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Updated: Tuesday, Mar. 7, 2000 at 22:41 CST

U.S. troops warned about faulty chemical suits only after problem became public By John M. Donnelly The Associated Press WASHINGTON -- Although a Pentagon agency warned the Army and the Air Force in early February not to use potentially flawed chemical suits, the services didn't pass the message on to the field until weeks later -- the day after the problem was made public, military officials say. Even now it is unclear how widely the message has spread among U.S. forces deployed worldwide.

On Feb. 3, the Defense Logistics Agency told all the military services' logistics offices not to use suits from two suspect lots in any real emergency. But the message did not go beyond the logistics offices until Feb. 28, the day after The Associated Press reported that many of the suits contained holes and tears and that the contractor had been charged with fraud.

Unaware of the problem's scope were troops at Army and Air Force bases who, the Pentagon inspector general says, could have been killed wearing faulty suits during a gas or germ attack.

On Friday, the logistics agency sent a memo to four-star generals and admirals on every continent, the Army and Air Force chiefs and others -- as opposed to logistics offices. The latest memo provides more detailed information on what items to set aside and whom to call with questions.

The Feb. 3 warning said 1989 and 1992 lots of "battle dress overgarments" made by Isratex of New York City should be removed from the active inventory. An alert in December to the same logistics offices had mentioned only the 1992 lot.

The Air Force didn't tell air bases around the world that either lot was defective until the day after the story broke, said Maj. Donna Nicholas, an Air Force spokeswoman. The Army had told its soldiers about the 1992 lot but not about the 1989 lot, because officials at Army headquarters didn't get the Feb. 3 memo and they learned about it in the media, Army spokeswoman Nancy Ray said. A Navy spokesman, Lt. Matt O'Neal, said sailors and Marines have their own protective suits and none are made by Isratex.

Although the 1989 lot has not been proved defective, it was pulled with the 1992 lot and is considered suspect because of the company that made it, DLA and inspector general officials have said. The company provided 780,000 suits to the military at a cost of $49 million.

-- nike in houston (, March 08, 2000

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