Program Collects Protective Equipment to Save Lives
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2011 A joint program charged with collecting the personal protective equipment of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines killed in action is working to save future warfighters’ lives.
Natalie Eberius is an analyst at the warfighter survivability branch of the Army Research Laboratory’s survivability and lethality analysis directorate in Aberdeen, Md. Her group is one of several partners in the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program. DOD photo by Cheryl Pellerin
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program links the Defense Department medical, intelligence, operational and materiel-development communities.
Known as JTAPIC, the program is part of DOD’s Medical Research Program for the Prevention, Mitigation and Treatment of Blast Injuries, established in 2006. JTAPIC was created the same year.
The two organizations work together to integrate combat, medical and materiel-analysis information to prevent and mitigate future warfighter injuries by changing tactics or improving equipment, John Uscilowicz, the program’s deputy manager, told American Forces Press Service.
The goal, Uscilowicz said, is to better understand warfighter vulnerabilities to threats and guide the improvement of tactics, techniques and procedures on the battlefield. Program partners include the Army National Ground Intelligence Center, the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, Program Executive Office Soldier, the Army Research Laboratory, the Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, the Army Institute of Surgical Research, the Maneuver Center of Excellence Naval Health Research Center, and the Marine Corps Systems Command.
The work starts on the battlefield, Uscilowicz explained, with an event that kills or injures warfighters. Information flows from after-action reports to the program’s operational intelligence partners, he said, “who gather as much information from the field as possible” about mounted operations and dismounted patrols.
Back at the program office, medical information is matched to data about the combat injuries and what personal protective equipment the warfighter was wearing at the time.
A critical element of the data gathering involves getting damaged personal protective equipment back from the battlefield and examining it along with the combat and medical data, Uscilowicz said.
“This has proven to be a real challenge,” he said.
For soldiers killed in action, body armor sometimes comes back with them to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. For others, or for those who are wounded or fired on and hit but protected by their body armor, collection teams in Afghanistan and a few left in Iraq help to get the damaged equipment back to the United States for analysis.
At Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va., Army Col. William Cole, program manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment, is a JTAPIC partner.
“We partner with JTAPIC when the equipment is returned to the states, either at Dover or to the Mortuary Affairs Effects Collection Center at Aberdeen,” Cole said. “When the protective equipment is evacuated to them, they can look at it first and compare what happened with the equipment [to] what happened to the body. Afterward, they let us have the equipment to do further analysis.”
For example, he said, analysts perform a metallurgical analysis on any fragments in the equipment and look at X-rays and CAT scans of the equipment.
Advertising in dining halls, mailrooms and convenience shops helps to increase success in collecting the protective equipment, Cole said.
“We don’t expect to get 100 percent of the damaged equipment back from the field, just because of the nature of war,” he said. “It’s always somewhat chaotic, and leaders on the ground have to make decisions about where to place their priorities.
“Getting every last bit of protective equipment back isn’t realistic,” Cole added, “but I think the more we can advertise it and the more we can explain to soldiers how the things we learn help us make even better equipment in the future, the more successful we will be.”
In Aberdeen, Md., Natalie Eberius is an analyst at the warfighter survivability branch of the Army Research Laboratory’s survivability and lethality analysis directorate. Her group also is a JTAPIC partner.
“Our group, in addition to doing materiel analysis, is what you call personal vulnerability experts,” she said. “We understand injuries and what it takes to get certain injuries. We’re able to take that data and make it make sense.”
Every four weeks, the partners meet to evaluate and learn from events that have occurred for mounted and dismounted warfighters since their last meeting, Eberius said.
“Right now,” she added, “we’re working on a program that is trying to provide body armor protection to a particular region of the body. The soldiers are engaged in a specific threat that is causing very specific injuries, so we’re looking at solutions that could mitigate those injuries and help trauma doctors treat those who are injured.”
On the mounted warrior side of the effort, she said, “one of the things we’re able to do through the JTAPIC program is to look at survivability benefits of adding specific armor enhancements or enhancements to a vehicle.”
Program results for combat vehicles include better seat design, blast-mitigating armor and fire-suppression systems. JTAPIC also has helped to improve personal protective equipment, tactics and procedures, as well as models and simulations.
One procedural improvement that came from the partnership’s deliberations, Eberius said, was to begin providing medics with scissors that can cut through body armor.
“It seems like a simple thing unless you’re a medic and you’ve got these bandage scissors and you’re trying to cut through 18 or 30 layers of Kevlar” to help a soldier on the battlefield, she said. “It was one of those ‘a-ha’ moments –- ‘Why don’t medics have that?’ the analyst said.
The JTAPIC program sent a pair of the scissors to every medic, Eberius added. “Now in their kits, instead of bandage scissors, they have these scissors that can cut through practically anything,” she said.
The power of the JTAPIC program, Eberius said, is through the incorporation of the medical, operational intelligence and materiel and analysis communities.
“If you’re looking just at operational intelligence, you’ll get a feel for what the soldiers are engaging in and the threats,” she explained. “If you are looking just at the medical aspect of it, you’ll understand the injuries. But what we’re doing is combining what’s happening to the soldier in terms of his environment, the system he’s wearing and the medical information that comes from the threats. We pull all that together and try to look at ways to mitigate the effects of those threats.”
Officials are working to get more soldiers to understand the program’s importance, Eberius said.
“They’re the ones who understand the threats they’re seeing in their environments,” she added. “The way we can give them the best equipment is to understand those vulnerabilities.”