2009 Marine Meetings

8/29/2009: Email to Marine Corps systems Command

“Hello again, Mac. Long time no contact, but we’re still here responding to the needs and requests of combat Marines and other Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Prior to your putting the final touches on the new plastic helmet, I hope all concerned will take a look at the email summaries on our website 
to review what troops in combat tell us:
·       The current 
helmet pads are mission detractors due to ‘hot spots’ similar to the old ‘kevlar hair’ of  the unpadded helmets
·       The 
current pads cause migraine-type headaches on prolonged wear
·       The 
current pads, when worn in the heat of Afghanistan, become ‘slicked over’ with sweat and body oils, making the helmet unstable and hot
·       The current pads tend to disintegrate unless reinforced with duct tape. 
·       Recent photos from Afghanistan show marines on patrol with helmets worn with the chin strap below the chin instead of encompassing the point of the mandible in an attempt to lessen the distracting headache from too-firm pads. 
Some report having to remove their helmets for relief during mounted and dismounted patrols.
·       The Oregon Aero BLU6 kit is in great demand as an alternative to the 
current pad system
As to choosing between the competing pad systems:

·       The best pad system in the world is worthless if it causes troops to either wear their helmet in a non-reg fashion, or REMOVE it during mounted/dismounted patrols as logged in our emails. 
·       Limited user evaluations cannot hope to duplicate the stress on men and material of a combat tour
·       Artificially induced temperatures in drop tests are meaningless unless the human head’s ‘heat sink’ is taken into consideration as it affects pad temperatures.

Equally, we believe the Lawrence Livermore study of blast wave effect  Skull Flexure from Blast Waves- A New Mechanism for Brain Injury with Implications for Helmet Design  plainly shows that too-firm pads may increasekevlar/skull flexure with resultant brain injury more than would be expected.

These facts indicate that a thorough review of projected suspension systems for the new helmet should be conducted from both a blast/impact protecting and human engineering standpoint. We stand ready to contribute what we can to on the latter issue to support your efforts and are pleased to hear of your new helmet program…it would be nice to finally close our doors after nearly 6 years of providing helmet pad upgrades to some 45,000 warriors in combat.

We’ve promised our warriors not to release their names and unit number to the general public/military for both OPSEC and the threat of retaliation. However, if someone from MarCorSysCom wants to come to my office, I’ll be glad to let them view the original emails to assure themselves that our website accurately reflects the words of troops in combat. When we ask them why they don’t complain up the chain about their helmet pads, they respond something on the order of …”they just hand us another set of the same pads”.

11 July 2008: Meeting with Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) personnel and House Armed Services Committee Staff

Points discussed concerning pad protection from blast/impact forces vs. comfort and pad flammability:

Glossary: fps = feet per second, or the speed at which the helmet is dropped onto the arresting anvil for g-force measurement. OA = Oregon Aero 3/4″ pads, TW = Team Wendy 3/4″ pads.

1. Both Oregon Aero (OA) and Team Wendy (TW) pad systems passed the 10 fps drop test specifications.  (We only use BLU-6 3/4″ pads, so the BLSS test  with 1/2″ pads is meaningless.)

Marine response: TW pads show ‘more protection’ at the 10 fps test when extreme hot and extreme cold are included in the Mean-all temperature chart.

Our response: The temperature extremes of 14 degrees for cold and 135 for hot are not realistic. Those temperatures are not compatible with human life. The head acts as a heat sink; the pads will assume a temperature somewhere between body temperature and the helmet pads. Test results at these extremes are meaningless. The ambient temperature (real-life) charts show OA padded helmets to be slightly more protective than those with the TW pads under real-life conditions.

Marine Response: Test parameters are set in concrete and cannot be changed (who made them up, we wonder)

  1.  The OA pads have been shown to be wearable and preferred by Soldiers and Marines under combat conditions. We get emails from troops saying the TW pad-configured helmets are uncomfortable and are removed to relieve hot spots caused by the too-firm pads. Very dangerous when no one can predict ambush with IED’s, RPG’s or accidents trying to avoid them.

Marine Response: A LUE (limited user exercise) was done with Marines in full uniform and combat configuration. No preference for helmet pads was expressed except for one which was ‘off the charts’ but not used by Marines…no explanation.

