets were made in a prison with home-made shank-like tools and knowingly passed off as inspected, even though they had serious deficiencies. Hopefully, these investigations will cause the DoD to no longer allow ArmorSource, LLC or FPI to be hired as contractors to fulfill vital equipment for the US military.