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Leatherneck: Infantry Combat Equipment: No Detail Too Small in Getting the Best
Leatherneck: Infantry Combat Equipment: No Detail Too Small in Getting the Best

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Marine Corps Systems Command Awarded the Navy Unit Commendation

Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England visited Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va., on July 29 to present Marine Corps Systems Command with the Navy Unit Commendation. The award was given for meritorious achievement in the performance of planning, acquisition and fielding of essential warfighting equipment and assets for Marine Corps operating forces in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II from Sept. 1, 2003, to April 1, 2004. "I am keenly aware of what Marine Corps Systems Command does," said Secretary England. "We could not do the job that we do if everyone of you did not do your job well. For the Marines in Iraq, I thank you." He also commented that he had met several Marines at aid stations in Iraq whose lives were saved by equipment provided by MARCORSYSCOM.

For the award presentation, MARCORSYSCOM displayed much of the equipment that the command provides to Marines as well as equipment under development for deployment in the near future. Equipment displayed included armor-hardened vehicles, nonlethal weapons, antitank weapons, the unit operations center and other equipment.

--Bruce N. Scott

Editor's note: Mr. Scott is a writer and editor in the Communications Directorate at MARCORSYSCOM.

Story by W. G. Ford

The urgent needs of Marines heavily committed to combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan thousands of miles from supply sources are driving fellow leathernecks at Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) to not only research, improve, acquire and deliver specifically requested field items, but to do it quickly and in large numbers. The Commandant of the Marine Corps gave them their mission of serving as the "principal agent for equipping the operating forces to accomplish their warfighting mission," and they take it very seriously.

Improved packs, tougher body armor, lighter helmets and new and improved eye protection are some of the items Marines who have been under fire in the war on terror say they need. Marines, Department of Defense civilians and the defense contractors at MARCORSYSCOM who work in direct support have made those requests the highest priority and are leaving no stone unturned in order to deliver the goods.

Commanded by Brigadier General William D. Catto, MARCORSYSCOM is headquartered at Hospital Point aboard the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. Previous to assuming command of MARCORSYSCOM in July 2002, BGen Catto served concurrently as Commanding General, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and Vice Chief of Naval Research, Office of Naval Research. While command of the warfighting lab provided insights into innovation, testing and evaluation, BGen Catto's roots remain in the operating forces where, after qualification as a CH-46 Sea Knight pilot, he spent the next 13 years, including a stint as regimental air officer for the Seventh Marine Regiment.

The scope of MARCORSYSCOM's mission is, indeed, very broad. The equipment in this article that is being developed or fielded is the fruit of the command?s Infantry Combat Equipment (ICE) program management office of the Combat Equipment and Support Systems product group. They are specifically tasked to "research, develop, and procure clothing, and individual and organizational equipment to improve survivability, mobility, sustainability, and quality of life for the individual Marine."

Improved Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE)
Marines are pretty particular about their packs, and the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, system just was not standing up under combat demands. True to its mission, MARCORSYSCOM developers went to battle stations to obtain a pack or load bearing system that met the needs of the individual Marine. As a result, the new improved load bearing equipment (ILBE) is being fielded.

The ILBE consists of a 4,500-cubic-inch main ruck or pack, a 1,500-cubic-inch assault pack and a 100-ounce CamelBak hydration system. Taking advantage of what?s good in the commercial marketplace is becoming more and more the norm, and Marines are seeing and feeling the positive results. In this case, the main pack is a modified commercial, off-the-shelf Arc-teryx Bora 95 pack.

The highest priorities for fielding of the ILBE are the Corps? Training Command sites, specifically the Schools of Infantry and Infantry Officer Course, while concurrently fielding to the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which is the higher headquarters for Marine forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Introducing the new packs at Training Command schools first is a lesson learned from the fielding of MOLLE. It ensures all new Marines are introduced to the gear they will eventually see and rapidly deploy with in the operating forces.

