2006 Marine History

Historical perspective: Here’s how the Marines responded to Operation Helmet’s push to provide blast/impact protecting pad inserts for Marine combat helmets:

From: Reinwald Col Shawn M [mailto:shawn.reinwald@usmc.mil] Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 8:39 AM
To: 
info@m2columbus.com
Subject: coachtressel.com Comments

Dear Coach Tressel,

I was sorry to see that Operation Helmet has taken advantage of you, and by extension, your nationally recognized football program and university, in order to advance their war profiteering.  Operation Helmet is part of an aggressive and persistent marketing campaign associated with the company Oregon Aero geared towards boosting the sale of Oregon Aero’s Ballistic Liner and Suspension System, or BLSS kit.  This organization seeks out media venues and current and former government and military officials to tout their product and solicit donations.  They have contacted several congressional offices as well as Marine Corps Headquarters, and various newspapers and radio stations.  Because of the incredible public support for the members of our forces serving in the Global War on Terrorism, many people have responded to Operation Helmet’s pleas for donations.  Champ Henson seems to be the latest patriotic American whose support for his son and the Marine Corps has made him easy prey for Operation Helmet.  The problem with Operation Helmet, is that the BLSS kit and their aggressive marketing campaign are interfering with the fielding and wear of the superior protection system already issued to Marines, the Light Weight
Helmet.

The Marine Corps is committed to providing the best helmet protection possible.  Since 2003 the Marine Corps has spent almost $20 million dollars fielding over 100,000 of our latest combat helmet.  The Lightweight Helmet
(LWH) was selected by the Corps to replace the old “Kevlar” helmet after an extensive research and development effort based on its superior performance meeting the needs and requirements of our Warfighters.  As you can imagine,
those requirements differ greatly from the needs of a football player, a motorcycle rider, or a construction worker.  The helmets are being fielded at a rate of 5000 per month and are manufactured by the leader in the industry, Gentex Corporation.  Gentex is the world’s largest supplier of aircrew and tank crew helmets and supplies its customers a variety of engineered fabrics from aluminized textiles to exotic composites for ballistic protection.  The LWH’s effectiveness is, in part, a result of improved comfort and fit that comes from its suspension system.  The improved suspension system reduces stress and fatigue of the wearer.  The Lightweight Helmet is combat proven and is credited with eliminating many injuries, preventing or limiting the severity of combat wounds, and saving numerous lives.

The BLSS Kits were an interim commercial solution to retrofit old PASGT (Personal Armor System, Ground Troop) (aka “Kevlar”) helmets.  Marine commanders were authorized to procure them locally for retrofitting into the old helmets.  The introduction of the Marine Corps Light Weight Helmet and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from its performance are meeting the demands of our Leathernecks and have eliminated ANY need for the padded BLSS
kits with our deploying Marines.

The BLSS kits are not authorized or needed with the LWH.  The BLSS kits cost approximately $150 per set (now being lowered to $99), vice the $190 cost for the entire LWH.  We have not prohibited the use of BLSS kits to retrofit
the limited amount of old helmets still in use by some units here in the United States, however, interference with the design and wear of the LWH by any padded system can place Marines in greater jeopardy.

The Marine Corps has addressed the question of pads versus a suspension system with the Ballistic Team at the Soldier System Center in Natick, Massachusetts.  Oregon Aero has been asked to submit their latest test data, along with samples of their product to Natick, for verification and side-by-side follow-up testing if they have improved over equipment we have previously tested and rejected.  We have received nothing.  Our ballistics and testing experts at the Solider Center conducted an evaluation that failed to show a compelling reason to support any claim that a padded system would outperform the suspension system.  The only true benefit of pads appears to be non-ballistic impact protection (i.e., bumps, falls, vehicle crashes, etc.). With this benefit come drawbacks such as fit, heat and fluid retention, and others.  There is no evidence that pad suspension minimizes injury potential in the event of ballistic impact (i.e., fragmentation) -the primary purpose for the Light Weight Helmet.  In fact, it is possible that pads worsen the effects of such high rate, high-energy impacts.

Currently, there is no definitive connection between suspension systems, such as in the LWH, and traumatic brain injuries. There is much more going on in a blast event than can be analyzed in a motorcycle helmet drop test. There is a very real and very direct connection between penetrating head injuries and fatalities.  That’s what the LWH is designed to prevent or mitigate.

At this point in the fielding process of the LWH, any donation to “Operation Helmet” is just going to interfere with the protection system being fielded to our deployed Marines.  Their consistent marketing campaign is creating doubt with some members of the public who are not aware of the development and acquisition process and not abreast of our latest helmet programs (and the incredible role they play by paying federal taxes to support our world class operations).  The campaign is also reducing the confidence of the operating forces in the equipment being fielded to them – the equipment that is saving their lives and reducing the severity of their wounds.  Though some Marines may prefer the comfort, feel, or look of the padded BLSS system over the four-point suspension system of the Light Weight Helmet, the LWH provides superior ballistic protection.  The staff of the Medical Officer of the Marine Corps has addressed the issue in the past and we have received their full support.

“Operation Helmet” is now offering to send the kits directly to Marines in need if someone “donates” $99 to them.  Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan who receive the donations and alter their helmets will be at greater risk when they need protection the most.

I want to reiterate that use of the BLSS with the LWH (Light Weight Helmet) does not work.  It reduces the ballistic protection of the system and does not address the injuries that are occurring most frequently in theater. The LWH is superior to any other system available. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Sincerely,Shawn Reinwald, Colonel, U. S. Marines
Director, Product Group 16, Combat Equipment and Support Systems

News Story of June 15, 2006 just before release of transcript from House Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces hearing in which Marines are directed by Congress to provide the pads themselves.

And NOW for the rest of the story, please review the transcript of the Congressional Hearing (go to “Media” Section) held on 14 June, 2006 in which the Army, Navy and Air Force reiterated their having taken over our job of providing helmet upgrades and the Marine representative balked…only to be instructed to have the testing repeated that the Army had already done if that is what it took to change their minds. In Sept, 2006, the Marines began providing helmet upgrade pad systems.

As of right now (April ’07), here’s the official Marine response to our questioning why we are still getting requests from individuals and units either in or on the way to Iraq:

4/5-6/2007

“Mr. Meaders, (should be Dr. Meaders, but what the heck)
 I appreciate the efforts of Operation Helmet.  Rest assured; no units will deploy without helmet pads.  The Marine Corps has been providing helmet pads to Marines since September 2006, and will continue to do so.  To ensure clear and open communications with our Marines, please pass my email address to anyone has questions and I will answer them directly.  I receive numerous inquiries from Marines on daily basis regarding individual combat equipment and would be happy to respond to helmet pad inquiries as well.

Follow-up question about why we’re still getting requests:

Mr. Meaders, All units in Iraq have light weight helmets with pads.  Additionally all Marines, active and reserve, will deploy with a light weight helmet and pads.  I have received the messages you forwarded from Marines requesting helmet pads and will be answering them today.Sincerely, Maj Renee Holmes, Deputy, PM Infantry Combat Equipment Marine Corps Systems Command

Stay tuned…the new pad systems being purchased are hot, hard and uncomfortable, coming from ‘ABOA’…Anyone but Oregon Aero, as if they had anything to do with the Marines’ own embarrassing handling of the blast/impact protection issues. Remember, Operation Helmet has NO relationship with ANY manufacturer except to insist on the very best product in terms of blast protection and wearability of upgraded helmets. No axes to grind, no oxen to gore, just protection of our troops in combat.

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