MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia -- "We protect the Marines today, to ensure their future tomorrow," said Staff Sgt. Jesse Doing, Range Management Branch range control staff, following a Hearing Conservation Focus Group at The Basic School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Leaders discussed the existing technology and current policies of impulse noise protection throughout the Department Of Defense (DoD). Today's warfighters are in need of hearing protection with high levels of situational awareness to prevent hearing loss and remain tactically effective.
Leaders from the Naval Health Base Clinic audiology department, NHBC Industrial Hygiene, The Basic School range manager and TBS Range Management Branch are all part of the audience most affected by the negative results of sound pollution.
Many veterans treated at NHBC suffer from significant damage to their hearing after serving as little as four years. "It doesn't physically hurt to lose your hearing. I see a lot of young Marines who don't realize the damage being done due to lack of hearing conservation gear," said Jolene Mancini, occupational audiologist at Naval Health Clinic Quantico.
Attendees reviewed graphs showing detailed assessments of exposure levels and hearing protection devices currently used by service members.
"As an industrial hygienist, it bothers me that people aren't aware how sounds over 150 decibels actually penetrate bone," said Corey Bender, CIH Occupational Health Industrial Hygiene contractor.
While manufacturers work to create quieter weapons systems and vehicles, engineers are developing hearing protection for combat gear being used in garrison training environments and battlefields around the world.
"It is going to take time to educate people on what hearing conservation really is and getting people to understand that hearing loss is preventable," said Bender. Impulse noise of more than 170 decibels can be a physical hazard. One exposure could result in permanent hearing loss. Continuous noise of 95 decibels or below, which equates to the buzz of a lawn mower, slowly destroys your hearing over time.
"Most of the damage from noise exposure can be avoided with proper hearing protection and we want to see big improvement in hearing loss across the Navy and Marine Corps," said Mancini.
According to John O'Donnell, Marine Corps Systems Command advanced technology integrator for infantry weapons, many hearing devices used by service members have been fielded without testing various hearing protection levels.
"Exposure is not a simple thing," he said.
Measuring levels of hearing protection in devices include multiple variables, from operator level, weapons instructor trainers, to troops in combat. Each weapon system and environment affects the warrior's hearing differently. To assess immediate impacts of hearing damage, tests are done in multiple parameters of environments.
With hundreds of hearing protection devices on the market, O'Donnell has set out to create a poster that concentrates on 14 passive hearing protection devices and how each one aids in specific environments. While passive devices operate without energy, active devices require a power source. In the future, he believes a cell phone app will make choosing the proper ear protection uncomplicated for service members.
The characteristics of a passive hearing device include five pillars: high-level noise, impulse noise, directional air flow, situational awareness and comfort. These characteristics balance all the essential attributes needed in a hearing protection device.
"Once we outline the needs of our force, I have total faith that the industry will create devices we are in need of," said O'Donnell, who is working to create models to illustrate how riding in a light armored vehicle for up to an hour without hearing protection will impair 15 percent of hearing for up to seven minutes.
"I believe that Marines want to be the most effective military personnel that they can be," he said. "To be successful we have to move in baby steps and stop making excuses. Take a few precautions now, it will pay off in the future."