By mid-July, the Corps had fielded 8,850 or 22 percent of the required ILBE to I MEF. II MEF, which will assume command of Marine forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom III in the spring of 2005, also has been receiving the ILBE. MARCORSYSCOM is planning to have at least II MEF's ground combat element outfitted by the end of this year. The Corps' estimated cost for fully fielding ILBE is $60.3 million.

Outer Tactical Vest With SAPI

The old flak jacket is truly a thing of the dinosaur age when it comes to the new armor protection system being fielded. Centered around an outer tactical vest (OTV), the body armor system includes a ceramic plate insert or small-arms protective insert (SAPI, pronounced sap?pee) and an enhancement system for the vest that includes attachments to protect the underarms, shoulders and upper arms. There is also a lower extremity system that protects from the waist to the knees.

Major Wendell B. Leimbach Jr., the equipment team leader for the program manager of ICE, said that MARCORSYSCOM is pulling out all the stops to get the best available armor protection to the leathernecks in contact. The new OTV has been fully fielded to the Marines assigned to I MEF, and in mid-July it was well over 80 percent fielded to II MEF Marines and almost 80 percent fielded to III MEF leathernecks. All deploying Marines have been fully equipped with this state-of-the-art armor system regardless of which MEF they come from. No one is deploying without it.

Photo by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
The OTV defeats fragmentation and up to 9 mm rounds. However, with the SAPI, Maj Leimbach noted it provides 7.62 mm (AK47) and 5.56 mm protection. The SAPI is already credited with saving lives in Iraq, and Simula Safety Systems, Armorworks, Ceredyne and Point Blank Body Armor have all contributed to the Marine Corps' SAPI needs. The money required to fully field the OTV is $8.6 million, and meeting the SAPI needs adds another $41 million.

Responding to an urgent-needs request from I MEF, MARCORSYSCOM went to work to field an Armor Protection Enhancement System to extend OTV protection over additional areas of the body. The enhancement system augments protection through attachments that cover the underarm, shoulder and lower extremities. These enhancements do add significant weight to the body armor system. The lower extremity system will be procured in small quantities initially and evaluated for further fielding.

The additional personal protection attachments are designed to provide commanders and Marines the ability to have modular armor components that they can use depending on the threat they face and the situation. These important but somewhat heavy enhancements make them ideal for vehicle-mounted Marines on various missions. The Iraqi insurgents have developed a fondness for employing improvised explosive devices or IEDs, so these enhancements will help protect both the upper and the lower extremities. Point Blank Body Armor produced the systems, and both I and II MEFs have 100 percent of their requirement. A total of 31,344 arm protectors have been fielded, and several dozen experimental leg protectors are being evaluated.

Green Side, Brown Side on the New Helmet

Also at the unit-issue point is a new lightweight helmet, directly replacing the standard-issue personal armor system for ground troops (PASGT) helmet, which was type-classified in the late 1970s and fielded in the early 1980s.

The old PASGT helmet weighed around 3.6 pounds, and the new helmet comes in at 3.05 lbs., a half-pound lighter. The comfort, fit, weight and internal suspension system will reduce stress, fatigue and the occasional headache. As of mid-July, 28 percent of the I MEF requirement had been fielded, and Gentex Corporation is producing around 15,000 helmets per quarter to meet the Corps' needs as quickly as possible. The Corps estimates that $25.5 million is required to field the lightweight helmet.

The helmet cover for the new lightweight helmet will remind Marines of the old days when the ever-changing "word" or guidance gave birth to the leatherneck phrase "green side out, brown side out." At one time, the Corps issued camouflaged shelter halves, ponchos and helmet covers of reversible material. The "gunny" would direct which pattern to be shown in the field or in formation. Marines would fall out for formation or pitch their shelter halves only to have the word changed.

