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thedrifter
06-20-06, 02:30 PM
June 26, 2006
SysCom chief defends Marine helmets’ padding

By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer

Lawmakers last week grilled a Marine Corps general over why the Corps is not providing Marines more protective helmets like the Army’s.

Responding to testimony that a private organization had provided 6,000 deployed Marines with special helmet inserts to reduce head injuries, the lawmakers wanted to know why the Corps hasn’t purchased the inserts.

“Apparently, we have thousands of military personnel who believe the helmet they are being issued does not provide them satisfactory protection,” said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., during a June 15 hearing held by the Tactical and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The Marine Corps’ own testing indicates that their helmet provides about half the blast impact protection of the [Army] helmet, said Weldon, subcommittee vice chairman.


“We need to understand why this is acceptable.”

Maj. Gen. William Catto, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, said he hasn’t seen proof that the Army’s helmet, or its padded suspension system, provides better protection than the Marine helmet.

“The issue on my mind is what are the facts,” he said.

The issue was driven in large part by Dr. Robert Meaders, a former Navy flight surgeon who started Operation Helmet more than two years ago to help his grandson’s Marine unit upgrade its helmets before going to Iraq.

The effort has garnered support from across the country, including donations from Hollywood stars like Cher, who attended the hearing with Meaders to show her support.

The special shock-absorbing pad system that’s been provided to some Marines through Operation Helmet is the same one the Army and U.S. Special Operations Command use in the advanced combat helmet.

The Marine Corps’ lightweight helmet, issued to more than 130,000 troops to date, uses a sling suspension system that Meaders and other experts say does not provide the same impact protection as the padded inserts.

The Army adopted the ACH in 2002 and has fielded about 660,000.

In addition to improved impact protection, the helmet also is more comfortable to wear than the Army’s previous headgear, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Lutz, of the Army’s Project Manager Clothing and Individual Equipment, told lawmakers.

“It’s like going from driving a Yugo to a Jaguar,” he said.

Catto told lawmakers that the Corps issues the ACH to special units such as Marine reconnaissance teams but are still not convinced it’s the answer for the entire force.

“All I’ve heard about the ACH is it provides better crash protection, and it’s more comfortable,” Catto said.

‘Rigorous data’

In March, Catto commissioned the University of Virginia’s Center for Biometric Studies to provide “rigorous” data on the effects of ballistic impacts on these helmet systems.

“If they come back to me and say the liner in the lightweight helmet is inadequate and the padded system is better, the first thing I will do is recommend to the commandant that he move to the upgraded system,” Catto said, adding that he expects the study to be completed by September.

Matthew Cox covers the Army.

Ellie