FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The U.S. Army recently began issuing a new hearing device called Tactical Communications and Protective System to units.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is the first brigade in the Army to receive the new TCAPS device, according to Maj. Mia P. Bruner, the assistant product manager for TCAPS with Product Manager for Soldier Warrior.

"This system provides advance active hearing protection to Soldiers," Bruner said. "So not only does it protect Soldiers hearing, but it enables their situational awareness.

The hearing protection is designed to protect Soldiers against noises such as blasts and weapons fire and steady state noises like vehicle engines.

"It also provides hearing protection against impulse noise, so high noise environments against blasts and also steady state," Bruner added. "So if a Soldier is in a vehicle for a long time, or helicopter or aerial vehicle it will provide protection as well."

According to data collected, Soldiers have refrained from wearing other hearing protection because they feel it took away from situational awareness despite the damage that could be done to hearing.

"Post-combat health reports show that there have been significant hearing injuries or loss of hearing after a deployment," Bruner said. "So with this system, we feel that it can fill the gap of providing hearing protection for Soldiers."

The device works by incorporating an active sound-suppression unlike previous noise cancelling devices that feature passive protection.

"It incorporates active noise reduction, so the Soldiers, when they're wearing the device, the background noise is being actively reduced for them," said Lt. Col. Amy A. Blank, the Army hearing protection program manager for Fort Campbell at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. "So what they hear is much more clear and concise, as well as protection."

Bruner stated that the TCAPS device is designed to be compatible with the New Equipment Training Team Warrior system and other rifleman radio sets to include the (Army/Navy Portable Radio Communications) AN/PRC-154 and the AN/PRC-148 Enhanced Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR).

Bruner also mentioned that the Army's G3 (Operations) provides PM SWAR with a list of which brigades area fielded the new TCAPS based upon upcoming deployment dates, with four brigades receiving the device each year.

"This is very important to us because we're able to field our equipment, get it out to Soldiers because we do all the acquisition work, now we have a solution where we want to get it into Soldier's hands as quickly as possible after it's been tested and proved," Bruner said.

"And so that's why this is so significant to us so that we can get the feedback that we're looking for from a Soldier's perspective."

After 1st BCT, the next units will be a brigade from Fort Bragg, N.C. and two brigades from Fort Drum, N.Y., according to Bruner.

The brigade began receiving the TCAPS device Feb. 4, with each unit being fitted and issued and by Feb. 21.

"When they first come in, we look in their ears because this particular TCAPS device has a component that goes down into the ear canal so every Soldier had to have their ears looked at," Blank said.

Blank added that Soldiers have their ears sized with foam tips that attaches to their TCAPS, which they then have logged into a system that is provided to the units later.

After being sized, the Soldiers inventory all of their equipment and are trained on the importance of hearing and hearing loss in the military before learning about all the components of their new equipment.

The Soldiers are then shown how to wear the new earpiece and are also inspected to ensure it feels right and is working properly.

"What happens is there's a little ear piece, a little foam tip that goes on there, and the foam tip gets put down into the ear," Blank said. "Very similar to little foam ear plugs, you need to hold it for 20-30 seconds to let it expand."

After the tip expands inside the ear, the device then is placed over the ear to keep it secured onto the Soldier's head along with a spring that sits in the back bulb of the ear to keep the tip in place.

The Soldiers whose Companies have already began training with their TCAPS in live-fire exercises are already providing feedback on the new devices to PMSWAR for improvements.

"I think the biggest thing is just getting the right equipment out to Soldiers and I think we got it right," Bruner said. "I think once you get out and talk to Soldiers and hear some of the same comments that I've received as well, you'll really see all the work that went into this system."