28 January 2010

Tools of War: Extended Cold Weather Clothing System

A few weeks back, I was out on a high-risk traffic stop with a fine pillar of society that had just stabbed another pillar of society in the head multiple times with a knife. I jumped out of my patrol car and pulled out my AR-15. Pulled the charging handle. Optics on. Sling over shoulders. Approach my cover position at the right front patrol car. Damn, it's cold!

It was a whopping 18 degrees outside....single digits with wind chill. I had been on scene less than 10 seconds, and my attention is already being distracted by the bone-chilling weather.

Cold just plain sucks. "You only get so cold, then you die" is not just a witty saying, it's the truth. And your brain knows it at a fundamental level. So when you start to get cold, the old hypothalamus starts to make noises to the cerebral cortex about the stupid decisions that it has been making, as this clearly is not the warm, fuzzy environment that it prefers. These "noises" come in two forms, and neither are exactly great from a tactical standpoint.

The "physical noises" start with the constriction of outer blood vessels. This results in a loss of feeling in the extremities. Shivering sets in. Dexterity begins to suffer.

Compounding that are the "mental noises" that the primitive brain starts shouting at the thinking brain. The thinking brain knows that you have a guy with a deadly weapon up there who is not afraid to use it, but the primitive brain just shrieks, "DUDE, REALLY??? IT'S FREAKING COLD!!!" And the thinking brain already has its hands full just dealing with a felony traffic stop, and would really prefer to be left alone by the primitive brain at the moment. Now just isn't a great time for distractions, thank you very much. But the primitive brain is an insistive little bastard, and demands to be heard. And so it tries to drown out the thinking brain. Anyone with hungry children who has tried to carry on a very important phone conversation....you understand.

So the thinking brain is trying to deal with the tactical situation, but the primitive brain is screaming "WTF?", trying to seduce you into putting that cold piece on metal down and shoving your hands into your pockets, making your eyes target-glance over to that nice warm patrol car interior, and playing a constant, underlying chant of "it's cold it's cold it's cold it's cold it's cold it's cold it's cold"across your consciousness. On top of that, when your thinking brain finally does form a complete thought and sends it to the body to be executed, that body is shivering, numb, and awkward.

Tactically, sub-optimal.

The military knows this...it's "war-knowledge" that has existed since time unrecorded. Weather is ALWAYS a factor, and it is rarely to your advantage. And a smart military will do something about it. Which brings us (finally!) to the handy little piece of equipment that you see pictured here - the ECWCS...or as it's commonly known, the Goretex.

Any military member will tell you that most pieces of issued equipment don't NEED to have "Made by the Lowest Bidder" marked on it. But a few items shine through, making you do a double-take and momentarily question your immediate disdain for all things issued. For me personally, the poncho-liner is one (Love ya, Woobie!). Another is the ECWCS, specifically the Goretex parka. Hell, I actually went out and BOUGHT MY OWN! It was that good.

Waterproof. Breathable. Tough nylon outer lining. Comfortable and smooth inner lining. Numerous, thoughtfully-placed, and voluminous waterproof pockets. Hood designed to cover the helmet. Effective cinches at the cuffs, hood, and waist that kept the cold air out and warm air in. A little rank-tab so that your rank pins didn't poke holes in the Goretex water barrier. Enough interior room so that you could layer as desired. A snap-able storm flap over the main zipper. Zippered venting at the armpits to allow you to vent excess heat if your exertions threaten to cause you to sweat. Heck, it even had a snow-skirt.

The overpants were almost as good. And this was the Gen I system, pictured above.

The Gen II system added Polartec garments (shirt and overalls) to the package, making the system effective to a claimed -40F. I can't tell you how happy I am to have never tested it in those conditions.

The Gen III system is all new, and has been initially fielded to the Army's 10th Mountain Division. The system is comprised of seven different layers (displayed below) and seems to have been very well received by troops on the ground. As a Battalion Commander notes:

During Operation Mountain Lion, I found myself praying
for bad weather, the first time in my military career I was
actually begging for a cold front to come through. I knew
my Soldiers could handle it and the enemy couldn’t. ECWCS
allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain.
When the enemy was forced out of the mountains due to
the bitter cold to take shelter, that’s when we got them.
– LTC Christopher Cavoli, Commander, 1-32 Infantry Battalion,
10th Mountain Division

Now THAT is combat advantage!

By: Steve


Steve said...

Wow....I admitted that I referred to my poncho liner as "Woobie", and not a single comment?

Brant said...

It's not like that blew up our preconceptions of you as some macho war hero who's suddenly cut down to size. We just all pretty much figured you for a standard-issue "Linus" all along. :)