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Troops turn to 'pope glass' for added safety

Associated Press
Published April 2, 2006


RAMADI, Iraq - The 21-year-old gunner was standing atop the turret of a Humvee called Frankenstein's Monster when the bomb exploded on the ground beside him, sending a wave of sizzling shrapnel and ball-bearings toward his head.

Knocked down inside his vehicle by the blast, Spc. Richard Sugai regained consciousness minutes later and realized he was lucky to be alive. His savior: a glass cocoon of 2-inch thick bulletproof windshields he had welded around the top of his turret three days earlier.

Troops mockingly call the modification "pope glass" because it brings to mind the ballistic-proof glass box the late Pope John Paul II traveled in after being wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt.

The jerry-rigged protection has become a signature on the turrets of Humvees across the main U.S. base in insurgent-plagued Ramadi, where troops are adding ever-more armor to protect against snipers, small-arms fire and roadside bombs.

"I would have been gone if that glass hadn't been there," Sugai said. "I probably wouldn't have a head."

The Vermont National Guard's Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 172nd Armor, became the first to start using the so-called pope glass after one of its support soldiers, 40-year-old Spc. Scott Betit, added on his own with a colleague's help after his initial run through Ramadi in late July.

"It was really uncomfortable keeping myself above the turret that first time. I felt exposed," said Betit, of Whitecreek, N.Y., while standing beside his pope glass-fitted Humvee, the gun shield of which is painted with a red-scarfed Snoopy manning a machine gun. "When I put the glass on, everybody was like, what the hell is this guy doing? But then they started asking for it."

It soon spread throughout Alpha Company and other units.

The added glass - fashioned out of three Humvee front windshields welded above the armored-steel ring around the sides of the gunner's turret - is roughly 18 inches high. Alpha Company commanders say the glass has spared seven gunners from either death or severe head trauma over the last six months.

It's a far cry from the days of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when U.S. troops actually stripped down already unarmored Humvees, removing glass from side doors to avoid glare that could reflect miles across deserts, said Capt. Duby Thompson, Alpha company's 40-year-old executive officer.