Hank Investigates: Vested Interest
Christopher Sawin wanted to go to Iraq. Right out of high school, his parents say the 19-year-old signed up with the marines.
David Sawin, Marine's father
"It was his career decision and we supported him."
Chris battled the endless danger and overwhelming heat in Iraq. His family in Hanover sent him snacks, socks and soup. But each time Chris called home he asked for one more thing.
David Sawin, Marine's mather
"He told us to please buy the vest for him and order it."
This is what Chris said he desperately wanted; a Spartan 2 flak jacket. It is a heavy fabric vest with special pockets to hold the armor plates that deflect bullets and shrapnel. Chris said the standard issue were not good enough; it didn't fully cover his sides and lower back.
Chris Sawin's pregnant wife, a retired marine, thinks the new vest is critical.
Sandy Sawin, Marine's wife
"It could definitely save lives, most definitely."
But we found families are fighting their own battles just to get the vests. Their orders came so thick and fast, the factory got backlogged for some sizes! The Sawin’s waited about two and a half months before Chris's "Large" was delivered and they could finally ship it to Iraq.
Post Office Employee
"We'll get this out on the next truck... "
And our investigation found: other Marines also begged their families to spend their own money, about $300 a vest, to give them extra security. Then, they'd wait.
Donna Clark, Marine's mother
"I was shocked that they didn't have it."
Months ago, Donna Clark's son in Fallujah asked her to raise money to send more than a dozen vests to his unit. They waited months.
Donna Clark, Marine's mother
"He's over there with his buddies fighting for our freedom, and I feel they need to get whatever they need to do that."
Why the backlog? The company that takes orders for the vests says the factory that makes them received an order for 60,000 similar vests --from the US Marines!
A marine spokesperson emailed us: in response to an "urgent statement of need" this vest "upgrade" "will aid in increasing the Marine's war fighting effectiveness."
But that massive order is pushed the families to the end of the line.
What's more, the Marine's order will only be issued to troops deployed to Iraq this fall, not to the troops already in combat there.
Marine officials told us that our questions "...do not warrant an on camera interview."
And, according to this directive they sent it's up to each commander whether troops can even wear the commercially purchased vests.
As a result, some Marine troops, the ones whose families can afford new equipment may be wearing it. The others wear only government issue.
Marine officials reassure parents their kids are safe with the current jackets but worried wives and parents just want their loved ones to come safely home.
In response to our story, both Massachusetts senators are calling for action. Senator Kennedy says he will work with the defense department to ensure troops have the latest technology. Senator Kerry called the situation disgraceful and will now ask the pentagon for a full response.
(Copyright (c) 2007 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)