One side of the cover for the improved helmet is the new MARPAT (Marine pattern) woodland camouflage, and the other side is the desert camouflage. The cover is of the same computer-generated digital, pixilated pattern material as today?s combat utility uniform pattern. MARPAT has a design patent and is a trademark of the Marine Corps. In essence, one cover replaces what used to take two items.

Eyeball Liberty

Some might think that glasses or goggles are a small thing and not worthy of a great deal of attention -- at least someone who has not experienced the bright desert sun or the brilliant reflection bouncing off white snow, or felt the abrasive prop wash of sand and small rocks while trying to bring a CH-53E Super Stallion into the landing zone.

For Marines, ballistic eye protection is a big deal, and the program manager for ICE has ensured that eye protection is not given short shrift. To obtain the desired variety of eye protection from sunglasses to dust goggles, MARCORSYSCOM has once again gone the commercial, off-the-shelf route.

Wiley-X and Eye Safety Systems Inc. are two of the major sources of ballistic eye protection for the Corps. To rapidly get the goggles and glasses out to I MEF, the Corps met 100 percent of the need by shipping them directly to the MEF in Iraq.

Of continuing concern for MARCORSYSCOM is ensuring that Marines requiring prescription eyewear are taken care of with goggles and glasses. No single solution has yet been determined, but using gas mask prescription lens inserts and purchasing larger goggle types have been examined as possible solutions to this challenge.

Barrel Bags and Tarps

Leave it to the old gunny to take care of some of those important but less than "Cadillac" items. In the case of two small but important pieces of gear, it was a retired gunny, Gunnery Sergeant Marvin Walker, who always says he was too poor to have a middle name, who took up the challenge. In 1999, M249 squad automatic weapons gunners reported problems with the spare barrel bag. When the barrel overheated and the gunners went for their spare, the bag?s metal zipper was jamming or breaking. Also, the bag was not water-resistant, the material melted when a smoking hot barrel was crammed inside, and the color of the interior of the bag needed to be subdued.

Photo by Cpl. Nicholas Tremblay
Going to work with U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, Natick, Mass., and NISH of Jamestown, N.Y. (formerly the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped), the MARCORSYSCOM team, with GySgt Walker in the lead, fielded a new barrel bag of heat- and water-resistant material that can carry a hot or cold barrel and keep it dry. Fastec quick release buckles afford the gunner quick access. The bag has been fully fielded.

GySgt Walker is also working on a program that will gain leathernecks a new field tarpaulin or tarp. Marines currently use their poncho as a ground cover or hasty shelter. The new field tarp will replace the current poncho on a one-for-one basis and can be used for a wide variety of valuable functions, including protection from rain or the sun, as a field litter, and for covering gear. Manufacturing will probably be done by NISH, Brownsville, Texas, where the current poncho is produced. In field tests, 91 percent of the leathernecks involved preferred the field tarp to the poncho.

Work Continues

The infantry combat equipment team at MARCORSYSCOM is always surveying the field by getting out and speaking with Marines and their commanders. Focus groups are held and opinions and facts heard. In early August, a focus group examined the combat utility design for female Marines. The focus group looked at widening the circumference at the bottom of the blouse, shortening the shoulder length, reducing the waistline and other complaints from the field. Focus groups and feedback in other areas will continue. For the MARCORSYSCOM acquisition team, there is never a shout of "end of mission." After meeting one need from the field, the team moves on to continue its mission to "research, develop, and procure clothing, individual and organizational equipment to improve survivability, mobility, sustainability, and quality of life for the individual Marine."

Editor's note: Leatherneck appreciates the support of Sanford "Mack" McLaurin, director of communications, MARCORSYSCOM, Cpl Anthony F. Mattioni of SYSCOM's Financial Management Dept., and the members of the ICE team, particularly LtCol Gabe Patricio, Maj Wendell Leimbach, retired GySgt Marvin Walker and Ms. Shakinta M. Johnston, a member of the Battelle support staff.

2004 Leatherneck Magazine. All rights reserved.



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