How a Navy SEAL Sets Up His Body Armor

In this awesome video, Jason Phalin, former Navy SEAL and founder of Arion Risk, outlines how he personally wore his body armor and what he carried.

While every operator has his own way of setting up his gear, the mission can also define what’s added, what’s carried–and how it’s carried. As Phalin mentions, he would use different armor plates for land operations and for ones requiring insertion via the ocean.

Whatever the mission and personal preference, gear setup should always allow for easy—and fast—use.

Keep reading for more SOF operators detailing how they set up their body armor.

IR CHEM LIGHTS

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Dan Cerillo, former Navy SEAL on how he set up his armor:

I set my armor up so I could reach everything with my weak hand except my frag grenades. I had those on my gun side since they were the least used and required two hands anyway. My armor is the reason I am alive today. I was saved by my soft armor (9mm vets we used to wear under our plates) in Baghdad.

Every single mission was a lesson learned [for how to set things up]. I moved stuff around almost continuously. I was never satisfied I was always seeking the perfect fit and reach.


 
[There was] different body armor for different missions. Almost every set was set up differently depending on what I used it for.
 
I had armor for close quarters battle, armor for ship boarding which had flotation built in, armor for desert warfare, jungle warfare and a set for diving.

Lance Cummings, former SEAL and founder of Epic Charity Challenge and SOF Prep Academy on how he set up his armor:

Our Kevlar body armor is inherently buoyant by design, with inflatable compartments powered by CO2 cartridges. This is in case of a rollover into a canal with our RG31 or 33 mobility trucks or in case we are working in a maritime environment with ships/helicopters and happen to ditch or go overboard. I believe Seals are the only SOF component that has buoyant body armor.

I did take several Kevlar plates onto a range in Afghanistan for comparison basis and shot them with different caliber ammunition to see the results. 

(Continued below).

TOURNIQUETS

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I could tell you that the plates will stop one 7.62 round, but multiple shots onto a small spot on the Kevlar, even with small caliber ammo, will cause it to break down. 

I varied my set up, but the type of attachments carried were consistent: Communication gear, extra magazines and ammunition, water, knife, strobe light, all first line gear. 

I know of guys that took rounds and their body armor saved them, and other situations where it didn’t. Each one had different variables. Bottom line, Body armor will only protect you if you wear it, which is a pain in the ass if you want to move fast or it’s 110 degrees. 

SEAT BELT CUTTER

Charles Moser, former Navy SEAL sniper, and currently working as a sniper for the Las Vegas SWAT team on how he likes to set up his armor:

When it comes to the set up of the vest all I like on the front of the vest are the ammo mags. I keep my radio on the left side and med kit on the right side…and gun always stayed on my right hip.

Charles Moser’s Armor Setup

Operationally, I know of several guys who were shot in the vest and one guy had a pouch with extra gear and when he got shot the round hit a piece of plastic which sent pieces of plastic into his neck and face and why I limit what I carry on the front of the vest.

UTILITY POUCH

Tom Coffey, former Army Ranger and SGPT coach, answered our questions on his personal setup of his kit:

Setup for body armor (also called “kit”) is highly individualized depending on that person’s job in the fire team. For example: I carried the M249 light machine gun (aka the SAW–squad automatic weapon). It fires belt fed 5.56mm and is the most causality producing weapon in the squad. My kit setup is very different from that of the grenadier (the guy who shoots grenades out of his gun), or my team leader (the guy who leads the fire team).

However, despite the different kit setups there was one universal: The location of your bleeder kit.

(Continued below).

WEAPON CATCH

No matter your job in the fire team or squad every man wears their bleeder kit attached to the left hip. The contents of the bleeder include things like tourniquets, gauze, naselphyarengeal airway (NPG), chest seals, needles for needle decompression, and other basic first aid items. The point of having a standard location for the bleeder kit is to make sure that time isn’t wasted searching for your bleeder kit, if one of your buddies needs to apply life saving first aid to you.

Other than the location of the bleeder kit, kit setup is up for debate.

DROP/DUMP POUCH

Tom continues:

On my kit, I carried two 150 round ammo pouches on my sides, and two 100 round ammo pouches across my stomach. This gave me the ability to carry 500 rounds, plus the 100 round starter belt in my gun. On my left hip I would carry two “banger” pouches, which would allow me to carry two flashbangs. On my right hip I carried two grenade pouches, which would allow me to carry two grenades.

On the upper chest part of my kit (moving from left to right) I secured my Camelback hose. I’ll talk about the Camelback pouch in a second, but I had my Camelback hose rooted over my left shoulder, and secured to the upper left part of my kit. This was so I could grab the hose with left hand, without having to take my right finer off of the trigger of my gun.

Army Ranger in full gear

Next to the Camelback hose I carried a tourniquet (already looped and ready for quick application). Next to the tourniquet I carried a small Leatherman pouch, which allowed me to carry a small multi tool. This comes in handy when you’re a SAW gunner. Also, jammed behind my lower ammo pouches I carried a short flathead screwdriver, which was attached to my kit with 550 cord. Again, having a flathead screwdriver readily available comes in handy when you have a malfunction with the SAW.

Moving to the back left of the kit, I always carried a 100oz pouch that I put a Camelback into. I sweat a lot as it is, so I never wanted to skimp on my water supply. Next to the Camelback pouch I would either carry a radio (sometimes). More often I would carry two more 100 round ammo pouches, giving me the ability to carry 800 rounds. In the small space between the radio and ammo pouches I would also carry a third banger pouch, so the guy behind me in the stack could easily grab a flashbang off my back (if needed).

For the most part that is how I left my kit setup for my time as a SAW gunner.

army rangers, army ranger kit setup, army ranger body armorArmy Rangers in varied kit setups.

Was there a situation/were there a few situations where you learned a lesson (so to speak) about how your armor was set up?

Because training was as realistic as possible if you had any malfunctions with your kit setup those were highlighted in training events. This is good, because it allows you to go back and adjust whatever didn’t work. Also, even if you didn’t have a malfunction with your kit, sometimes guys would change the location of different pouches simply to better help out their team.

Also, the more experienced guys were always offering tips and tricks for kit setup that they’ve learned over the years. Their insights really helped dial in kit setup before anything funky happened.

(Continued).

Video—Tom Coffey on his kit setup.

Did you change the setup for different missions?

For the most part kit setup wouldn’t change that much. Guys may add or subtract a pouch here and there, but usually your kit was setup for a specific reason already, and there wasn’t much to change.

That’s the thing, no pouch on a kit is just randomly put on there. Every pouch has a reason for being in it’s location, and serves a purpose that is thoroughly thought out.

Really the only times when you would need to drastically change your kit setup is if you change jobs all together. The way my kit was setup worked for me as a saw gunner, but just wouldn’t make any sense for a riflemen or grenadier.

CARABINER

If you were in the military and wore body armor/a kit, how did you set it up?

Tell us in the comments below!

 

QUESTION: Do you have a list of what SEALs like to carry for their gear?

ANSWER: Yes; check out this article: Navy SEAL Combat Gear List.

QUESTION: I want to get into the habit of keeping a workout journal. Do you have some tips?

ANSWER: Check out this article—Workout Training Log Improvement Tips.

Question: How can I find out more information about signing up for the Navy and getting a slot for BUDS training?

Answer: Check out the main Navy SEAL/SWCC website.

 

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