News: Ballistic Underwear Make Their Way to Marines in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Marco Mancha
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Once you get past the humor of “ballistic underwear,” the threat it helps mitigate is real and the protection is necessary.
The new ballistic underwear to better protect against life-altering injuries is here and has already become a standard in proper protective equipment for almost every unit when they go outside any forward operating base in Afghanistan.
Made of lightweight silk, the black pair of underwear that resembles bicycle shorts is in high demand throughout Afghanistan. The ultimate goal for the underwear is to better protect Marines from improvised explosive devices, the number one cause of American troop casualties since the start of the war.
According to Marine Corps Systems Command officials, “what the garment does is more wound mitigation.” The tier 1 ballistic underwear is manufactured from scientifically-tested ballistic silk material that provides an initial level of protection against the effects of IED blasts.
The underpants are coated in an anti-microbial agent which protect against infections, and they come in a range of sizes, while the tier 2 protection is a unisex one-size-fits-all according to a report from BBC News. Both are washable, though forces will have to first remove the extra ballistic protection from inside the tier 2.
The 2nd Marine Division (Forward) surgeon and Birdsboro, Penn., native, Commander Sean Barbabella said he believes the underwear is definitely a step in the right direction.
“I think it is a positive move, and the Marine Corps has pushed to get this taken care of and get research done,” added Barbabella. “You know, things might not get done as fast as you want initially, but it’s definitely moving down the road rapidly and ultimately saving lives.”
The 1992 University of Pittsburg graduate also mentioned the significant difference he’s seen with the patients he’s evaluated at Bastion Role III Medical Treatment Facility.
“I’ve already seen a couple of the U.S. Marines that have come in where small fragments were actually stopped or caught up in the underwear,” said Barbabella. “The fragmentation that went through didn’t leave as much damage as if [the Marine] wasn’t wearing any at all.”
Of the several functions of the underwear, one of significance is their ability to prevent fine sands and other small particles hurled up by the initial blast of an IED from lodging into exposed tissue and infecting wounds. If the Marine isn’t wearing them, it raises the chance of exposed wounds to become infected and leaves the femoral artery, located in the inner thighs, exposed.
Injuries to the femoral artery can cause rapid blood loss and have proven to be fatal. Marines who have responsibilities that put them at a higher risk for blast injuries received tier 2 ballistic underwear, which has Kevlar sewn between the silky material around the inner thighs, colon, and groin area.
Lance Cpl. Abdel Jibbou of Ewing, N.J., works as the company clerk for the Headquarters and Support Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward). In his experience with the protective gear, Jibbou believes the underwear should be a part of everyone’s standard protective equipment when they leave the bases and outposts.
“They’re a little bit heavier than your average underwear and thick, so during the heat they can get a little uncomfortable,” explained Jibbou. “The good thing about them is it’s better than nothing and I do feel safer wearing them on missions.”
Like other ground units around Afghanistan, every Marine within 2nd CEB received at least one pair of the tier 1 ballistic underwear and some units received two pairs per Marine.
More than 15,000 pairs have been distributed throughout the ground units and more have been ordered for immediate delivery, according to the supply section for 2ndMarDiv (Fwd).
While the tier 2 ballistic underwear are still being tested for standard issue by the Marine Corps, their goal is to have at least three pairs of tier 1 ballistic underwear per Marine who leave outside the FOB more often than others, and have at least one pair for the rest of the Marines who aren’t .
“I’m just glad [the underwear] made their way here,” said Jibbou. “The kinds of dangers we face are real and if these things will help me in case I hit an IED, I’m wearing them.”