There's a half-billion dollars invested in the gear hanging off the heads, chests and backs of the soldiers of Alpha company. Digital maps displayed on helmet-mounted eyepieces show the position of all the men in the unit as they surround a block of concrete buildings and launch their attacks. Instead of relying on the hand signals and shouted orders that most infantrymen use, Alpha company communicates via advanced, encrypted radio transmissions with a range of up to a kilometer. It's more information than any soldiers have ever had about their comrades and their surroundings.
But as Alpha kicks in doors, rounds up terror suspects and peals off automatic fire in deafening six-shot bursts, not one of the soldiers bothers to check his radio or look into the eyepiece to find his buddies on the electronic maps. "It's just a bunch of stuff we don't use, taking the place of useful stuff like guns," says Sgt. James Young, who leads a team of four M-240 machine-gunners perched on a balcony during this training exercise at Fort Lewis, Wash. "It makes you a slower, heavier target."
Body Armor Part III: Contours and Weight
Body Armor Part II: Distribution
Body Armor Part I: Re-Inventing the Wheel