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Army Issues Updated Combat Gear to Deployed Soldiers

By Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ORGUN-E, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2004 – As the battlefield of the 21st century evolves, so does the equipment that keeps soldiers in the fight. And so do the methods for getting that equipment to the soldiers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Luis Samuel, Rapid Fielding Initiative team member, fits an advanced combat helmet to Army Spc. Richard Delgado, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, at Forward Operating Base Orgun-e. The ACH is an improvement over the Army's traditional Kevlar helmet. It's lighter and has a better fit. The ACH is also designed to work better with the Interceptor Body Armor system. Photo by Sgt. Frank Magni, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In response to the rapid deployments of the past few years, the Army chief of staff created the Rapid Fielding Initiative.

Most units receive an RFI issue before deploying. But in a time of little notice or last-minute deployment orders, there are still soldiers who get missed. In this case, the RFI team will travel to the field to get equipment to soldiers, said Army Sgt. 1st Class James Mical, Army Test and Evaluation Command RFI consultant.

The RFI team issues a variety of equipment, from boots and gloves to sunglasses and improved helmets.

"With technology changing so fast and soldiers rapidly deploying, it is necessary to have a flexible solution to get equipment to the soldiers," said Philip Whitlock, RFI team member.

The advantages of RFI are numerous, said Whitlock. Because the team can travel throughout the world, they are able to bring equipment to soldiers whose units did not have the opportunity to receive the RFI issue at their home station. "We go where the soldiers are," said Whitlock.

Once the RFI team visits the soldiers in the field, they send the measurements and sizes back to the RFI warehouse in Kuwait. There, a duffel bag is filled with each soldier's gear based on the soldier's sizes. The bag is then sent back to the individual's unit for issue. This process can have the gear to the soldier in about 15 days.

Emphasis on the soldier is one reason RFI is gaining in popularity within the Army, said Whitlock. Not only do they pay close attention to customer service, but the equipment they issue keeps them popular, he said.

The items issued vary by the type of unit a soldier is in, but most get improved T-shirts, belts and socks along with silk-weight long underwear, goggles, hydration systems, improved knee pads, fleece jackets and bib overalls. Some soldiers are even issued multi-function tools and other tools they use as part of their military occupational specialty. Combat soldiers are also issued modular lightweight load-carrying equipment, commonly known to troops as MOLLE gear.

On Forward Operating Base Orgun-e, the RFI team came to properly size soldiers for the advanced combat helmet. The unit, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, was issued a majority of their RFI items before deploying, but the helmet was a supplemental item.

The ACH is an improvement over the traditional helmet because of its advanced design, said Luis Samuel, RFI team member. "It is designed to work better with interceptor body armor," said Samuel. "It is easier to shoot from the prone position with these new helmets."

The ACH is also 1.5 pounds lighter than the traditional Kevlar helmet and has a four-point chin strap system for a better fit. It also provides a better fit because each helmet has rotating pads that fit to different sized heads.

Each ACH comes with a night-vision mount and helmet cover that is reversible with desert or woodland pattern. It can also be fitted with a communications system.

While the ACH is just now being issued to many soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom, Army Spc. Edgar Salas, Company C, wore the ACH when he was with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) during the early phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Salas said he was very satisfied with the helmet during the months he used it in Iraq.

"It fit so well, and it is so much lighter that you would sometimes forget that you would have it on," said Salas. "It really helps lessen neck and shoulder fatigue on long missions."

Spc. Dan Maulsby, also of Company C, said he likes the Rapid Fielding Initiative for a few different reasons. "It feels good, because it feels like the Army is going out of its way to get us the best equipment they can," he said.

The piece of equipment that has been most useful is the MOLLE vest, said Maulsby. "These vests are comfortable and practical," he said. "It makes sense because each person can put the pockets in different positions. This is better, because with the different weapon systems, each person can put their ammo where it is most efficient for them."

Both Maulsby and Salas said all the equipment they have received from RFI has been very useful and that they would likely have purchased some of the items themselves if they weren't issued them.

This is a common response heard by the RFI team and has become one of the most rewarding aspects of their jobs. "These are all items soldiers were buying anyway. We were just giving them something they can use," said Samuel. "This just cuts down on (unnecessary) cost to the individual soldier."

(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Related Sites:
Rapid Fielding Initiative
Army Test and Evaluation Command

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