BARSTOW, Calif. - What is the first thing you think of when you hear about someone being injured in combat? Perhaps it’s a gunshot wound, burn injuries, severe head trauma, or even an amputation.
Sergeant Michael Pressler, an artillery mechanic aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., along with countless other service members suffer from something different. It is something that will affect them for the rest of their lives and is the number one injury in combat, according to Michelle Wolfe, an occupational health nurse aboard MCLB.
This common and severe injury is hearing loss. According to Mike Tianen, industrial hygienist aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, almost half of Marines on average transition to civilian life with some sort of hearing loss.
The immense amount of Marines with hearing loss put Marine Administrative Message 010/12, into effect. This MARADMIN orders all Marines to have their hearing checked annually and to receive training on how to protect their ears on a daily basis.
“The idea is to include everyone in the program (not just Marines who are constantly exposed to loud noises) and put them in a safer position,” explained Wolfe.
“The hardest part about hearing loss is when you’re young, it doesn’t bother you. You can take a tremendous amount of sound but hearing loss is cumulative, it gets worse and worse. You don’t necessarily lose your hearing but you begin to mishear; you don’t understand what people are saying,” she said.
Wolfe hopes the MARADMIN will be the beginning of a much needed change for the Marine Corps. Hearing loss has become a trend in the military, there are far too many veterans suffering from something that could, in many cases be prevented, explained the nurse.
“I suffer from hearing loss,” explained Pressler. “It makes it very difficult to communicate during work. I’m always asking, ‘huh, what, repeat yourself.’”
Pressler also explained how much of a deficiency hearing loss is during combat. Hearing orders correctly could be the difference between life and death.
Being an artillery mechanic, Pressler was already often exposed to loud noises, but his time deployed in Afghanistan is what really did damage to his hearing.
“In Afghanistan, I was riding in a 7-ton when we ran over an improvised explosive device. The blast was so extremely loud that it made me dizzy. My head was ringing for awhile after and I knew I damaged my hearing,” explained Pressler.
It is no surprise that Pressler wasn’t wearing ear protection when the blast went off, and why would he be? It is not a required piece of protective gear in combat, but according to Wolfe, that’s a change that must be made.
As the size of the blasts increase, so does damage to service members’ hearing. Wolfe hopes society’s technological advances will move toward better hearing protection.
“There are ear muffs that are only activated when a certain level of surrounding noise is reached; the noise is then cancelled out. This would be great for use in combat,” she explained.
The world today is loud. People even outside of the military are suffering from hearing loss. According to Wolfe, nearly 15 percent of college freshmen have already developed measurable hearing loss.
“When someone loses their hearing, they also lose a huge form of communication,” said Wolfe. “People receive a tremendous amount of information from what they hear.”
“Hearing loss affects your career, relationships and is a huge component of depression,” Wolfe explained. “There are way too many veterans suffering from depression because they’re having a hard time communicating with their loved ones.”
Wolfe explained that many people who have hearing loss seem “standoffish or un-approachable.” This is often because they give up socially after misunderstanding so many conversations.
“This is a very sad thing, depression is no joking matter,” Wolfe added.
As a marksman coach today, Pressler enforces other Marines to wear hearing protection as strictly as he enforces the weapon safety rules. He will never be caught without ear protection again, he said.
Pressler now does everything the training videos have taught him. He explained how he ensures his ear protection is inserted properly by reaching around the back of his head, grabbing the top of his ear and lifting upward to open up his ear canal first.
“I don’t want to damage my hearing anymore than I already have,” said the Montrose, Colo., native.
The hearing conservation program is a great start for the Marine Corps, Wolfe explained. However, your ears are your own responsibility. Especially if you’re not deployed, there is no reason for your ears to suffer. Avoid loud environments when you can, bring ear protection when you know you’re going to be exposed to loud noises and turn down the music next time you get in the car.