WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 6, 2011) -- Deploying Soldiers will have several new items in their kit when they deploy, including ballistic underwear designed to mitigate some of the effects of an improvised explosive device, or IED, blast.

During a round table session with PEO Soldier Oct. 6, Col. William Cole, project manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, highlighted some of the new equipment Soldiers will be seeing in the field.

In Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices are causing an increased number of lower body injuries, including the groin area, during dismounted operations.

One of the most common injuries is blunt trauma pelvic injuries, causing fractures in the middle of the pelvis. This life-threatening injury, caused by propelled fragments at high velocity, leads to internal bleeding and is challenging to treat. Carrying a high immediate mortality of approximately 10 percent, rising to more than 40 percent, these fragments can cause severe damage upon penetration.

PEO Soldier worked to develop a two-tier system to provide additional protection to the Soldier.

The first tier is an undergarment similar to a boxer brief, that is made with Kevlar to protect against debris entering a wound. The second tier is an over garment worn outside the uniform that is designed to provide ballistic protection in the front and rear as well as underneath. The briefs only weigh a few ounces and the over garment weighs about one pound, but Cole said it has a meaningful amount of Kevlar for protection.

Cole recently traveled to Afghanistan and said some of the Soldiers were skeptical at first, but they are beginning to see the benefits it can truly provide in terms of mitigating and reducing injuries, and preventing follow-on infection.

"A lot of what we are trying to stop is dirt and rock, and [to also] prevent subsequent infection," Cole said. "If we can keep the wound area clean, then the doctors don't have to do as much debriding and there's no follow-on infection, and it really speeds recovery."

The British Ministry of Defense fields a similar system and PEO Soldier has fielded two battalions worth of the British designed heavy silk undergarment and will continue to issue both the British and the U.S. developed system.

"We are using both right now to get as much product to our Soldiers as we can," Cole said.

PEO Soldier is partnering with Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Marine Corps and the medical community, as well as units in Afghanistan, to field the system as quickly as possible.

The goal is to have every Soldier receive both the undergarment and the over garment. The products will be issued to units based on the threat in their area and their mission, Cole said.

All deploying Soldiers will receive the undergarments through the Rapid Fielding Initiative, or RFI.

Also added to the Fiscal Year 2012 RFI list is the Army Combat Pants and an improved mountain boot. The new pants feature a reinforced crotch, flame resistant material, anti-abrasion seat, adjustable knee pads and stretch material.

Cole said an entire brigade from the 101st Airborne Division received them to test while deployed to Afghanistan, and they received some great feedback.

"The knee pads don't flop around like the strap on knee pads and can be removed for washing or if on the FOB. They can be put right back in when a Soldier is going on a mission," he added.

Feedback from the field led to the creation of the hot weather mountain combat boot. Soldiers loved the ankle support from the mountain boot and the water proof design, which led to a full leather upper and Gortex lining.

"It's great to keep the boot dry, but it adds insulation to the boot," Cole said. "The feedback we received requested a hot weather version."

To create the hot weather version, the fielded boot does not have the Gortex lining and also includes a ventilated upper portion to help keep Soldiers' feet cooler in the summer.

"Our goal is to issue every Soldier one pair of the hot weather mountain boot and one pair of the standard mountain combat boot. That way they will have the appropriate footwear throughout the year available to them," Cole said.

Soldiers will still receive the standard issue combat boots as well as the mountain boots, and Cole encouraged Soldiers to bring the standard boot as well when deploying. Soldiers can then make the appropriate footwear choice based on their mission profile and the terrain.

Mountain boots by their nature have a very stiff sole that assists in climbing while the normal boots have injected molded soles that provide better cushioning that may reduce the risk of injury.

Cole said after initially fielding the boots in Army basic training, there was a 40 percent cut to lower body injuries because of the enhanced cushioning.

Related Links:

Report examines lower-body blast injuries

Outfitting Soldiers head to toe

Army.mil: Science and Technology News

DOD Live: Improved groin armor arrives on front lines

Program Executive Office Soldier -- PEO Soldier