Marines surveyed on lightweight helmet pads
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jun 12, 2007 17:33:46 EDT

Months after directing Marines to use pads — not slings — in their lightweight helmets, the Corps is asking for feedback on the new system.

Marine Corps Systems Command has issued a survey on the pads, according to MarAdmin message 351/07, and added that the “feedback provided by Marines will be used to continue to improve the suspension and retention system of the lightweight helmet.”

The survey comes amid complaints from Marines that the standard-issue pads — manufactured by Cleveland-based Team Wendy — are causing headaches, according to a nonprofit organization that lobbied for pads to be installed in helmets and now raises money to donate different pads to service members. However, a spokeswoman for SysCom said the survey is not being conducted as a result of the complaints.

The survey comes eight months after the service announced that, in order to reduce the risk of brain injuries, all Marines must use the pads in their lightweight helmets instead of the traditional sling suspension system.

Congressionally mandated tests conducted last year proved the pads, which the Army has used in its advanced combat helmets for the past four years, provide more protection against blunt-force trauma to the head than the leather sling formerly issued for Marine helmets.

The change came after Operation Helmet, a nonprofit organization founded by a former Marine doctor, lobbied against using the sling system. The organization now helps raise money to purchase pad systems, sending more than 36,000 to Marines stationed in combat zones.

Dr. Robert Meaders, a former Navy flight surgeon and founder of the organization, said Operation Helmet purchases the Oregon Aero pad system because it provides the same protection but a much higher level of comfort than the Team Wendy pads. Marines are permitted to use the Oregon Aero pads.

Meaders said he has received multiple complaints from Marines that the Team Wendy pad system causes headaches; he has posted the complaints on Operation Helmet’s Web site.

“A commanding officer in Iraq told me [the Oregon Aero pads] are a force multiplier because the pads can take their mind off their helmet and the headaches and instead focus on their job,” Meaders said.

Team Wendy received the lowest ranking in a poll done by Operation Helmet of more than 200 Marines ranking the pad systems; Oregon Aero Systems, based in Scappoose, Ore., received the highest.

The Corps chose Team Wendy, which is also the standard-issue pad system for the Army, because the pads performed the best at reducing G forces to the head during a blunt-force trauma event, said 1st Lt. Geraldine Carey, a SysCom spokeswoman.

John Sweeny, chief executive officer of Team Wendy, said his company designed the pad system with protection as the No. 1 priority.

“You wear your helmet for one reason,” Sweeny said. “Do you want more protection or less protection? Our pad system was conceived and refined to do nothing other than protection.”

Thus far, Team Wendy has received no official or unofficial comments from the Corps or individual Marines regarding the pads’ comfort, he said.

Sweeny said his company could use softer foam for the pads, but it wouldn’t absorb as much energy as the foam currently used. However, Meaders says the Oregon Aero pads are just as safe.

Leathernecks can find the survey on the Marine Corps Systems Command Web site. The majority of the questions deal with the pads’ comfort, as well as the protection they provide.

Four days since the survey was posted, more than 400 Marines had taken the survey. It will be up until June 30.