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Flame Resistant Suits for Soldiers

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In response to the deadly IED problem and the blast/heat effects of the makeshift bombs, the Army is developing a flame resistant coverall patterned in its ACU camouflage for vehicle crewmen.

The Armys top gear buying and development command, the Fort Belvoir, Va.-based PEO Soldier, has a thorough write-up on its effort. Late last year, Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force began wearing Nomex flight suits during vehicle operations on their own accord. When II MEF took command of the battlespace in al Anbar, the nomex suits became standard and the Corps launched its own effort to develop fire retardant uniforms and other clothing called "FROG" gear.

The Army has followed suit (excuse the pun) and seems to be homing in on a good solution for its soldiers. One of our contributors wrote an outstanding story on the ACU and suggested the fire-retardant evolution, so its good to see the Army moving forward on this initiative.

From PEO Soldier:

The Army has developed an improved one-piece uniform for mounted soldiers with enhanced fire resistance and durability, as well as providing better fit and function, all of which will aid against the effects of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

The improved Combat Vehicle Coverall (iCVC) is being evaluated by approximately 2,000 Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division, the 3rd Infantry Division, and the 16th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox, KY. Widespread fielding is expected later this year.

Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va, is directing the user evaluations. PEO Soldier designs, develops, procures, and fields virtually everything todays Soldiers wear or carry. PEO Soldier is committed to increasing combat effectiveness, saving Soldiers lives and improving Soldiers quality of life.

MAJ Clay Williamson, PEO Soldier's Assistant Product Manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment, said that PEO Soldier requires rigorous testing before any article of clothing or piece of equipment is approved for use. Everything is tested to make sure it is safe and highly effective before we field it, Williamson said.

However, fielding a new version of the coverall does not mean the work is finished, Williamson explained. Research is ongoing so continual improvements can be made.

All our fire-resistant uniforms are spiral-development efforts because of the urgency and nature of the threat that our Soldiers are facing. We field the best equipment that is available, and then use Soldier feedback to continue to make it even better, he said.

The new coverall has an elastic back waist and adjustment tabs to customize fit, decrease bulk, and increase maneuverability for armor vehicle crews, thus improving mission effectiveness. The seat patch has been widened and lengthened to provide more coverage and to improve the uniforms durability, and the uniform is made in the universal camouflage pattern.

The new coverall and other state-of-the-art equipment and clothing will be on display at PEO Soldiers exhibit space, Booth 512 at the Armor Warfighting Symposium, April 30-May 3, 2007 at Fort Knox.

The Armys fire-resistant clothing goes through laboratory flame testing and state-of-the-art mannequin flame testing, the latter at an independent facility at North Carolina State University. User evaluations are an important part of testing as well. We are constantly seeking Soldier feedback to make further improvements, Williamson said.

As part of the ongoing tests on the iCVC, an alternate Nomex-based fabric called Abrams material is being considered as a possible replacement for the current MILSPEC Nomex fabric. The new fabric, which is slightly heavier than Nomex, would double the durability of the uniform, hold up better to abrasion and offer better resistance to fading from sunlight.

Soldiers evaluations will continue through June, at which time their recommendations for improvement will be considered.

The Army is working on other fire-resistant clothing as well. The Flame Resistant Environmental Ensemble (FREE) will provide armored and aviation crew members with a multi-layered system that offers fire protection and comfort in a wide range of climate conditions. FREE consists of a base layer, midweight under layer, lightweight outer layer, intermediate weather outer layer, extreme cold-weather outer layer as well as hot- and cold-weather balaclavas, cold-weather gloves, wool socks, and a rigger belt. The outer layers protect from cold, wind and rain as well as fire.

With the FREE, which is undergoing user evaluations in Korea, Soldiers who have specialized jobs that expose them to fire hazards, will have the same type of extreme cold-weather gear the rest of the Army is receiving with the Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS).

A fire-resistant Army Combat Uniform (ACU) is also being fielded. Advanced fabrics enhance fire protection without sacrificing mobility and comfort. Fielding is about to begin on a fire-resistant Army Combat Shirt (ACS), which can be worn directly under Interceptor Body Armor (IBA), reducing the need for additional layers, thereby reducing heat stress while adding comfort and protection.

The long-sleeved ACS comes with a balaclava, which adds fire resistance to the head, face, and neck areas that previously were unprotected. When Soldiers add fire-resistant eyewear and pants, they have full-body protection from burns.

All of the fire-resistant clothing is washable and maintains protective properties for the life of the garments.

This is all part of PEO Soldiers mission to make sure that our Soldiers have the best equipment available when and where they need it.

Its our job to give them the best equipment that our money and technology can produce, said BG R. Mark Brown, Program Executive Officer Soldier.

-- Christian

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