The Army is one step closer to issuing an updated version of its ballistic underwear after a recent review and approval by the U.S. Army Public Health Command.
Experts in the command's Health Hazard Assessment Program completed an occupational health assessment of the new protective outer garments and undergarments, and provided recommendations on how to minimize any risks.
"We evaluated these items to identify any occupational hazards that could arise from wearing them," said Robert Booze, an industrial hygienist project officer at the USAPHC. "Our goal was to mitigate any risks to Soldiers before the protective outer garments and undergarments were distributed to the user."
After a thorough review, the HHA Program approved the protective outer garments and undergarments for military use.
Military work is inherently dangerous, but officials at the USAPHC believe that Soldiers in combat should not be placed at a disadvantage or at unusual risk because their protective clothing is deficient.
Although these undergarments look similar to a set of men's bicycle pants, they are no ordinary underwear.
"They are designed to use protective fabric and withstand injuries to the pelvic region that may result from the blast of an improvised explosive device," said Booze.
From 2003 to 2011, more than 600 Soldiers suffered injuries to the genital region during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Soldiers are well protected by body armor on their torso, some injuries to the lower body are so severe that they can cause Soldiers to lose all or part of their genitals. This loss of the reproductive organs can have devastating psychological effects.
The Health Hazard Assessment Program was not the only program within the USAPHC that helped complete the assessment of the pelvic protection system.
Wilfred McCain, senior toxicologist, said the USAPHC Toxicology Portfolio conducted an evaluation of the materials that were used in the underwear to see if they posed any potential risk to the wearer's skin.
"We evaluated the fabric, and did not see any threats to the user," said McCain. "The safety of our Soldiers is a top priority."
The garments must also be comfortable, using breathable fabrics like cotton, according to specifications requested by the Army.
Booze, who once served as an infantry officer in the military, said he feels blessed to perform a job that helps ensure protection of the troops. The HHA Program reviews not just personal protective clothing, but weapons systems, equipment and training devices as well.
"I am grateful that I still have a job that allows me to support our Army in a meaningful way," he said.
Now that the USAPHC health hazard assessment is complete, the Army will conduct several more reviews before the outer garments and undergarments are adopted in the field.