Our Response: In order to achieve real-life information, each component of the combat gear must be field tested separately, as individual component results become obscured in the mass of information concerning the combined total combat rig. Sort of like asking a man on fire if his shoes are too tight. The test asked if the helmets were uncomfortable when worn for ‘one or two days’ instead of the seven-month duration of combat tours!

3. Given equal protection provided by competing vendors’ pads, more emphasis should be placed on comfort and wearability so troops will wear their helmets full-time..

Marine Response: Marines will opt for protection over comfort.  TW pads showed ‘more protection’ or at least failed a 14.4 fps drop test as a lower level than OA pads. That means they’re better. (???)

Our Response: The 14.4 fps test was performed “for informational purposes” and was not mandated in the test protocol. It is not know what the test at 14.4 fps represents in the real world. No test standards have been established; 14.4 fps was selected for informational purposes only as per the test report. Safety is compromised when troops remove helmets due to too-firm pads, losing any advantage shown by laboratory testing.

5. Both OA and TW pads will burn when exposed to flame for a specific duration; only the Oregon Aero pad self-extinguishes once the pad has started flaming.

Marine Response: PYROMAN testing (see below’s photo/link) done at two labs showed only mild charring on any exposed pad edges of pads in a 4-second standard test of garment protection. The flame nozzles are aimed at foot-to-waist level to exert maximum heat to the garment-draped torso. Also, a trial by MCSC personnel trying to light pads over their barbecue pit did not elicit flames.

Our Response: NASCAR and Snell Memorial Foundation standards require the test to have nozzles aimed at the helmet edge so flames will impact pads directly instead of the remote nozzle position of the Pyroman garment test. Click on the photo below of the test on a Nomex suit to see how the nozzles are aimed. Marines can’t get their pads to burn outdoors in the wind. Our own admittedly unscientific pad burning tests were done in a closed garage with no wind effect; all pads burned, some fiercely.

6. Scientists believe that too-firm pads in the ‘standoff’ space between the kevlar shell and the skull accentuate blast-wave transmission to the head from the helmet.

Marine Response: Not enough is known about blast-wave effect on the brain to consider, please send more information.

Our Response: We sent MCSC emails from Dr Makris of Med-Eng, (now Allen Vanguard) explaining the phenomenon. He also stresses the need for comfort/wearability over protection that is not used in the manner expected.  Note: We sent the Marines…and Army… the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory test results on this very issue: no response.

Operation Helmet Bottom line: Given the similarity of protection offered by TW and OA pads, comfort and wearability under actual combat conditions should be strongly considered in pad selection. Flammability should be studied under conditions at least as rigorous as that required by NASCAR.

Marine Bottom Line: Team Wendy pads will continue to be the only authorized pad for Marines.  Individual commanders may permit or deny troops wearing ‘other than standard’ helmet pads.

In other words: ‘don’t confuse us with facts, our minds are made up.

So, we’ll keep on shaking the money trees and helping troops who ask. With your help, of course! Make a Donation

Marine Corps Systems Command put out a press release on 20 Jun 2008 [full text here]. It states in part “Testing was conducted using the American Standard Test Methods (ASTM) International Standard F1930-00. Using this test protocol, the uniform ensemble, including issued helmet pads, was exposed to a four-second flame duration ranging between 1,472 to 2,552 degrees F.”  We are looking into how the testing was conducted.  The standard does not call for a specific amount of time that the burn will occur nor does it specify where the burners will be aimed.  Take a look at this test video comparing cotton/poly and Nomex.  Please notice that the dummy is suspended by a 2-3 inch tube through the neck.  I wonder how this affected the flame/burn pattern and helmet fitting.  More questions than answers at this point.

