JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Army-issued back support systems for Soldiers riding in tactical vehicles may soon be field-tested by several 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) units across theater.

Each system consists of two different sized cushions designed to reduce musculoskeletal strain in a Soldier's lower back. The cushions are constructed of high-density foam covered in ballistic nylon fabric.

Nearly 200 of the new support systems are scheduled to be field tested by Soldiers of the 16th, 287th, 304th and 371st Sustainment Brigades.

Capt. Coretta F. Campbell, the medical logistics officer in charge for the 3d ESC, said 3d ESC units will begin receiving the prototype supports near the end of February.

The approximately 300 remaining systems are scheduled to be field-tested by units in Multi-National Divisions Baghdad and Central.

Units receiving the supports are scheduled to evaluate their effectiveness and will provide feedback by mid-March.

According to an article published in November/December 2008 issue of Army Logistician, the official magazine for Army logistics, lower back pain made up approximately 30 percent of the physical therapy referrals to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in March of 2007. Most of these patients, the article notes, were drivers who ran frequent missions into Iraq.

The project to field a lumbar support system began in March of 2008 with Col. Thomas P. Dove, who was the brigade surgeon for the 7th Sust. Bde through June 2008.

"There were numerous complaints of back pain from the Soldiers who were frequently on the road for many hours at a time," Dove said. "My own experience wearing the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) ... convinced me that we needed to find a solution to support the weight of the body armor while riding in vehicles."

Commercial supports were then tested, and although medical evacuation pilots found them useful, the commercial supports were deemed too small for Soldiers riding in humvees, Dove said.

Over the next several months Dove worked with Maj. Christopher F. Drum, the MNC-I medical logistics officer and Lt. Col. Susan Lind, the MNC-I science and technology liaison officer, to contact various agencies in pursuit of a new support system.

The result was a prototype developed by cooperation between personnel at the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, National Industries for the Blind, and Product Manager Soldier Survivability, an agency responsible for developing and fielding new Army equipment.

"This initial fielding of 500 should gain enough data to determine if this is a system worth pursuing in the future," Drum said.

When asked if he expects the lumbar support to be well received by troops, Drum said it was too early to tell.

"If the lumbar support system is effective," Drum said, "then I would expect positive feedback."