FORT DRUM, New York -- As early as 2012, The Department of Defense has announced plans of integrating technologically sophisticated, yet tactical, hearing protection devices for Soldiers currently engaged in overseas combat operations and local training exercises. The Tactical Communication and Protective System or TCAPS, has generated a lot of talk amongst Soldiers in Fort Bliss, Texas; Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland; Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and now here.
According to Capt. Jennifer Noetzel, audiology chief, Fort Drum, NY hearing program, the Army's focus with the TCAPS is to minimize training and battlefield related hearing loss, while improving overall situational awareness, increased mission effectiveness, safety and survivability.
"I'm excited to finally see the TCAPS here in Fort Drum, and pleased to see the Soldiers taking to the devices naturally" said Noetzel.
The Florence, Kentucky native has been serving four years, and although the young Captain has not yet deployed, she admits to having seen and treated a lot of hearing loss cases from redeployed troops as she is the chief audiologist on Fort Drum.
"Soldiers have told me quite openly, the main reason they refused to wear, or partially wear, hearing protection while out on a mission was because it hindered their overall situational awareness. The old foam hearing plugs and other cumbersome devices, while effective in protecting hearing, denied Soldiers the ability to clearly hear commands and possible enemy or friendly movement. Mixed with pulling security, it's a bad combination that can lead to injury or loss of life" Noetzel said.
According to an annual benefits report released in 2012 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the most prevalent service-connected disabilities for veterans receiving federal compensation in 2011 were tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, followed by PTSD/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2009, approximately $1.1 billion in disability compensation was paid for these two conditions, and the number continues to rise.
"This device is ten times better than the basic foam ear pro [protection] and head-set we had! I can connect this to my tactical radio, communicate with my Soldiers on ground and higher up, while still protecting my hearing" said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel D. Burton, Third platoon Sgt., Company Alpha, 1st Battalion, 87 Infantry Regiment, FT. Drum, NY.
Burton, a 12-year veteran in the Infantry and twice deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, suffered hearing loss due to combat related noises. He admits that in the past, in order to clearly hear his two-way communication devices and Soldiers around him, he had to remove one side of his hearing protection. Now, Burton says he no longer has to put himself at further hearing loss risk because the TCAP merges well with his medically issued hearing aid and tactical radios mitigating risk.
"I wish this would have been available years ago. The operating instructions are very clear and the system is easy to integrate and adjust to. I especially like the fact that I can use this with or without my gear, at the motor pool or just walking around in a garrison environment. This thing is light weight and awesome!" added Burton.
The TCAP is the Army program name and accommodates various ear canals in six shapes: standard, slim, large, and short in the three aforementioned sizes. Soldiers can recharge the TCAP through solar, Alternating Current with US standard and international plug/ports, and use of vehicle battery to name a few. The TCAP costs approximately $2,000.00 per device and comes standard with software, Smartphone, instructional manual, warranty, carrying case and other supporting elements.
According to Noetzel, the system not only works to preserve, protect, and enhance hearing, the TCAP is designed to completely take over and shut out unexpected and excruciatingly loud noises, noises such as explosions or overhead flying objects, while simultaneously maintaining communication fidelity.
In total, approximately 1,269 Soldiers were screened, sized, outfitted, and trained. First Brigade Combat Team were issued a total of 2000 TCAP units. Noetzel projects approximately 4,000 TCAP units will be in circulation throughout Fort Drum and Second Brigade Combat Team is scheduled for training on the TCAPS in preparation for upcoming training exercises and possible future deployments worldwide.