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Build a Better Boot ...

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, May 22, 1998 – Boots. A soldier's best friend -- next to a rifle, maybe. But when the subject is land mines, current combat boots don't offer much protection and in fact may exacerbate injuries.

"The metal in a steel-shank boot may just add to the shrapnel ripping through the victim's foot," said Army Dr. (Maj.) Robert Harris. "If it makes it worse, it may be better to step on a land mine with a tennis shoe."

Harris doesn't really think sneakers are the answer, however. As chief of extremity trauma for the Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, he's involved in multiagency testing of a new generation of mine-proof boots and overshoes that slip on over boots. He figures that if the group comes up with a better boot, armies of the United States and its allies will beat a path to his door.

Natick Labs in Massachusetts, testers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; the Institute of Surgical Research; and Brooke Army Medical Center, are responding to the Army School of Infantry's request for footwear that can withstand the blast from a U.S. M-14 anti-personnel mine. Natick Labs already has tested blast-protective boots and overshoes developed in the United Kingdom.

"The British footwear appeared to offer moderate protection against the M-14, which is an old, small, step-type mine," Harris said. "But there still was significant damage, and neither the boot nor the overshoe would offer protection against the larger Russian-made mines. From a medical perspective, the models tested probably don't meet Army requirements."

Using human cadavers, trauma specialists will test the effect of land mines on these and future boot designs. "Perhaps, a combination of protective boots and overshoes will prove to be the best protection," Harris said.

Magnetic resonance imaging and other scientific tests on the cadavers will follow field testing of prototypes. Harris doesn't know how long it will take to develop mine-proof footwear.

For now, medics consider an amputation below the knee as a pretty good outcome for patients injured by land mines. But DoD seeks much better medical results, Harris said. "There are 10 million land mines planted in the ground worldwide, and the majority of them are Third World countries where the American military could deploy. It's imperative we find a way to protect our troops.

"We will use all the expertise within the military research community to come up with a solution."

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