FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 28, 2014) -- As early as 2012, the Department of Defense announced plans of integrating technologically sophisticated, yet tactical, hearing protection devices for Soldiers engaged in overseas combat operations and local training exercises.
The Tactical Communication and Protective System, or TCAPS, has generated a lot of talk among Soldiers in Fort Bliss, Texas; Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.; Fort Campbell, Ky., and now here.
According to Capt. Jennifer Noetzel, audiology chief with the Fort Drum Hearing Program, the Army's focus with the TCAPS is to minimize training- and battlefield-related hearing loss, while improving 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," Noetzel said.
Although Noetzel has not yet deployed, she has seen and treated a lot of hearing loss cases from redeployed troops 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," she said. "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."
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 post traumatic stress disorder. Further- more, 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 10 times better than the basic foam ear pro [protection] and headset we had," said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel D. Burton, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1-87 Infantry. "I can connect this to my tactical radio, communicate with my Soldiers on ground and higher up, while still protecting my hearing."
Burton, a 12-year veteran in the infantry who twice deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, suffered hearing loss due to combat-related noises.
He admitted 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 said he no longer has to put himself at further hearing loss risk because the TCAPS merges well with his medically issued hearing aid and tactical radios, mitigating risk.
"I wish this would have been available years ago," Burton added. "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 lightweight and awesome!"
The TCAPS accommodates various ear canals in six shapes. Soldiers can recharge the TCAPS through solar, alternating current with U.S. standard and international plug/ports, and use of vehicle battery, to name a few. It costs about $2,000 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 1,270 Soldiers were screened, sized, outfitted and trained. Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team were issued a total of 2,000 TCAPS units.
Noetzel projects approximately 4,000 TCAPS units will be in circulation throughout Fort Drum, with 2nd Brigade Combat Team scheduled for training on the TCAPS as early as April.