Why We Started
January, 2004: Our grandson, Justin, was in a convoy-escort training program as a combat engineer student at Camp Pendleton and learned from a senior petty officer of the benefits of installing a protective helmet pad upgrade kit (BLSS kit) to his helmet. We sent Justin a dozen for his rifle team. They tried them and loved 'em, but called and said that they couldn't feel right keep them unless his entire Company of 100 could get them as well. We researched the upgrade kit at Oregon Aero's Website and found it to be a very worthwhile product, capable of converting fatal impacts to ones that might daze a body, but would leave them alive and fighting.
We also spoke to Navy Explosive Research docs, demining and blast research professionals in the US, Sweden and France, and to a group of doctors in France doing helmet studies. Once we were satisfied the solution was viable and worthwhile, we started Operation Helmet as a 501-c-3 public charity with the help of a patriotic lawyer. From a start of 100, we shipped over 9,000 helmet upgrade kits as of June, 2006.
The helmets then in use by the Marines as well as those projected for the future were engineered to protect against 'ballistics' (bullets) and had only fair protection from blast forces and fragment impacts from IED's and other types of newly appreciated combat dangers. Both the old PASGT and new Marine helmets depended on a strap suspension system to 'float' the helmet over the head to maintain helmet/cranium separation. A shock-absorbing pad suspension system is far superior in providing helmet/cranium separation ('standoff') and protection from blast waves and fragments. The shock-absorbing pad systems were available commercially for under $100.00 each!
The Marine Combat Equipment Team told us they had a limited budget and couldn't afford to retrofit all the existing PASGT helmets (cost $99.06 per kit), while at the same time purchasing the new LW helmets. It was my decision to act, rather than just write letters to Congressmen. The troops needed this protection immediately not when the rather cumbersome Governmental process deemed it possible. We kept on providing upgrade kits to the troops, thanks to America's generosity.
In the meantime,
THE SITUATION AS IT PRESENTED IN 2004-2006: The Army had fielded the Modular Integrated Combat Helmet (MICH) for Special Forces. This helmet was a cut-down version of the PASGT with less coverage of the head to increase situational awareness. It also introduced shock-absorbing pads from Oregon Aero, approved by Natick, to replace the old 1935-era strap suspension system inside the helmet. This helmet became the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) later. The first 700,000 ACH's were equipped with Oregon Aero pads. The only 'hiccup' in Army provision of the ACH was due to an article by Dr Poffenbarger, an Army neurosurgeon, who thought the ACH did not offer adequate protection to the nape of the neck and temple area. At that point, the older PASGT was re-issued and we were asked by troops to provide the Oregon Aero BLSS kit to retrofit them with shock-absorbing pads. The stand-down only lasted a few months and the ACH was once again fully vetted and we no longer needed to supply Army troops with the shock-absorbing pads.
Navy and Air Force troops in combat were still supplied with the PASGT helmet with it's 1935-era strap suspension system, poorly designed for blast protection. We supplied thousands of pad upgrade kits to units and individuals in both services until each Service agreed to provide them shortly before (in anticipation of? )our testimony to Congress.
The Marines continued to deny the need for shock-absorbing pads but did NOT prohibit their use in individual trooper's helmets.
The "360-degree" war our troops face deal with an enemy that uses high explosives from all quarters to inflict casualties from blast force and large primary and secondary frags from vehicles, concrete, buried cannon shells, RPG's etc. The strap suspension of the PASGT allowed the helmet to 'rock' on the head, making violent contact with the skull in an area about the size of a ball-peen hammer. The impact, if severe enough, causes skull fractures, intracranial bleeding, and/or concussions resulting in death or disabling injuries. This non-ballistic threat was a new development for our troops and for the most part their helmets did not cope well.
The solution was to change the unstable suspension system for a shock-absorbing pad suspension system with a stronger chin and nape strap. The pad suspension system suspends the helmet on impact resistant highly engineered pads to provide 'standoff', comfort, and stability. The helmet does not contact the skull directly, with the pads absorbing and spreading out the blow. This upgrade prevents or cushions the trooper's head from blast/fragment impact, spreads contact over a wider area and can save lives and prevent disability.
Lining the helmet with shock-absorbing pads and a better suspension system also keeps the helmet stable when wearing NVG's, running, bending over to treat wounded comrades, etc. No more 'slapping the kevlar' back into place. Troops reported to us that the headache associated with kevlars disappears when the upgrade kit is installed, a 15-minute procedure using a screwdriver.
