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America Supports You: Company Commander Gets Company Comfort

By Spc. Erin Robicheaux, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TIGERLAND, Iraq, July 13, 2005 – When Army Sgt. Kip Allen Cochran, a gunner, went online to research a commercially available sling, he had no idea how his curiosity would ultimately benefit his fellow soldiers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sgt. Kip Cochran, from Natchitoches, La., a gunner with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, sits in the turret of his up-armored Humvee in the new Cooper Sling seat. The seat is more comfortable, more durable, and ultimately safer for gunners. Photo by Spc. Erin Robicheaux, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

"We were running missions in duration of anywhere from eight to 24 hours, and when you sit on a skinny little strap for that long, things start to get tired and numb," said the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division soldier from Natchitoches, La.

Cochran saw a newspaper article about a new type of sling, one that is more durable, safer, and much more comfortable than the slings he and his peers used. The seats used by gunners of the 256th combat team, and all units throughout the Army, are no wider than a seatbelt. There is another one, made of black mesh that is a little bit thicker, but according to Cochran, after a week or two it bunches up so badly the soldier is back to sitting on a thin strap.

To make the deployment more comfortable as a gunner, Cochran e-mailed his family about the new equipment, in hopes they may be able to purchase one for him. His father discovered each sling costs $360, so Cochran gave up on the idea, but his family did not.

"My father called Capt. Culver's wife, Tracy, to find out if the Family Readiness Group possibly had the funds to purchase a few for the unit," said Cochran.

Capt. Ronald Culver, from El Dorado, Ark., Cochran's company commander, said the readiness group, a volunteer organization that assists families of mobilized servicemembers, didn't have that kind of money, but the company he works for in full-time civilian life did.

"The president of the company told me they'd buy 10 seats for my soldiers," said Culver, who works for AmerCable Inc. as an accounting supervisor. He said he is very grateful to work for someone who not only takes care of their employees on the job, but also those in service.

The Cooper Sling, invented by Kyle Greenwood, from College Station, Texas, is made of seven-inch-wide saddle leather, much more durable than the mesh material of the previous gunner seats. The thicker, wider material is more comfortable for troops, according to Cochran. "With the old slings, sometimes I would get up and my whole lower body would be asleep, but not with these," he said.

Cochran said comfort levels can affect concentration on what is going on around him. "The discomfort of being a gunner is added stress," he said. "If I could be a dismount every day, I would. At least you get to come back into the air conditioner of the vehicle.

"The gunner is up there in the heat, up in the sun and exposed to anyone who wants to take a shot," he added. "We get all of the dust in our faces, and it's just no fun. The last thing you want is to add more discomfort, like sitting on something that feels like a thong bikini."

Spc. Carlos Gomez from Shreveport, La., a fellow gunner guardsman in the company, agreed. "Your feet fall asleep, your back feels like it's going to break, after just a few minutes in the old sling," he said. "Now that we have these, I don't notice any of that anymore and it makes it easier to concentrate on what I'm supposed to during these eight- to 12-hour long missions."

The sling also comes with a safety belt that attaches to the harness on each side of the gunner, to prevent him from being thrown from the vehicle in an accident.

"I'm thankful there are employers and citizens out there willing to do things like this for the soldiers overseas," said Culver.

"I never knew a simple question to my mother about how much something costs would turn into actually acquiring 10 of these for my company," Cochran added." (Army Spc. Erin Robicheaux is assigned to the 256th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)

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