Union Tribune

August 8, 2003

Marines to be issued lighter, more comfortable helmets soon


WASHINGTON The Marine Corps soon will be getting a new version of one of the most essential, but perhaps least liked, part of the combat gear the helmet.

Next month, Marines at Camp Pendleton and elsewhere will be issued a helmet that is a half-pound lighter than the current Kevlar helmet but provides better protection and a more comfortable fit.

The Marines' new helmet looks just like the current one and also is made of Kevlar. Because of improved technology, it weighs just over three pounds, but provides improved protection from shrapnel and small arms rounds. It also gives 40 percent better impact protection.

The key improvement is in the four-point retention strap and internal padding that will make the new helmet more stable and more comfortable, said Alexander Papadopoulos, the project officer at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.

This is the latest version of a piece of equipment that has stirred a love-hate relationship since U.S. troops wore steel, soup-bowl shaped helmets in World War I. That was replaced by the larger and heavier "steel pot" early in World War II.

Generations of troops complained about the weight and heat of the helmets. But they saved thousands of lives by deflecting shrapnel and bullets.

The World War II model was replaced in the 1980s by the current Kevlar helmet, which looks like the familiar World War II German army helmet, with an extension to cover the ears and back of the neck.

Many older warriors lamented the change because the new helmet was heavier and did not have the utility of the "steel pot," which could be used as a wash basin or a cooking pot.

But over the last 20 years, Marines and soldiers have complained about more fundamental problems in combat and field training. A recurrent gripe was that the high collar of the body armor hit the back edge of the helmet, pushing it over the eyes in some positions.