CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea (Dec. 19, 2011) -- From the days of the American Revolution to the current conflict in Afghanistan, the protective equipment issued to U.S. Soldiers and employed on the battlefield has improved exponentially. Throughout this evolution there has been one mainstay -- ensuring maximum protection for Soldiers with the best technologies available.
The U.S. Army's most recent push to better equip and protect their Soldiers took place in October when aviators and crew members from the 2nd Combat Aviation "Talon" Brigade, became the first Army unit to field the new Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble equipment.
"The 2nd Infantry Division and specifically 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade were chosen to be the first to don the new equipment from a priority list at the Department of the Army-level that considers the magnitude of the chemical threat from the surrounding environment," said David Weems, the 2nd ID force modernization officer.
While chemical attacks remain a constant threat from terrorist attacks all around the globe, Col. James T. Barker, commander of 2nd CAB, said South Korea is an excellent location to field the equipment first due to the threat level.
"With one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals just across the border [in North Korea], the importance of having the best equipment available to protect our Soldiers and aviators cannot be understated," said Barker. "The addition of this new equipment increases the "Talon" Brigade's ability to respond to a chemical or biological attack and provides our Soldiers with the necessary tools to fight and survive under extremely demanding battlefield conditions."
The Divisions leaders agree with Barker and said the equipment will not only help 2nd CAB, but will improve the division as a whole.
"The equipment substantially improves 2nd ID's ability to 'fight tonight' because we are using equipment right now that is recommended for aviation crews," Weems said. "While the suit is not technically a deterrent, it still remains valuable for us as an enabler, providing the ability to fight in a contaminated environment four hours longer than the previous suits so that no matter what the enemy throws at us, we are ready to fight."
Not only does the suit improve the length of time that Soldiers can stay in the fight during a chemical attack, but includes several other improvements on its predecessor the Modified Protective Chemical Undergarment.
"The new Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble equipment protects aircrew members from chemical and biological attacks and improves on the old design by using a one piece suit and a new material makeup increasing the suit's versatility," said Gary Weathers, one of the combat developers for the suit.
"The design of this suit is different from the previous protective gear because it is one piece and has an inner leg and cuff, which interfaces with their current chemical boots and gloves," said Weathers. "The one piece improves upon the former design in that it allows pilots and aircrew to operate in limited space without worry of snagging the equipment and thereby rendering it useless. The other major improvement from the old equipment is these suits are flame resistant, which is almost a necessity for aircrew members."
For Barker, the equipment not only improves upon his brigade's existing equipment, but also reinforces the commitment that the Department of the Army and Eighth Army leadership have shown in keeping his Soldiers protected from harm's way.
"For the U.S. military to serve as an effective deterrent and maintain peace here on the Korean Peninsula, three criteria must be in place -- intelligent and effective leadership, hard working and vigilant Soldiers and top notch equipment from the initial deployment here during the Korean War," said Barker. "The Eighth Army has met all three and this new equipment only enhances our ability to continue to improve upon the third requirement."
As for being the first unit in the Army to field the equipment, Barker is ready to lead the way, but also knows that the change is necessary here in Korea.
"As a unit, we are honored to be the first to field the Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble equipment," Barker said. "But if you think about the overwhelming chemical threat that we face here in Korea every day it makes sense that our Soldiers should lead the way in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear equipment."