By David BedardJuly 18, 2008
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Soldiers call them "cool guy stuff" or "kits." They are the specialized pouches for carrying machine gun ammunition, hand-held radios, pistols, compasses, global positioning devices and any other item required for Soldiers to survive and fight on the modern battlefield.
Fort Wainwright's Installation Maintenance Facility fabric repair shop can design and fabricate a lot of these accessories at a significant savings to the unit, often providing equipment that does not have a commercially produced equivalent.
"The skill level that (fabric repair) has, they can pretty much make anything," said John Magmore, IMF chief.
The shop has provided the service to the installation's deploying units to provide them with capabilities they wouldn't otherwise have due to budget constraints and product availability.
"I can come down here and get it for next to nothing and get it customized exactly the way I want it," said Spc. Jason Trapp, B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, supply specialist. "That's hot."
According to Curtis Stables, IMF maintenance instructor, the Army's reliance on accessories has exploded in the last couple of years due to the Global War on Terror and to the fielding of the Pouch Attachment Ladder System, a component of the Modular Lightweight Individual Load-Carrying Equipment system.
The U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center Internet site states the adoption of the MOLLE stemmed from an Army/Marine Corps survey soliciting opinions concerning its predecessor, the All-purpose, Lightweight, Individual Carrying Equipment. The ALICE dated back to the 1970s and was limited by the metal clips used to fasten pouches to load bearing equipment, which often came loose, Stables said. PALS addressed this issue through its secure interlacing system, he said, and it opened the door for the fabrication of items limited only by a Soldier's imagination.
"Where we earn our keep here is in research and development," Stables said. "It doesn't cost the unit anything."
The design process is a joint effort between the unit and fabric repair.
"If someone wants to design something, a Soldier can give us the measurements, then we will make a sample," said Peggy Wells, fabric repair specialist. "The Soldier will then test it and give feedback. Four or five more will be made for testing."
Stables said there are a few rules and guidelines for getting items designed and fabricated. The federal supply schedule prohibits the fabrication of national stock number items, and any items or group of items above a certain dollar amount require project funding.
The process saves units money, he said, because there is no cost for labor, and units pay only for materials.
A good example sited by Wells and Stables was a magazine drop pouch originally designed for the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team for its 2005 to 2006 deployment to Iraq. The brigade had identified the desire for a pouch to temporarily storing expended rifle magazines during the heat of combat. Previously, Soldiers would have to throw the magazine on the ground, losing it, or fumble around to get it back into their web gear, wasting precious seconds during a dangerous enemy engagement.
The fabric repair shop designed and fabricated a medium-sized pouch to be worn at waist level.
The design was tested in the field, and a minor design deficiency was discovered. Soldiers noticed magazines had a tendency to bounce out of the pouch opening. A Soldier came up with the idea to add rubber retainers at the pouch opening to provide rigidity, and the new design was implemented. The final design of the pouch made it easy to drop expended magazines into it, and the retainers ensured the magazines wouldn't fall out.
According to Stables, fabric repair's biggest customers are task force snipers.
"The reason we get a lot of snipers in here is because you can't buy ghillie suits with an NSN (national stock number)," he said.
Wells said the ghillie suits, a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble heavy foliage, are ordered using a worksheet with a menu of custom features. During the fabrication of the suits, snipers are measured for a tailored fit and are consulted throughout the process.
(David Bedard works for the Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Public Affairs Office.)