Here’s how NASCAR has their racing gear tested; During tests of the edge beading, the techs direct the flame so that it will wrap over the edge of the shell and scorch the comfort liner of the helmet.  For this reason, the comfort liners of the helmets are Nomex(r) or some similar flame resistant material.  This is about as far as we get into the interior of the helmets when we check for flame resistance though.  We’re satisfied so long as any point on the helmet that might reasonably be exposed to flame in a crash will self extinguish quickly once the flame source is removed. The video below shows the difference between fire retardant material and that which burns easily:


12 June 08: Important notice that led to the above meeting:

This past week, I got wind of the possibility that Government Issue (GI) pads might be extremely flammable. Being a suspicious old doctor, I tested for myself one each of the GI pads and the Oregon Aero pads we have been providing for the past four+ years. I lit a kitchen match, holding it just under each pad so the flame made contact. The GI pads manufactured by Team Wendy and the other approved pads except those of Oregon Aero burst into a flaming inferno producing a stream of burning plastic dripping from the pad. The Oregon Aero pad flamed momentarily then self-extinguished.

Click here for more Operation Helmet burn test photos.  New photos and videos from 20 Jun 08.

The Kevlar helmet shell must pass rigid flame tests, but evidently no one thought to test the helmet’s interior contents, i.e. the blast/impact protecting pads.

As you can see from our website, troops are bitterly complaining the GI pads (cheaper but much harder) are so uncomfortable they keep taking their helmets off to relieve severe headaches. Hard to predict when an IED is going to go off or an ambush occurs. Now we find the protective helmet pads become a flaming fuel source adding to burn injuries from the flash of an IED, Molotov cocktail, etc. Our troops carry loads of electronic gear with batteries that can burn and are surrounded by fuel tanks, hydraulic fluid, motor oils, MRE boxes and ammunition. Should a trooper be rendered unconscious for a short period and waken in a burning vehicle with a helmet full of flames and a veritable lava-flow of burning plastic over the head and face they’re in a world of hurt.  The same goes, of course, for a trooper struggling to exit a twisted and deformed burning vehicle while flames converge on him.

The Army Burn Unit at BAMC reports that most severe burn victims have a spot on the top of their head that is usually spared. The crown of the head’s pads won’t flame up if the oxygen is used up in the neighborhood due to burning pads around the helmet periphery and the general environment. Worth a second look? We think so. The entire head area should be protected somewhat from flames by the flame-resistant Kevlar helmet AND self-extinguishing pads. NASCAR does much more rigorous tests on drivers’ helmets than the military does on warrior helmets. WHY ???

I would ask you to request immediate confirmation by the military and removal of this dangerous fuel source from our troops’ head armor. Less dangerous pads are readily available.

Here’s an ACH with the full 7-pad Government Issue kit, following 7 seconds of flame exposure; How long does it take to exit a burning Humvee? If you’re injured? Unconscious?

I’ve emailed the Commandant of the Marines and several Congress folks, hoping to stir immediate action by the military to have the faulty and dangerous pads taken out of all troops’ helmets and replaced with the best-but-not-perfect Oregon Aero pads until such time as all manufacturers come up with pads that don’t eat your head/face. In the meantime, we need donations to quickly replace as many of the faulty pads as possible! My wife and I are still donating monthly as well as putting in our ‘stimulus’ check.

 Please help us replace these faulty pads. Takes money, more than we have. This is a matter of life and death

Make a Donation

p.s.: I hear that DOD is convinced we’re some sort of agent for Oregon Aero because we don’t point out that their pads are more expensive than the competition. I have NO idea what OA charges the military nor do I care. That’s not my business. All we want is for our troops to have the best, not the cheapest, equipment that makes their jobs safer and more effectively performed. I also don’t know how much a UAV costs, or even the M4 carbine.If an item costs 3/4 as much but lasts 1/2 as long, where is the saving? Attention DOD: Don’t shoot the messenger, fix the problem!

No one should take our findings of pad deficiencies as criticism of USAARL’s testing. They can only do what they’re charged with doing. They pointed out the lack of testing requested by the military concerning wearabilityand water logging, recommending further testing be done concerning those issues. It was the military’s responsibility to read their report and request the tests be done either at USAARL or by independent civilian labs. It is disappointing USAARL didn’t question the test parameters that required either frozen or baked helmet/pad systems be tested rather than using temperatures that reflect those of a helmet being worn on a human head. Helmet systems on the human head quickly change temperature so they are close to that of the wearer. Also, they failed to point out ‘outlying’ test data that should have been discarded, according to another Army scientist at PEO Soldier. USAARL was ‘only following orders’.

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