U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground and its constituent test centers test virtually every piece of equipment in the ground combat arsenal in extreme environments to ensure it will work wherever in the world American forces are serving.
Just as important to Soldiers, however, is knowing that their gear will work whenever they need it, even if it has been in theater for long periods of time in less-than-ideal conditions.
In 2019, testers at YPG’s Tropic Regions Test Center (TRTC) completed a test of five different versions of the latest iteration of the Army’s improved Jungle Combat Boot (JCB), subjecting them to all of the environmental stresses that the jungle can dish out, from high humidity and precipitation to thick mud and vegetation.
“We were looking for durability, weather-resistance, flexibility, water drainage and dry out time, along with ease of cleaning,” said Ivett Gutierrez, test team lead. “We were watching for incidents in each participant.”
The completed six-month long user test saw test participants utilizing the boot as one would in the extreme environment, with testers waiting to see whether the outsole would separate or how long the boots’ treads could withstand the rigors of use in the jungle. Any such incidents were meticulously measured and recorded as they occurred.
“We were looking for participants using the boots in the jungle for accurate results,” said Gutierrez. “We performed a biweekly survey of each participant where we collected information on how they felt with the boots, where they used it, and how many hours they used it. All of the participants wore the boots in the actual environment.”
In addition to evaluating the boot’s endurance during daily use in the extreme jungle environment, the testers also conducted an exposure test where two pairs of each variant of the boot were placed in locked double fence exposure cages set within a triple canopy jungle, where they laid in the ankle-deep leaf and biomass-strewn ground for four months. The security fencing kept out large animals, but not the natural environment: Broad ferns grew in places on the ground, and other branches, fronds, and vines poked through portions of the chain links. Insect life was vibrant in the vicinity, and it showed: termite debris, cockroach nesting, and the droppings of various insects were all observed.
“At the end of the exposure phase, we collected samples and sent them back to a lab in the United States to see if they accumulated mold or other microbiological growth on the various materials of the boot,” said Gutierrez.
The test was important because the JCBs are literally where the rubber meets the road for Soldiers serving in a jungle environment.
“Boots are a critical piece of protection for Soldiers,” said Gutierrez. “It is important for the Army to know that the boots they acquire for Soldiers are the best ones.”
Testing in extreme environments always presents difficult obstacles. Added to this is the necessity that TRTC officials be cognizant of the mores and political climate of the nations that host the facilities the testers utilize.
Unlike other Army test centers, TRTC owns no land, and thus relies on the goodwill of host nations to permit testing. The American embassies and associated military groups within each delegation assist TRTC in securing the necessary permissions to conduct testing in a variety of countries.