Body armor components get taken to the cleaners

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsApril 12, 2012

Body armor gets taken to the cleaners
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. -- Everyone has experienced it: You wash and dry a favorite article of clothing, and it gets damaged or it shrinks.

Frustrating and costly, right? Well, it could be worse. What if the same thing happened to your body armor garments?

Finding a safe, effective way to clean Improved Outer Tactical Vests, or IOTVs, became important, however, when a serious shortage of the vests developed in theater a few years ago as costly components were discarded and replaced after deployments. The outer shell of an IOTV Generation II goes for $484.

So two members of the Soldier Equipment Support Team, Life Cycle Logistics, Product Support Integration Directorate, Integrated Logistics Support Center, Natick Soldier Systems Center, studied the best way to commercially clean rather than replace IOTV garments. Willie Yung and Jason Sellazzo found a method that has already saved the Army more than $62 million over two years.

"There was a severe shortage (of vests) because of procurement delays," said Yung, a textile technologist. "Large quantities of IOTVs were returned from theater, and there was no Army-authorized cleaning procedure for them. The only procedure that was authorized was hand cleaning."

According to Yung, many vests turned in by Soldiers after washing and drying were damaged or had shrunk to the point where the ballistic plates would no longer fit in them.

"Soldiers know they have to get stuff cleaned, and there was no way for them to get it cleaned," Yung said. "We weren't providing the Soldiers with the correct way to get it cleaned safely. So we were asked to evaluate various commercial cleaning technologies."

The one-year study, sponsored by Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment, was completed in April 2010, using 90 IOTVs from the Central Issue Facility at Fort Campbell, Ky. The vests were separated into nine groups of 10 each in three classifications -- lightly, moderately and heavily soiled.

After the IOTVs were commercially cleaned three times each using four different methods in Nashville, Tenn., they were sent to the Textile Materials Evaluation Team at Natick. Testing there revealed that commercial cleaning of IOTV components, using "computer-controlled wet cleaning," was safe, effective, would result in a huge cost saving over replacement, and would help ease any shortage of vests in theater.

"In 2010 and 2011, the Central Management Office has cleaned a total of 145,000 IOTVs," Yung said. "And we estimate that by cleaning them, we have helped avoid spending over $62 million, because if they could not be cleaned, then the Army would have to buy new ones to replace them."

Yung pointed out that with as many as 1 million vests in the inventory, cleanings at $17 apiece make much more sense than buying replacements.

Before the first contract expired, as many as 2,500 IOTVs were being cleaned per week at contractors. A second contract being developed by the CMO should be issued soon.

"There's a backlog of dirty IOTVs," said equipment specialist Sellazzo. "Guys are deploying and redeploying, and they can't get their stuff cleaned fast enough."

Yung said that cleaning other Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment, or OCIE, items would also be feasible.

"I think the application is pretty broad," said Yung, "and that could create more and more savings for the Army."

Next, Yung and Sellazzo want to contract for IOTV repairs as another way of saving money for the Army.

"Based on our studies, we found that about 76 percent of the Soldier Plate Carrier Systems returned from theater were damaged," Yung said. "We can repair them for less than ($20), on the average. That's another area, I think, that can create a lot of cost avoidance opportunity for the Army."

Yung and Sellazzo have already helped save tens of millions of dollars, and are proud to have done so.

"It's kind of rewarding to see our work produce benefits for the government," Yung said. "We expect the cost avoidance to continue through the future years, as well."

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