By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
It's a hot afternoon on July 2 in Baghdad. Inside a silver van, two Iraqi insurgents sit at an intersection. Seventy-five yards away, Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer, a 20-year-old medic from upstate New York, stands guard next to a sand-colored Humvee.
One of the Iraqi men points a video camera, the other a sniper rifle. They're here, on this hot summer day, to kill an American and document the murder.
Tschiderer, wearing body armor from head to toe and carrying an M4 assault rifle, places his left hand on the Humvee and looks down a dusty road. His right side can be seen by the two men targeting him from the van.
"Go ahead," one of the Iraqi men says in Arabic. "Shoot him in the name of God."
"I am waiting for him to straighten up," the other responds.
Just then, Tschiderer turns and walks forward. His entire body faces the van.
The sniper bullet slams into the left side of Tschiderer's chest. He drops, like a boxer who's taken an unexpected uppercut to the sweet spot in his ribs.
"Allahu akbar," the men chant. "God is great."
But as soon as Tschiderer hits the ground, he bounds back to his feet. His body armor clangs against the Humvee's open door as he turns and points his rifle. He then scurries behind the armored vehicle, dazed but alive.
Minutes later, soldiers from the 101st "Saber" Cavalry Division shoot out the tires of the van and capture the two Iraqi insurgents in a nearby neighborhood. Tschiderer and two members of the Iraqi Army find the gunman on the roof of a house. The Iraqi, who had been wounded in the gunfire, surrenders, and Tschiderer bandages the gunman who had earlier tried to kill him.
The Pentagon released to the news media the videotape obtained from the captured insurgents, as well as photographs of Tschiderer and his body armor. One of those widely disseminated photos showed the only mark that the sniper bullet left on the soldier: a fist-sized black, blue, and red welt.
"Yes, the vest definitely saved my life," he answered.
That vest, an Interceptor OTV designed specifically for the U.S. military, was made right here in Broward County by Point Blank Body Armor. The largest division of New York-based DHB Industries, Point Blank operates three factories in Broward and is currently the largest supplier of body armor to the U.S. government.
Like a number of companies nationwide that consider the Department of Defense their largest customer, DHB Industries has seen sales skyrocket since 9/11. Thanks to Point Blank's lucrative military contracts to manufacture body armor for thousands of troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Djibouti, DHB, a publicly traded company, has grown lightning fast, from $70 million in sales in 2000 to $340 million last year. During that period, DHB's chief executive and board chairman, David H. Brooks (whose initials he shares with his company), rewarded himself with a roughly 3,000 percent raise, from $525,000 in 1999 to $70 million last year.
The war has been good for DHB and its Point Blank Body Armor, which receives roughly 84 percent of its business through government contracts. During a recent deposition, an attorney asked Point Blank Vice President Dan Power to define the goal of his company. "To make the world's best body armor," he answered.
Whether the company succeeds at that goal is debatable. Although the government has not reported deaths or serious injuries attributable to defective body armor, the U.S. military in May recalled more than 5,000 pieces of body armor manufactured by Point Blank. Tests by the government revealed that Point Blank's body armor did not meet necessary safety requirements. And despite demands from military brass that Point Blank increase the quality of its armor, the company continued to send substandard products overseas, according to internal memos from military commanders.
The New York Police Department and the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA) have also reported quality problems with Point Blank's body armor. In April, the SSPBA settled a lawsuit with Point Blank after the company agreed to replace an estimated 2,609 potentially defective pieces of body armor. What's more, on August 24, the National Institute of Justice, the federal agency that enforces standards for body armor, issued a study that found that nine of 12 vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor failed to meet safety requirements.
The quality concerns at Point Blank should come as no surprise to its low-wage workers. As early as 2002, employees submitted sworn affidavits alleging that Point Blank routinely cut corners to boost profits. In some cases, the company shipped improperly sized vests to fill orders more quickly, the affidavits claim. In others, Point Blank shipped allegedly defective body armor that exposed the shoulders or other parts of the body that should have been protected.
Yet none of these quality concerns has stopped Point Blank from raking in millions in taxpayer dollars. In December 2004, the company won another $190 million contract to supply body armor to the military through 2006.