A highly protective upgrade to both helmets from Oregon Aero (BLSS-Ballistic Lining and Suspension System for the PASGT) provided an added degree of protection from such blast forces And the upgrade kits wee available RIGHT NOW! The helmet upgrade Pad system made the helmets positively buoyant (it floats) as well as more comfortable and protective. If you leap from an IBRB (itty bitty rubber boat) and land in deep water, it helps to have a helmet that floats rather than pulls you under
The BLSS kits were authorized but not funded by the Marine Corps Systems Command for the PASGT 'kevlar' helmets. Local commanders wee authorized to purchase the kits at their discretion. We provided thousands of kits when such purchase was not possible for one reason or another.
The new Marine LWH (light weight helmet) offered 30% more ballistic (bullet) protection, but failed the ORD's (operational requirement document) requirement for non-ballistic (blast force) protection. The addition of shock-absorbing pads to replace the 'sling' suspension enabled the LWH to pass this critical test with flying colors. Authorization for this upgrade was not forthcoming from the Program Director of Individual Combat Equipment, who stated that the helmet provides 'enough' protection for Marines without adding the protection of shock-absorbing pads. Enough iwas not good enough for our grandson and ALL the other Marines fighting a dedicated and devilish foe using roadside bombs, IED's and other blast forces to inflict casualties.
In June, 2006, Dr Meaders, accompanied by his friend CHER, testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. That testimony is presented in the 'media information' section of the website. To summarize that hearing, Army and Navy representatives simply thanked Operation Helmet and reported they were now providing the shock-absorbing pads for their troops after we had done so for many months. The Marines declined to do so without further testing, as the original tests were done by the Army (???). Testing was scheduled at the US Army Aeromedical Research Lab (USAARL), with results expected within 6 months.
The Marines, however, were encouraged to forge ahead with purchasing shock-absorbing pads prior to the tests being completed. To our surprise, instead of purchasing the same state-of-the-art pad systems the Army and Operation Helmet had been providing (Oregon Aero), the Marines bought pads from Team Wendy (skateboard helmet folks) that had just self-reported tests done by the vendor.
When USAARL reported out their test results on helmet pads, it turned out that 3/4" Oregon Aero protected as well as thicker Team Wendy 11/8' on required impact protection tests. The USAARL laboratory also recommended that wearability tests (comfort) be done, evidently because of the unusual firmness of the Team Wendy pads. Such testing was not done, and purchase of the cheaper but extremely hard helmet pads sped ahead for both Army and Marines.
As the 'GI' pads began to hit the field, we began getting emails from troops at every level, from those just entering service to unit co0mmanders with wide combat experience. The new GI pads turned out to be so hard and non-conforming to the skull's irregularities that 'hot spots' of pain developed over the scalp, resulting in migraine-type headaches. Helmets had to be removed at frequent intervals to relieve the distracting headaches at the peril of encountering IED's, RPG's, ambushes and vehicle accidents...hardly a sound military practice. Also, the pads began to disintegrate soon after entering service, causing troops to improvise such means as taping sock rolls to the inside of their helmets to make up for the lack of pads or to just do without their helmets on patrol. Samples of the emails we received are on the front page of the website.
Unit commanders, both officer and NCO, recognize the negative impact on performance of distracting gear and welcome the force multiplier of being able to ignore comfortable, well-fit head armor. The requests we get come from the troops themselves (and their families). They contact us, we don't contact them to tell them they need it; they figured out themselves that something was drastically wrong with their head armor's new pads.
We revved up fund-raising again with the help of military families and concerned patriots who realized the foolishness of the military's decision to go cheap and put our troops in needless danger performing the tasks we asked of them. We all recognize the absolutely callous indifference that would try to save a few bucks per helmet while a perhaps unintended consequence would be to cause needless death or disability due to brain injury. After all, troops are valuable commodities to the military and it costs a bundle to train, equip and ship them to their duty station. The death gratuity now stands to cost a bundle, while the lifetime care of a brain-damaged veteran runs into the the millions of dollars...and these are human lives we value greatly.
At present we are writing Congress-wonks and military leaders urging them to re-think the purchase of cheap, poorly engineered pads instead of those top-shelf pads previously approved and used in the first 700,000 Army Advanced Combat Helmet supplies as well as in the Modular Integrated Communication Helmet used by special-forces.
While Congress and the military dither, we are once again asking the American public to step up and provide extra-governmental support for the troops, with 100% of funding (actually 99.96%; spent some on re-shipping pads returned by UPS, postage stamps and printer ink) used by Operation Helmet to provide appropriate helmet pad sets for our beleaguered military. My family pays all operational costs for Operation Helmet.
Maybe the military got their panties in a wad at being dragged in front of Congress to explain why the American public had to provide this basic protection to our troops and decided to provide troops almost anything other than what the American public had been sending?
One with sunglasses and newly upgraded helmet is my grandson. These were the first helmet upgrades we sent for evaluation. Now his entire Company of 100 troops have them and distribute those we send to other units.
Make a Donation