A bullet proof vest is heavy, expensive and uncomfortable to wear. Yet it's the most essential part of every police officer's uniform.
That point was driven home Tuesday as officers honored a Chicago cop who wouldn't be alive without his bullet proof vest.
"If it wouldn't be for the vest, I wouldn't be here,” said Martin Hernandez.
There was applause for Chicago police officers Martin Hernandez and his partner Joel Lopez after surviving every cop's worst nightmare.
"Everything just happened so quick. You can never be so prepared. You can never anticipate it,” Hernandez said.
It happened last May while the officers were on a TAC team mission on the west side. They approached a woman acting suspiciously, who suddenly pulled out a gun and shot Hernandez in the chest from just a few feet away.
"The bullet hit center mass. Everybody expected me to have a lot of bruising. I credit the vest. I had no injuries whatsoever,” Hernandez said.
"It was a tough day seeing what happened to my partner that day. Hopefully it never happens to another officer,” said Joel Lopez.
On Tuesday, the officers and their TAC team partners were honored by former Chicago police superintendent Phil Cline, who now heads the Police Memorial Foundation which is raising money to replace aging vests that are only guaranteed for five years.
"We took a vest that was 15 years old, put it in the range at the academy. And the academy staff fired five shots at it. Two of them went through the vest,” Cline said.
Officers get a free vest in the academy, but after that have to pay for it out of their own pockets.
Replacing vests isn't cheap. At Chicago Uniform, which supplies vests for officers, they start at $550 dollars and can cost as much as $1200.
"Especially when kids need braces, and the car needs brakes. They look at those things and say well, I'll put off the vest for another year. I'll be good. And we don't want them to do that,” Cline said.
So far, the foundation has raised over two million dollars and purchased seven thousand new vests, including one for Officer Hernandez.